3

The ongoing Israel-Hamas war results in a much higher number of Palestinian casualties than previous conflicts: nearly 19,000 Palestinians are killed (according to the Hamas run Gaza Health Ministry), of which about one third is Hamas fighters (according to the IDF.) In comparison, the previous episodes of fighting resulted in:

  • Gaza war 2008-2009 resulted in 1,400+ killed (about 600 of them Hamas fighters)
  • 2014 Gaza war resulted 2,300+ killed (about 70% civilians)

(There have been also a number of smaller clashes since 2007 Hamas coup takeover of Gaza.)

Superficially, this is not unexpected - in the previous rounds of fighting Israeli army aimed mostly at destroying the rocket launchers, arms storage facilities, and tunnels - to deprive Hamas from its ability to attack Israeli population. The goal of the current war is uprooting Hamas (or at least its military branch), which probably means that there are more military targets, and they are more difficult to deal with; it also likely means larger scale of military operations. The question is what are these additional targets? What specifically accounts for the rapid rise of the number of casualties in this war?

Remarks

  • There are claims that Israel has been indiscriminately and/or deliberately attacking civilians. Since these claims are highly controversial and are unlikely to be decisively confirmed or denied before the end of the relevant investigations, please cite the government or the international agency on whose authority the claim is made.
  • (brought up in comments): In the past, when bombing buildings, IDF practiced calling residents on their cell phones and telling them to leave, or force evacuating the building via Roof knocking. It is not clear to what extent these practices are applied in the current conflict.
  • (brought up in comments): For comparison relevant examples of fighting in densely populated civilian areas are battle of Mosul and battle of Raqqa during the Iraq War.
1
  • 1
    Voting to close. This is much more a statement of opinion than a question.
    – Tom
    Mar 5 at 7:02

4 Answers 4

9

A large number of politicians, analysts, and organizations have characterized Israel's bombings as "indiscriminate". Among them US president Joe Biden, Amnesty International, Medecine Sans Frontiers, B'Tselem, UN experts, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, and many others. The indiscriminate nature of the bombings ought to be the primary cause of the high death toll.

For example, Amnesty recounts five Israeli air strikes in the first week of the war (October 7 to 12) that killed many Palestinians. The following targets were hit:

  • October 7, 8:20 pm: A three-storey residential building in al-Zeitoun in Gaza City, killing 15 persons.
  • October 9, 10:30 am: A market in Jabalia refugee camp, killing at least 69 persons.
  • October 8 in the afternoon: An apartment building in Nuseirat refugee camp, killing four persons.
  • October 10, 4:30 pm: A six-storey building in Sheikh Radwan in Gaza City, killing at least 40 persons.
  • October 10, 5:15 pm: The Hijazi family home, killing twelve persons.

According to survivors' testimonies, no warning was given before the al-Zeitoun and the Hijazi bombings. A warning was given five hours prior to the Nuseirat bombing, but in the meantime people had returned to collect their belongings. The victims of the Jabalia bombing had received text messages from the Israeli army telling them to leave their homes, which is why they crowded the Jabalia market. Bombing civilian areas with no or inadequate warnings can cause many casualties.

According to Israeli army sources speaking to +972 Magazine, the rules for engagement are looser this time than they were in prior bombing campaigns on Gaza:

The Israeli army’s expanded authorization for bombing non-military targets, the loosening of constraints regarding expected civilian casualties, [...] These factors, as described by current and former Israeli intelligence members, have likely played a role in producing what has been one of the deadliest military campaigns against Palestinians since the Nakba of 1948.

According to one source, hundreds of civilian deaths are permitted for the killing of a single top Hamas commander:

“The numbers increased from dozens of civilian deaths [permitted] as collateral damage as part of an attack on a senior official in previous operations, to hundreds of civilian deaths as collateral damage,” said one source.

Another source claims that most targets struck are not military in nature:

In the majority of cases, the sources added, military activity is not conducted from these targeted homes. “I remember thinking that it was like if [Palestinian militants] would bomb all the private residences of our families when [Israeli soldiers] go back to sleep at home on the weekend,” one source, who was critical of this practice, recalled.

Israel's use of heavy bombs in another factor explaining the massive loss of life. Analysis of bomb craters by CNN and Synthetaic suggests that Israel has dropped hundreds of 2,000-pound bombs on Gaza "many of them capable of killing or wounding people more than 1,000 feet away" (300 meters). This dotted map of northern Gaza shows where these bombs exploded:

Bomb craters over Gaza

A more detailed map shows that the lethal fragmentation zone of seven of these bombs encompassed seven schools:

Schools within the lethal fragmentation zone of Israel's heavy bombs

CNN notes that those bombs are four times heavier than the heaviest bombs the US ever dropped on ISIS and cites one US defense analyst who claims that the density of the bombardment is comparable to the US bombings during the Vietnam war.

5
  • It is not clear from the answer how this compares with the other rounds of fighting, and other cases of urban warfare. Dec 23, 2023 at 6:15
  • @RogerV. The quotes in the answer directly tell you that the number of civilian casualties to reach some military goal the IDF is willing to accept is much higher than in their previous military engagements. The scale of the operation is also much bigger. This gives a direct answer why this war has a lot more casualties than previous Israel/ Palestina wars.
    – quarague
    Dec 23, 2023 at 7:23
  • @quarague in general terms these have already been mentioned in the question - I am looking for more specifics. This is not a bad answer, but it could be improved. Dec 23, 2023 at 9:27
  • 1
    According to CNN cnn.com/gaza-israel-big-bombs/…. Israel has dropped over 22,000 bombs by Dec/10. So even if Hamas' death count is accurate, it's less than 1 person killed per bomb. That would be impossible if Israel doesn't go out of its way to spare as much human life as possible.
    – Jacob3
    Dec 25, 2023 at 10:37
  • I don't think you can count that way. According to Airwars, during the Battle of Raqqa, coalition forces dropped 5,775 bombs on the city in August 2017, resulting in 433 civilian casualties. That's less than 0.1 civilian casualty per bomb. Of course it is not completely comparable, since Syrians were able to flee Raqqa, but Palestinians are trapped in Gaza. Dec 25, 2023 at 14:36
6

There are actually two different questions here:

  1. Why is the number of casualties higher than previous Israel-Gaza conflict? - The answer is is that Israel's target in the current war is different. In previous conflicts, Israel's goal was to deter Hamas from attacking its citizens, but let Hamas continue ruling the Gaza strip. The conception of detterance has failed in 7/10, and now Israel's stated goal is to completely destroy Hamas.

  2. Why is the number of casualties higher than conflicts in other places? - That's because the number of Hamas militants in the Gaza strip is higher. For comparison, let's look at the two conflicts mentioned in the question:

  • Battle of Mosul - there were about 10,000 ISIS militants in Mosul (a city of 1.7 million). The estimates about the casualties differ widely - between 2,500 and 40,000; the average is about 10,000, which is one citizen per militant.
  • Battle of Raqqa - there were about 3,000 ISIS militants in Raqqa (a city of about 0.5 million), and the number of casualties was about 1,500, which is about 0.5 citizen per militant.
  • Gaza strip - the number of Hamas militants is estimated at over 40,000, in a population of 2.3 million. The number of casualties so far is about 20,000, which is 0.5 citizen per militant so far.

Naturally, when there are more militants to hit, and their density among the population is higher, more civilians are hit along the way.

EDIT: Another reason is that the Gazan population did not have any place to go to, because no country wanted to accept Palestinian refugees (this may change now: at least Canada agreed to accept some refugees).

4

Because Hamas is doing everything they can to put their citizens in harms way, and Israel won't stop this time before finishing the job of obliterating the Hamas terror organization.

https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/hamas-use-of-the-civilian-population-as-human-shields-and-gazas-civilian-facilities-for-terrorism/

0
3

First, Data suggests that Israel do not indiscriminately attack. As the ratio of civilians causalities is not higher than previous clashes in Gaza nor even absolutely when compared to other conflicts. Despite the heavy bombs as @StandWithGaza's answer's notes states - the ratio remains - this is even more remarkable in so dense a region.

The higher number of casualties then should be explained by (1) additional military targets (since if not military, the ratio of civilian death would go higher) and/or (2) in attacking the same military targets but without warning. Let's expand on those:

(1) Additional military targets: in previous rounds of the conflict the World (and Israel as well), has taught Hamas they can use Palestians blood as a their weapon. This encouraged Hamas to use Palestians as human shield justly thinking Israel would refrain from attacking certain places such as near-hospitals as indeed was the case. This time however, there are less immune places. In other words, Israel now attacks targets that were on list even in previous conflicts but were rule out. It can be explained by the need of destroying Hamas of its military power.

Also, as the war is ongoing new targets are created - as now Israel can gather more information from the terrorist it arrests - (even since October 7th till this day Israel arrest new terrorist). This kind of intelligence was absent in previous clashes that were without or with limited ground offensive). Other than that there is an AI system called The Gospel to find new military targets. It circulates in some Anti-Israel sites as "bad", but the IDF revealed its existence and officially says on that: "We do not compromise on the quality of the product and the intelligence, and produce targets for precise attacks on infrastructures associated with Hamas, while inflicting great damage on the enemy and minimal harm to those not involved," (Google Translate). The usage of this system is not new -- but as far as I understand its usage was much more limited in previous rounds.

(2) attacking the same military targets but without warning.: As noted in the Opening post there are indications that the previous practice of "Roof Knocking" that serves as a warning is less prevalent in this current round compared to previous rounds.

4
  • Interesting, but needs to be supported by references/citations (google translate is okay, obviously.) Dec 23, 2023 at 15:15
  • 1
    @RogerV., Yeah I would like my answer to have more refs. I might add them in the future (it might be days from now ... ). I think I should add refs when I compare to other conflicts and my statement that "there are less immune places". So, for now, whoever reads my answer can discard those. My answer still stands however.
    – discipulus
    Dec 23, 2023 at 15:21
  • 2
    Note that the ratio of military to civilian casualties is based on the estimates by the IDF of how many of the total casualties are military. This is very hard to do in general, for bombing where you have no one on the ground near by it is essentially impossible. The IDF also has every reason to provide a very biased estimate here.
    – quarague
    Dec 24, 2023 at 7:57
  • The answer is incorrect. Ratio in prior operations was usually 1:1; this time it's 1:2. Feb 8 at 9:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .