UPDATE: Why are there so many death in Gaza?

Why are there so many civilian death during the current conflict within Gaza? Does the Israeli military have other options?
Note The actual number of death reported by several Palestinian sources are highly suspect!

The answer is yes. Read the article.

In this article I discuss the military options, not politics, no legal issues, no moral.

What is the normal ratio of civilian casualty in war?

Before I do that, some statistics about the death of people during the Gaza conflict. You will see great differences between the numbers, depending on the source of the information.  The numbers are reported at the 9th of August 2014, except the numbers from the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.

  • Gaza Health Organization: 1,911 death, 1,530 citizens (80% civilians)
  • Palestinian Center of Human Rights: 1,994 death total, 1,657 civilians and 337 combatants (83% civilians)
  • UN OCHA: 1,948 death total, civilians 1,402 and 226 combatants and unidentified (72% civilians)
  • Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center: 1,552 death, 480 civilians and 467 combatants and 605 unidentified (30%–70% civilians)
  • IDF: 1,768 – 2000 death and 900 combatants.
  • Assuming the total death from the Gaza Health organization, then according the New York Times, 33% civilian death and 67% combatants.
  • Assuming the total death from the Gaza Health organization, then according the BBC, 56% civilian death and 44% combatants.
  • Assuming the total death from the Gaza Health organization, then according the ITIC, 50% civilian death and 40% combatants.
  1. A breakdown of the casualties published by the New York Times (see link below), based on figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, reveals that of the 1,431 killed during the operation that were examined, the most prominent group consisted of men aged 20-29. The names in this group constitute 34% of those killed, although their proportion of the population is only 9%. Another finding is that women, children under 15 and men over 60, who together constitute 71% of the general population, made up about 33% of those killed.
  2. The BBC (see link below) conducted its own analysis based on the figures of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which counted 1,948 dead. According to their analysis, three times as many men civilians (709) as women (237) were killed. The BBC counted an additional 226 terror activists who were not included in the number of male civilians. The BBC raised doubts about the accuracy of the claim that the shooting was “indiscriminate”, mainly in light of the enormous gap between male and female dead. 
  3. An analysis performed by CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) of those killed between 8 and 26 July reveals a similar picture. The breakdown of the dead shows that, while the proportion in the population of males aged 17-30 is about 10%, their proportion among the dead was 44%. This population is clearly identified with Gaza’s armed militants.
  4. To these analyses must be added the examinations and analyses of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), which has so far done a breakdown of 300 of the dead. An examination of the names reveals that about 50% of them are known to be terrorists.
  5. IDF figures have in the past proven to be reliable: in Operation Cast Lead, the IDF estimated that 700 of the dead were Hamas members, while Hamas claimed to have only 50 dead. A few years later Hamas admitted that 600-700 of its members were killed in the operation.


  • New York Times: ”Civilian or Not? New Fight in Tallying the Dead from the Gaza Conflict”
  • BBC: ”Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures”
  • Time: ”How Hamas wields Gaza’s casualties as propaganda”
  •  Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
  • ITIC: Preliminary, partial examination of the names of Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge and analysis of the ratio between terrorist operatives and non-involved civilians killed in error:
  • ITIC: Examination of the names of Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge – Part Two

First we need to state how many civilians and combatants are being killed. At the 30th of July 2014, there were 1,170 people killed, which are 815 (almost 70%) civilians and 355 (about 30%) combatants in the (urban) battle of Gaza.

  1. The ratio of average civilian casualty is 90% civilian death, according the 1991 monograph from Uppsala University.
  2. According the UN estimations, there is an average ratio of 300% civilian death worldwide.
  • The ratio during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) was 50%.
  • The ratio during WW1 was 40%.
  • The ratio during WW2 was 67%.
  • The ratio during the Korean war was 67%.
  • The ratio during the Vietnam war was 67%.
  • The ratio during the Lebanon war in 1982 was 85%.
  • The ratio during the Yugoslavia with NATO war in 1999 was 50%.
  • The ratio during the Iraq war was 77%.
  • The ratio during the US drones in Pakistan (2004-2007) was 60% .
  • The ratio during the terrorists and civilians incursions in Israel was 50% in 2002-2003.
  • The ratio during the attacks in/by Israel in 2005 was 4%.
  • The ratio during the attacks in/by Israel in 2006 was 10%
  • The ratio during the attacks in/by Israel in 2007 was 2%
  • The ratio during 2008/2009 Operation Cast Lead was 61%
  • The ratio during the Gaza war (July 2014) between Hamas and Israel is 70%.

Some wars in the above lists are not urban wars. Many of them are mixtures of urban and conventional warfare. Urban warfare is the worst an army needs to perform. The ratio of civilian and military death is totally different when you fight combatants in a city or in the open, for example near borders of a country in the form of battles. The average ratio in urban warfare goes into more then 300% (according the UN estimates again).

Urban warfare in Gaza

In my article Urban warfare in Gaza, you can read more in detail about urban warfare in general and applied on the current conflict.

But generally, there are several strategical approaches when you speak about urban warfare. All of those strategies are focused on one important question:

Do you want or must you inflict large civilian casualties or not?

Large civilian casualties

The logic behind that question and global strategy is simple. If you would fire heavy artillery on the city and bomb it intensely, you can expect heavy casualties for sure (“soften-it-up“).

  1. Heavy civilian casualties is a given. Especially when the city does not have (or a few) bomb shelters and the city is heavily populated.
  2. The high number of combatant casualties is not a given. Those are probably ‘dug in’ or in Gaza’s case, in tunnels and underground bunkers.
  3. The strategy being used here is engaging Gaza in several phases. The first one is to use heavy artillery on the city and to bomb it with the purpose to “destroy the terrorist infrastructure“, but what factually happens here is a large destruction of the city and civilian death. The next phase is to use artillery and bombing together with a slow moving infantry force. The phase after that is the actual occupation of the city.

Note In this conflict, the political leadership is actually in charge of the military operation. That results into unnecessary death and loss of strategical momentum.

Small civilian casualties

The logic behind this statement and global strategy is also simple. You refrain from using any military move, which causes uncontrolled actions. With other words, no artillery, no bombing, no massive destruction of anything, unless it is a combatant structure.

  1. The number of combatant casualties is a given on both sides of the conflict.
  2. Several strategies can be applied, because the (urban) battle will take place house-for-house, room-for-room, floor-for-floor, tunnel-for-tunnel. The advantage of having a disciplined army falls away with real urban fighting in a dense populated city with civilians and combatants.
  3. The use of different types of infantry units are the core of modern urban warfare, like special forces, infantry, engineers, psychological warfare, cavalry like tanks and the like (see also Urban warfare in Gaza).
  4. The heavier firepower is more dedicated for the infantry units without the loss of control of firepower, causing unnecessary death of civilians.
  5. The attackers are using several layers of infantry. The first layer’s purpose is to gain ground, the second layer to make sure that there are no tunnels left, the third layer to protect the rear and of course the synchronization between the different layers.
  6. Another type of units attacking enemy structures behind the enemy lines (special forces)
  7. Another type of units attacking and occupying civilian structures like schools, power plants, hospitals, so that those can’t be used against the attackers.

War crimes and strategies

What everyone seems to scream about: “war crime!”, and what actually happens on the ground is a given. In urban warfare, (some of) the combatant parties are using civilian structures, locations and positions to fight and/or attack the other side of the urban warfare. Using positions like civilian structures, locations and positions is a ‘strategical’ part of the urban battle and in many cases it’s being used as a desperate move to fight an advancing side.
For example, using houses full of civilians, schools and hospitals to launch rockets, and to fire on troops and to use such structures as command- and communication centers. Launching rockets and artillery near civilian structures is almost the same.
Answering that strategy of firing from civilian structures on one side is the important issue.

  1. If the answer is using artillery and bombing, then this results into high civilian casualties.
  2. If the answer is attacking those structures by conventional means (using infantry), then that results into high military casualties.

In urban warfare, both sides needs to work out strategies, which reduces the casualties.

  • In the case of the defending side, the purpose is to cause so many casualties as possible on the attackers, until they give up.
  • In the case of the attacking side, the purpose is to plan and to foresee the possible strategies the defenders are going to use.
    Use of civilian structures to fight the attackers is a given, and before that might happen, this treat needs to be neutralized.


First of all, I sadly conclude that the attacking side of this urban warfare is hampered by the political side of the conflict. The result is prolonging the war and increasing the casualties dramatically.
Secondly, both sides of the conflict have chosen the method of urban warfare, which causes the most civilian death.

Now about the question at the beginning of this article: “Why are there so many civilian death during the current conflict within Gaza? Does the Israeli military have other options?

Yes, they had other options, but they did not choose for it.

The reason is the political interference. The military action against the combatants in Gaza and to stop the rockets being launched from Gaza and to disable the use of tunnels by Hamas was divided into stages. During or after each stage, the political echelon gave Hamas the option to stop attacking. That’s hampering the military efforts and losing strategical momentum.
Also, the military (and political as well) campaign was not well planned.

Outside military analysts without access to factual information on the ground must accept a certain degree of uncertainty.  Consequently, what follows should be seen as little more than informed speculation based on limited and potentially unreliable evidence – Wim Vincken.

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0 thoughts on “UPDATE: Why are there so many death in Gaza?”

  1. They are using artillery and bombs targeting structures, they claim that has been used by Hamas in any way. At those locations, civilians are living. That's a fact.
    On the other side, nobody can be sure if the death reported are civilians or combatants. They don't wear uniforms, you know.
    And on the other side again, children are not combatants. They are the actual victims of this campaign.

    It seems to me that the Israeli side of the conflict wants to inflict terror to the Palestinian population to such level that they will stop Hamas. It's a primitive way to do that, and I doubt that it results into something. And even when it does, the price is very high.

    I personally would not choose this approach.

  2. Do you think that the army is the biggest problem in Israel?

    I mean the army who is shelling the civilians?

  3. You choose for a strategy, create a campaign and stick to it.
    It's their choice to choose for that strategy.

    The reasons are theirs.

    I think that the choice of civilian casualties is done on purpose for psychological and political reasons.

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