Just the facts, please.

January 14, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Max Kantar

Israel’s operative military policy in the Gaza Strip has been fairly consistent with its stated definition of what it considers to be legitimate military targets, which in practice has amounted to mass killings of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Based on the overwhelming evidence available, one conclusion can be drawn regarding the nature of the US-backed Israeli attacks on Gaza: a genuine massacre of ordinary, unarmed people has been taking place for over two weeks.

Here is just a small part of the documentary evidence to prove it.

Targeting Civilian Police Stations and Officers

In the opening days of Israel’s aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip, its main targets were police stations and officers. For civilian police officers to be considered legitimate military targets, they must be directly engaged in hostilities, in this case, towards Israel. No evidence has been presented by Israel, or anyone else, that even reasonably suggests that the police officers in Gaza fall into this category. Therefore, the police officers that were targeted and murdered by Israel were clearly civilians: not lawful military targets.

“The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions establishes two conditions that must be met for an object to be considered a legitimate military target: it must effectively contribute to military action and its total destruction or partial neutralization offers a clear military advantage.” — B’tselem, Dec. 31, 2008 [1]

“Police were not combatants and could not represent legitimate targets unless actively engaged in hostilities…it was Israel’s burden of proof to show [that] the police they targeted were, indeed, Hamas militants.” — Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch (Middle East & North Africa Division), January 7, 2009 [2]

“Police members who do not take part in any hostilities are not considered legitimate military targets under international humanitarian law and must not be deliberately targeted.” — Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, December 28, 2008 [3]

“Police stations, police officers and law enforcement officials are classified under the international law as civilians, and targeting them as such while they were not engaged in military action constitutes a violation of the international law.” — Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, December 27, 2008. [4]

“[The Israeli Air Force] bombed the main police building in Gaza and killed, according to reports, forty-two Palestinians who were in a training course and were standing in formation at the time of the bombing. Participants in the course study first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth.” — B’tselem, December 31, 2008 [5]

“[During the week of December 24-31, 2008] 165 civil police officers were killed on the first day of the IOF offensive, when they were not engaged in any hostilities.” — The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, December 31, 2008 [6]

Targeting Civilians and Civilian Objects

Every relevant human rights group and international body has documented and denounced Israel’s military practice of “targeting civilians” and “civilian objects” in the Gaza Strip. As a result, human rights groups and medical officials in Gaza have reported that the vast majority of the (currently) 900 Palestinian causalities have been unarmed civilians.

The IDF, by its own admission, is unilaterally redefining who is a “civilian” and what is a “legitimate military target” to suit Israel’s political aims. While justifying Israeli attacks on civil and public institutions in Gaza, the IDF has claimed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target,” thereby opening up nearly everyone and everything for Israeli attacks. This new doctrine flatly contradicts international law which states that:

“All parties engaged in combat must distinguish between civilian objects and military targets, and are forbidden to intentionally attack civilians and civilian objects.” [7]

To further comprehend Israel’s definitions of “legitimate targets,” it is instructive to apply the same standards to Hamas, which would then give Hamas a green light to bomb public Israeli synagogues, Jewish elementary schools, the Knesset, hospitals, homes, and so forth.

Furthermore, while it is certain that the IDF “targets civilians,” it is of no legal value for Israel to claim that, in the midst of attacking a military target, innocent civilians were not intended to be killed. According to the ruling of The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia:

“Attacks which strike civilians or civilian objects and military objectives without distinction, may qualify as direct attacks against civilians…This prohibition reflects a well-established rule of customary law applicable in all armed conflicts.” [8]

Whether Israel is specifically targeting innocent civilians or not, if its attacks result in “indiscriminate” killing of civilians, then Israel’s attacks qualify as “direct attacks against civilians,” if we accept the ruling of the highest criminal court in the world.

“[Israel’s] air strikes were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world, certainly the most densely populated area of the Middle East.” — UN Human Rights Representative, Professor Richard Falk, December 27, 2008 [9]

“Since the beginning of the military operation in the Gaza Strip, on 27 December 2008, the army has bombed dozens of houses, public buildings, and other structures throughout the Gaza Strip…[An] example [of IDF civilian targeting] is yesterday’s bombing of the government offices. These offices included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labor, Construction and Housing.” — B’tselem, December 31, 2009 [10]

“Investigations conducted by the [Palestinian Centre for Human Rights] indicate that [the IDF] have continued to bombard Palestinian houses and civilian facilities persistently day and night, while the Palestinian civilian population suffer a humanitarian crisis as they lack electricity, water and food supplies….The high number of civilian victims and the extensive destruction to public and private property are clear evidence that [the IDF], instructed by the Israeli political and military establishments, intend to cause maximum deaths and casualties among Palestinian civilians and maximum destruction to their property.” — The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, January 10, 2009 [11]

“After 12 days of “combat,” the Israeli Defense Forces reported that more than 1,000 targets were shelled or bombed…Seventeen mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation. Heavy civilian casualties are being reported by courageous medical volunteers from many nations…” — Jimmy Carter, January 8, 2009 [12]

“There has been extensive destruction and many deaths reported in the Zeitun neighbourhood, south of Gaza city by IDF attacks…In one of the gravest incidents since the beginning of operations…on 4 January Israeli foot-soldiers evacuated approximately 110 Palestinians into a single-residence house in Zeitun (half of whom were children), warning them to stay indoors. Twenty-four hours later, Israeli forces shelled the home repeatedly, killing approximately thirty. Those who survived and were able, walked two kilometres to Salah Ed Din road before being transported to the hospital in civilian vehicles. Three children, the youngest of whom was five months old, died upon arrival at the hospital.” — UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 8, 2009 [13]

“Israel has directly targeted and completely or partially destroyed 13 mosques, two schools, one university, numerous government buildings, including different ministries and 40 civil police compounds, a medical storage centre, three money exchange facilities and three chicken farms, all of which Israel alleges were used by Hamas for military purposes. Israel’s air strikes and ground incursions have to date resulted in the total destruction of at least 300 houses and damage to 3,800 more.” — Al Haq, January 7, 2009 [14]

“A characteristic example of an attack on a civilian object is the 6 January 2009 aerial bombardment on the Asma’ Bint Baker school, a facility of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Four days prior to the attack, UNRWA officials provided GPS coordinates to Israeli authorities of 23 UNRWA installations that were to be used as shelters for fleeing civilians. The location of the Asma’ Bint Baker School was one of the 23 coordinates provided. Three civilians were killed in the attack on the school.” — Al Haq, January 7, 2009 [15]

“In the deadliest single attack on Gaza civilians since the war began, Israel fired three mortar shells at the United Nations’ al-Fahoura school in the Jabalya refugee camp. The school was filled with civilians who had been forced from their homes by the Israeli invasion, and the attack killed at least 46. The United Nations reports that at least 55 other civilians were wounded in the attack.

“The United Nations says the building was clearly marked with UN flags and that they were in contact with the Israeli military when the war began to inform them of the location of the school precisely to prevent it being targeted.

“Indeed, the Israeli military does not seem to deny that they deliberately targeted a building they knew to be filled with hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians. Instead they claim that Hamas militants were using the school as a base of operations.” –, January 6, 2009 [16]

“Just a little bit more than an hour ago, the Israelis bombed the central food market in Gaza City and we had a mass influx of about 50 injured and between 10 and 15 killed…At the same time they bombed an apartment house with children playing on the roof and we had a lot of children also.”

“It’s like hell here now and it’s been bombing all night…there are injuries that you just don’t want to see in this world…the only crime they have done is been civilians — Palestinians living in Gaza. The relief now is not more doctors and more drugs; the relief now is to stop the bombing immediately…I’ve seen one military person among…the hundreds we have seen and treated…This is an all out war against the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza and we can prove that with the numbers.” — Mads Gilbert, January 5, 2009 [17]

“Police stations located in densely populated neighborhoods were attacked, destroying them and causing severe damage to tens of schools and homes and killing dozens of civilians, including children and old people.

“Air strikes have continued through the night, targeting houses and other civilian premises, including water-wells, workshops, mosques and communications facilities. A guard of a water well and three employees of the Palestinian Telecommunications Company were killed in North Gaza. Another two men were killed in a strike that targeted the al-Borno Mosque near al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The hospital was damaged in the same strike. Moreover, IOF targeted prisons, including Gaza’s main prison facility of al-Saraya at noon today. Initial reports indicate that many policemen and prisoners were killed and injured in this attack.

“Additionally, dozens of homes were destroyed, along with tens of UNRWA and government schools and clinics. Local government offices and private vehicles were also destroyed. Al Mezan’s initial monitoring indicates that…of those [people that have been killed by Israel’s strikes] the vast majority are non-combatants and civilians; including 20 children, nine women and 60 civilians. The majority of the rest of the casualties are members of the civilian police who were inside their stations or undertaking training.” –Al Mezan Center for Human Rights Press Release, December 28, 2008 [18]

Dead and Injured Civilians: Numbers and Percentages

Within the first four days of the Israeli onslaught the UN placed the Palestinian civilian casualty rate at 25% while noting that “the number may well be far higher.” [19] This number cannot be taken very seriously because it admittedly did not include adult male civilian casualties. Now three weeks into the massacre, the UN has reported that at least 33% of Gaza’s dead and wounded are children alone, hence drastically abandoning its earlier estimates.

As noted below, UN officials have recently noted that at least half of those killed by the IDF in Gaza are civilians, although it appears that this estimate still does not include 165 civilian police officers, which would’ve, as of January 9, placed the civilian casualty rate at about 72%.

Furthermore, countless testimonies, medical reports, and human rights documentary reports coming out of Gaza continue to show that the large majority of the dead and wounded have been Palestinian civilians. The documentary sources that show civilian casualty rates hovering around 70-80% differ from those claiming around 50% largely because of the failure to classify civil police officers as civilians in the latter sources. Additional disparities may also potentially be explained by less precise documenting of adult male civilian causalities.

“Gaza medical officials say at least 870 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict that began Dec. 27 with Israeli airstrikes…Palestinian medical officials reported about 60 deaths on Sunday [January 11], including 17 who had died of wounds suffered on previous days. Most of those killed Sunday were noncombatants, medical officials said, including four members of one family killed when a tank shell hit their home near Gaza City, and a 10-year-old girl killed in a similar attack.” — MSNBC, January 11, 2009 [20]

“As night fell on Gaza on Saturday, the Israeli Army continued its illegal offensive for the fifteenth day, killing 854 Palestinians, including 230 children, 93 women, 92 elderly, 14 medics and three journalists. At least 3,681 Palestinians, 50% of them children and women, have been wounded, 500 seriously, Dr. Moawiya Hassanen of the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported.” — International Middle East Media Center, January 10, 2009. (Note that the “50%” number does not include adult male civilians) [21]

“As of Thursday, 257 children were among the approximately 760 reported dead in Gaza. There were another 1,080 children among the 3,100 injured in the conflict, according to statistics from Gaza’s health ministry. The U.N.’s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, described the numbers as “credible” and deeply disturbing. U.N officials say about half of the casualties were civilians.” — San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 2009 [22]

“Israel[‘s] “Operation Cast Lead,” a large-scale aerial offensive in the Gaza Strip [has] been followed by Israeli ground troops, which invaded the Gaza Strip on the night of 3 January 2009. To date, these attacks have resulted in the death of at least 729 Palestinians, 603 of whom were civilians, including 173 children, and the further wounding of over 3,200 more.”

–Joint Open Letter to the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, signed by 19 “local, regional and international human rights organizations concerned with respect for international humanitarian law.” According to the casualty numbers provided in the letter, which was endorsed and accepted by all 19 human rights organizations, the percentage of those in Gaza who were killed by Israel that were civilians is 83% as of January 9, 2009. [23]

“Since the Israeli military operation “Cast lead” began on 27 December until 8 January (4:00PM), 758 Palestinians have been killed—approximately 42% of whom were women (60) and children (257) according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The number of children fatalities has increased by 250% since the beginning of ground operation on 3 January.” — UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 8, 2009 [24]

“Within eleven days, Israeli occupying forces have killed at least 671 Palestinians, 547 of whom were civilians, including 155 children, and injured at least 3,000.” — Al Haq, Human Rights Organization, January 7, 2009. Note that according to these calculations, civilians make up nearly 82% of Palestinians killed by Israel, as of January 7th. [24]

“Palestinian health ministry officials say 595 people have been killed since the attacks began, 195 of them children.” (over 33%) — BBC, January 6, 2009. [26]

“In one of its bloodiest military operations, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) initiated a wide-scale air strike operation against the Gaza Strip. More than 900 people have been killed and injured, most of whom are non-combatants. The number of casualties…because of the timing of the strike [coincides] with the change in school shifts when tens of thousands of schoolchildren were on their way to or from school.” –Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Press Release, December 28, 2008. [27]

– Max Kantar is a freelance writer. He contributed this article to Contact him at:


[1] “B’Tselem to Attorney General Mazuz: Concern over Israel targeting civilian objects in the Gaza Strip,” December 31, 2008.

[2] Deen, Thalif, “Aid groups dispute Israeli claims in Gaza attacks,” The Electronic Intifada, January 10, 2009.

[3] Al Mezan, Press Release December 28, 2008.

[4] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Press Release, December 27, 2008.

[5] See note 1

[6] Palestine Centre for Human Rights, Press Release, December 31, 2008.

[7] See note 1.

[8] El-‘Ajou, Fatmeh, “Re: The Killing of Civilians in the Gaza Strip,” Adalah, January 4, 2009.

[9] Falk, Richard “Statement by professor Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” UN High Commissioner For Human Rights, December 27, 2008.

[10] See note 1

[11] Palestine Centre for Human Rights, Press Release, January 10, 2009.

[12] Carter, Jimmy, “An Unnecessary War,” The Washington Post, January 8, 2009.

[13] UNOCHA, “Protection of Civilians Weekly Report,” January 8, 2009.

[14] Al-Haq, “Legal Aspects of Israel’s Attacks on the Gaza Strip in ‘Operation Cast Lead,'” January 7, 2009.

[15] See note 14

[16] Ditz, Jason, “At least 46 killed as Israel attacks Gaza school,”, January 6, 2009. Note: media links are provided within the text of this article for verification.

[17] Edwards, David & Webster, Stephen, “Norwegian Doctor: Israel Intentionally Targeting Civilians,” The Raw Story, January 5, 2009.

[18] Al Mezan Press Release: “Most Gaza Casualties were non-combatants, civilians,” December 28, 2008, (

[19] “UN: 25% of those killed in Gaza civilians,” Ynet, December 31, 2008,

[20] “(AP) Israel advances deep into Gaza urban areas” MSNBC, January 11, 2009.

[21] Bannoura, Saed, “As night falls on the 15th day of Israeli offensive…” International Middle East Media Center, January 10, 2009.

[22] Heilprin, John, “UN: one third of Gaza dead, injured children,” San Fransico Chronicle, January 9, 2009.

[23] “Joint Open Letter to the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention,” Al-Haq, January 9, 2009.

[24] See note 13

[25] See note 14

[26] BBC, “Strike at Gaza school kills ’40′” January 7, 2009.

[27] See note 18