(source: Ma’an News Agency)
Bethlehem – Ma’an – In a landmark publication, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has released a fully researched and cross-referenced list of casualties from Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip in December and January.
According to B’Tselem’s research, Israeli security forces killed 1,387 Palestinians during the course of the three-week operation. Their research further found the following:
• Of these, 773 did not take part in the hostilities, including 320 minors and 109 women over the age of 18.
• Of those killed, 330 took part in the hostilities, and 248 were Palestinian police officers, most of whom were killed in aerial bombings of police stations on the first day of the operation.
• For 36 people, B’Tselem could not determine whether they participated in the hostilities or not.
Official Government of Israel statistics had 1,166 Palestinians killed, 60% of whom were “members of Hamas and other armed groups.” According to the military, a total of 295 Palestinians who were “not involved” in the fighting were killed.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights published a revised and expanded report on Tuesday, 8 September, detailing the following numbers:
• 1,419 Palestinians were killed including 1,167 non-combatants and 252 resistance activists. The non-combatants include civilians and civil police officers who were not involved in hostilities, the protected persons of international humanitarian law.
• Investigations conducted by PCHR indicate that 918 civilians were killed. The civilian victims include 318 children and 111 women.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health puts the number of dead at 1,455. B’Tselem had the following to say about the discrepancy between its numbers and the Israeli government’s figures. They called the “blatant discrepancy between the numbers …intolerable,” and cited home visits and photo documentation that directly contradicted government evidence. Police as non-combatants? The Israeli rights group is the first non-Palestinian organization to officially categorize police separately from “combatants.” During the war on Gaza sides, including the United Nations, were hesitant to comment or categorize police as a separate entity. In an earlier briefing on its research, B’Tselem justified its separate classification saying “it is very questionable that the Palestinian Police in Gaza, as an institution, is part of the combat force of Hamas, in the sense that its members fulfill a continuous combat function.” The group used a six-year study completed by the International Committee for the Red Cross which determined there were two categories of persons who lose the protection given them as civilians during an armed conflict between a state and an organized armed group. They were identified by B’Tselem as follows: 1. A person who fulfills a “continuous combat function.” Such persons are legitimate objects of attack also if at the moment of attack they are not taking a direct part in the hostilities. This category includes persons whose continuous function involves the preparation, execution, or command of combat acts or operations. An individual recruited, trained and equipped by such a group to continuously and directly participate in hostilities can be considered to assume a continuous combat function even before the person carries out a hostile act. On the other hand, persons who continuously accompany or support an organized armed group but whose function does not involve direct participation in hostilities maintain their status as civilians and are not legitimate objects of attack. Thus, recruiters, trainers, financiers, and propagandists may contribute to the general war effort, but as long as they do not directly participate in hostilities, are not a legitimate object of attack. 2. A person who does not fulfill a “continuous combat function,” but takes a direct part in hostilities. Such persons are legitimate objects of attack only at the time they take a direct part in hostilities (for example, when on the way to fire a rocket, during the firing of the rocket, and on the way back). Thus, the group reasoned, “Given the presumption that individuals are civilians who are not legitimate objects of attack, unless proven otherwise, police officers cannot be deemed a legitimate object of attack where no proof exists that they are integrated in Hamas’s combat forces.” The group would not go so far as to say that the police should be categorized as non-combatants, however, “since B'Tselem does not have sufficient information on the function of the Police in Gaza, and the connection between it and the organized armed groups,” they said, “we are unable to state with certainty if the police officers were a legitimate object of attack.” Research process According to an earlier briefing, B'Tselem’s explained its research methods as being conducted by investigators living in the Gaza Strip as well as Israel-based researchers. Staff “investigated the circumstances of the death of every Palestinian whom it has been contended did not participate in the hostilities. This investigation included obtaining medical documents and photographs, and taking of testimonies of eyewitnesses. The compiled material was cross-checked with announcements of the IDF Spokesperson, lists disseminated on websites and Blogs of Palestinian and international human rights organizations, of armed Palestinian groups, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). B'Tselem’s request to the army for a copy of the list of fatalities it compiled was refused.” Israeli casualties The study also looked at Israelis killed during the war. They found the following: “Palestinians killed 9 Israelis during the operation: 3 civilians and one member of the security forces by rockets fired into southern Israel, and 5 soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Another 4 soldiers were killed by friendly fire.”
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