Gaza: Collateral Tears

Scroll down to see my previous posts on the Gaza War, beginning January 14.

The phrase “collateral damage,” meaning civilian casualties, arose in the Vietnam War and became a standard of military vocabulary. It is, at least in theory, unintended and ancillary to attacks on military targets. There has been a lot of it in Gaza, and what it really means is blood, pain, disability, loss, grief, anguish, screams, sobs, and tears. According to the Hamas Health Ministry, as of February 21st, 29,313 people have been killed, including at least 8,400 women and 12,300 children; the wounded number 69,333, including at least 6,327 women and 8,663 children. Children have been dismembered by shrapnel, burned, blinded, and crushed under rubble, among other horrible fates. Some have probably died of fright.

So “collateral tears” must include the tears of countless millions of us who read these numbers and see photos of dead or suffering children and their bereaved parents. Someone said that the mark of a civilized person is the ability to look at a page of numbers and weep. If you can’t weep at these numbers, look in the mirror.

However, this is war. I hate war, and I assume you do too. But if you agree with me that war will not be eliminated soon, the question changes. Is Israel’s war in Gaza outside the range for wars since World War II, as measured by the ratio of civilian to military deaths? No, and it is far lower than the civilian casualties caused by the US and UK in Japan and Germany in that war.

Another measure is the civilian casualties per airstrike, using only airstrikes that caused at least one casualty. Reuters fairly criticized a graph that gave a misleadingly low figure for the Gaza War, and corrected the number to 10.1. For comparison, they offer the following numbers from recent wars: the Battle of Raqqa (2017), 9.8; the Battle of Mosul (2016), 12.0; and the Aleppo Offensive (2017), 21.2. So by this measure as well, Israel’s Gaza offensive is within the range for recent wars.

Nevertheless, our tears must lead us to ask Israel to do better. Since early in the war, international pressure has grown to force it to reduce civilian casualties, or even stop the war. Is Israel responding? My makeshift graph below suggests an answer. Continue reading

Gaza, Israel, and the United Notions

I was born in August 1946; the first UN meetings were held in London in January that year. So the UN and I are the same age—you might say, nonidentical twins. I have followed it from an early age, and I am glad to report that—despite the small scale and limitations of my lifetime efforts—I have done better with my challenges than my twin has in its equal lifetime.

Per the UN itself, the genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s proved “in the worst possible way” that the UN repeatedly failed to prevent this horror, despite being able to do so. It failed to stop and even to recognize earlier genocides in Indonesia (1960s) and Cambodia (1970s) and much more recent ones in Darfur, Iraq and Syria (against the Yazidis), and Myanmar (the Rohingya). The UN rights council refused to discuss China’s ongoing genocide of Uighur Muslims.

The UN’s failure to prevent small wars—more than 200 in its lifetime and mine—speaks for itself; advocates argue that it has prevented World War III, but that is conjectural. Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning its Ukraine invasion, although the General Assembly passed it overwhelmingly. The UN has done good work against hunger and slavery and promoting sustainable development, but has consistently fallen short of its own stated goals. More than 780 million people (and rising) face hunger, and there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in human history.

Continue reading

Gaza Plus

From the moment it moved its first aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean, the US has adamantly said and said again that it wants to avoid a regional war. Despite that reluctance, regional war is here.

In a sense it has been from the start, since Iran (a non-Arab, often anti-Arab country) is on the east of the region, but its empire of vassals and proxies control Lebanon, Gaza, and Yemen as well as infiltrating Iraq and Syria with its own soldiers (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC) and arming Hamas in the occupied West Bank.

After the US accepted more than 160 attacks on its limited forces and facilities in Iraq and Syria, three US soldiers (two women and a man) were killed about two weeks ago, and the US vowed retaliation. Heavy strikes directed at key targets in Syria and Iraq occurred last Friday night, with more to come.

The Houthis, the terrorist group controlling Yemen, has for months attacked merchant ships in the Red Sea, impeding twenty percent of world commerce and decimating Suez Canal traffic. The group also attacks US naval vessels. Continue reading

Gaza: Hamas Declares War

Last Tuesday I was privileged—or voluntarily burdened, by invitation of the Israel Consul—with the chance to view one of the restricted IDF videos documenting the atrocities of October 7th. This is a compilation of video recordings from bodycams, phone, and dashboard cameras belonging to attackers, victims, and rescuers as well as CCTV from the locations attacked.

As hard as this was to watch, it did not go as far as I expected based on reports by people who saw even worse video, surviving witnesses, and the unfortunately limited postmortem evidence. I will return to some of those. But first I want to describe this video. If you are squeamish, read no further than the next paragraph; even if you are not, you will probably be disturbed.

This is the paragraph anyone can read. What made the greatest impression on me in the video was the joy on the faces of the Hamas attackers as and after they did their atrocities. Because of the way the human brain is wired, the difference between video and verbal description is not as great for atrocities as it is for facial expressions. I had heard many descriptions of atrocities, and seeing them was important, but those facial expressions are seared into my mind—when these young men turned back toward their colleagues’ phones with faces bursting with smiles. Nothing diabolical here. The smiles were big, warm, and bright, conveying the  most spontaneous joy—pride, satisfaction, and triumph, yes—but most vividly, joy.

The video is chronological, beginning with victims becoming aware of the attack, moving to examples of what is done to them and how they react, to some of the dead being mutilated by Hamas, and ending with large numbers of the dead as they were found by rescuers. Here are a few examples.

Continue reading

Gaza War: Some Numbers

Please see below (“Concerning the War in Gaza”, January 14) for my overview of the war, and the disclaimer introducing it, also applicable here. So is this: Every death is a terrible loss, and every civilian death more so.

In 1944, General Curtis Lemay was appointed to command the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) in the Pacific Theater, his predecessor having been fired for a reluctance to bomb civilians. Lemay soon ordered the fire-bombing of Tokyo with napalm, killing as many as 100,000 people in six hours. He repeated this in other Japanese cities, with the estimated total deaths ranging from 241,000 to 900,000. This was before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed another 129,000 to 226,000. These mass bombings were not directed at military targets (few were involved) but were carpet bombings of civilians. To many, Lemay is a hero.

Similar incendiary bombings, also creating firestorms, were carried out by the British and Americans in the German cities of Hamburg and Dresden, killing at least scores of thousands. Civilian populations being what they are, most of the victims in all these cases were women and children. Causing terror was their explicit goal, in the service of ending the war. Some considered these war crimes, but they were never tried or punished as such. German mass murder of civilians, using different methods, was of much greater magnitude, and was punished.

In part in reaction to the destructiveness of that war, the 1949 Geneva Conventions greatly strengthened the laws defining and prohibiting war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, a term coined to describe what the Germans did to the Jews, but subsequently applied—in a few cases I think legitimately—to other mass killings. It has more often been misapplied.

Be that as it may, the number of civilian deaths caused by democracies at war has gradually declined since World War II. The US/UN bombing of North Korea (1950-53) flattened the country and killed over a million people, mostly civilians. Conservative estimates of the civilian deaths in the US bombing of North Vietnam range from 30,000-65,000, with another 30,000 in Cambodia; other estimates are much higher.  In Iraq, between 2003 and 2013, US and Coalition forces killed an estimated 130,000 civilians. Between 8,000 and 13,000 civilian deaths were directly due to direct US and Coalition strikes in the war to eradicate ISIS (2015-2020), with other estimates ranging much higher. In all, more than 400,000 “civilians have died violent deaths as a direct result of the U.S. post-9/11 wars.”

If we accept Hamas estimates as reported (most observers do), the number of deaths in Gaza as a result of the current war is around 25,000 as of January 21st, including 16,350 civilians (9,600 children and 6,750 women). About 20,000 of these were killed between October 7 and December 20, for an average of about 274 deaths per day; the death rate has averaged around 161 per day since. The New York Times of January 22, using the same sources, states that “the number of people dying each day has fallen almost in half since early December and almost two-thirds since the peak in late October.”

An unknown, but probably small, proportion of civilian deaths have been caused by stray rockets fired by Hamas, although it attributes all deaths to Israel. Also, everyone under 18 is considered a child; this would include 16- and 17-year-olds fighting for Hamas.

Ratios between civilian and military deaths in war are very difficult to calculate, but a widely accepted average is now around 1:1, or 50 percent, over many wars. The ratio in Gaza has been between 60 and 67 percent. This if accurate is notably higher and worth investigating, although it is within the range of recent wars.

Since 1967, when Israel first became involved with the Gaza Strip, its population has grown from about 300,000 to 2.1 million in 2023, a 700 percent increase. A little over one percent of the 2023 population has been killed in the present war, the great majority of them in the first half of the war. This percentage is higher than that in some modern wars, but lower than that in others. All estimates are disputed, as the ones for the current Gaza War surely will be.

I thank Lawrence Siskind for his helpful article; all the above numbers are separately sourced.

Concerning the War in Gaza

After focusing on the Gaza war since 7:30 am on October 7th, I’ve finally decided to begin writing about it. People ask for my opinion and I will now refer them here. If you read on, that is what you will get. I will not keep saying, “In my opinion” again and again, so please assume it. Today I will give my overview, which may be followed by other, future entries.


Israel is at war with the empire of Iran, which includes the failed state of Lebanon, the territory of Gaza, and the faltering state of Yemen. Iran rules these entities through the terror groups Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis respectively. Like Iran, they are sworn to eliminate Israel. Through these and other proxies, Iran also controls parts of Syria and Iraq and has significantly infiltrated the West Bank. Since Iran is not an Arab country, this is larger than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The question of whether Iran gives directives to these proxies on a day to day basis is irrelevant. It nurtures, trains, arms, consults, and plans with them and has done so for many years. They don’t do anything without Iran’s approval before and after the fact. Meanwhile Iran progresses steadily toward a nuclear arsenal (which Israel already has).

Gazan civilians, including children and women, have paid a very high price for Iran’s imperial ambitions, inflicted on them mostly by Israel’s defense forces (the IDF). Every death is one too many, but all of these deaths are in the military category called collateral damage, which tragically occurs in every war. Whether the collateral damage in this war has been excessive will be discussed for a long time, but a growing consensus says it has. Fortunately the number of civilian casualties has declined markedly in the past few weeks as Israel has shifted its tactics from conventional war to targeted raids. Whether before or after this shift, Israel—unlike the Iranian proxies it is fighting—does not target civilians. A fortiori, despite stupid and dangerous comments by its leaders, it is not guilty of genocide.

Overwhelming evidence has shown that Gazan hospitals, schools, mosques, and homes, among other civilian institutions, were or are also Hamas fortresses and weapons depots (above and below ground), and that this was accomplished with the tolerance and often the collaboration of the people leading these institutions, including UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) personnel. Accordingly Israel could not defeat its enemy without taking over these institutions. This was done with much effort to protect civilians, including advance warnings, urging evacuation, and other means. It is estimated that 23,000 Gazans have been killed and 65,000 residential buildings have been destroyed or made uninhabitable. These two numbers strongly suggest that most of the buildings were empty.

On October 7th—both the Sabbath and an important Jewish holy day—the Gazan Iranian proxy Hamas conducted the most brilliant and the most vicious attack on Israel in its history. Call it a huge infiltration or a small invasion, it was astonishingly successful. Over 1200 civilians were killed and hundreds more kidnapped, not from the air as collateral damage but deliberately and face-to-face. Each was a premeditated murder. (To get the number of Americans required for proportionate effect, multiply by 35.) The numerous atrocities included but were not limited to: burning alive, beheading, dismemberment of babies, cutting off feet and breasts of children and women before killing them, and shooting in the vagina as part of rape. Each happened multiple times, many documented on video by the terrorists themselves and confirmed by major news organizations.

As colossal as Hamas’s success on that day was Israel’s failure. All experts are baffled by it, but it is known to have had a sexist component, since the soldiers assigned to monitor Hamas and who thoroughly warned their superiors to no avail, were women. Israelis are almost as enraged at their leadership as at Hamas, and when the war is over we will see the consequences.

This war will only be successful—that is, a true victory for Israel— if it results in: 1) a new government in Israel almost immediately; 2) an effective Palestinian government in Gaza within months, not years; 3) a reconfiguration of the Middle East, including Israel, which Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are ready for, provided that 4) there is real progress toward a two-state reality, which should be achieved in years, not decades. Absent these four changes, there will be permanent war with Iran, whether directly or through its proxies, and in time there will be no Israel.