Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
New York Times, A Grim Portrait of Civilian Deaths in Iraq, October 22, 2010
Those are tragic numbers -- A 10:1 ratio of 10 civilians being killed in war for every 1 soldier.
Evelyn Gordon took note of that ratio when writing how low Israel kept casualties in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead:
This elicits an obvious question: if civilians routinely account for 90 percent of all casualties in modern warfare, why is the world up in arms about the civilian casualty rate in last year’s Israel-Hamas war in Gaza — which, by even the most anti-Israel account, was markedly lower?Whether gauging the number of casualties by the Israeli government (non-combatants were 39% of casualties) on the one hand or by the disputed numbers by B'Tzelem (74%) -- the number of civilian casualties in Gaza was well below a 10:1 ratio of 90%.
Fast forward to Operation Pillar of Defense.
The Guardian reported on the number of Gazan casualties by Sunday evening:
A Gaza health offical, Ashraf al-Kidra, said the military offensive had claimed the lives of 67 people by sunset on Sunday, including 32 civilians.Note that the article has been updated for today, and in the process the above paragaraph has been deleted.
Some sites quoting the Guardian still have the original quote, such as the blog Referente:
The key point is that al-Kidra's numbers give 35 Hamas terrorists killed and 32 civilians, a ratio of 1:1 that -- taking into account the tragedy of any death of an innocent -- is consistent with a very low number of civilian casualties.
Last year, Colonel Richard Kemp gave an assessment of Israel's care to avoid casualties:
But no one has been able to tell me which other army in history has ever done more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone.We know that in the case of Operation Cast Lead, there were differing accounts of how many civilian casualties there actually were -- but as of the end of Sunday, we have the Guardian quoting a Gaza health official that the ratio was 1:1 -- and the number of civilian deaths in Gaza would be even lower if Hamas protected their citizens.
In fact, my judgments about the steps taken in that conflict by the IDF to avoid civilian deaths are inadvertently borne out by a study published by the United Nations itself, a study which shows that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in Gaza was by far the lowest in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.
The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.
That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.
In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.
In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.[emphasis added]
Bottom line, Israel has clearly been careful to avoid casualties, and even granting tragic human error, the fact remains that Israel's record of avoiding non-combatants remains intact.
Of course, the record of Hamas is also intact as the terrorist group continues to target civilians in Israel.
Hat tip: AL
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