Since the end of the Gaza War in January 2009, Israel has stood accused of targeting civilians, rather than terrorist combatants. The Israeli Defense Force has claimed that during Operation Cast Lead it targeted only combatants in its efforts to protect its civilians from rocket attacks. It has also claimed that most of the dead were combatants and issued lists of names of many of the combatants killed and identified them as members of the specific Hamas military units. Despite unprecedented efforts to avoid civilian casualties -- including hundreds of thousands of leaflets, telephone calls and non-lethal, noise-making warning bombs -- some civilians were killed, because Hamas deliberately hid behind civilians, using them as shields, when they fired rockets at Israeli civilians.
Following the end of the Gaza War, which has essentially stopped Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, there was a great debate about the number of Gaza civilians actually killed, and the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths during this difficult military operation.
The Israel Defense Force put the total number of known combatants killed at 709 and the number of known civilian deaths at 295, with 162 (mostly men of fighting age) "unknown." Such a ratio, if true, would be far better than that achieved by any other nation in a comparable conflict. Not surprisingly, Israel's enemies initially disputed this ratio and claimed that the number of combatants killed was far lower and the number of civilians far higher. The United Nations, the Goldstone Report, various "human rights" organizations and many in the media automatically rejected Israel's documented figures, preferring the distorted numbers offered by Hamas' and other Palestinian sources.
But a statement recently made by a Hamas leader confirms that Israel was correct in claiming that approximately 700 combatants were killed.
First, a word about the context of the Hamas statement. In the aftermath of the war, Hamas has come under considerable criticism from rival terrorist groups for not doing enough to defend Gaza and for allowing so many civilian casualties. So, in a recent interview with a London paper, Al-Hayat, Fathi Hamad, Hamas' Interior Minister, responded to these criticisms as follows:
"It has been said that the people were harmed by the war, but is Hamas not part of the people? It is a fact that on the first day of the war Israel struck police headquarters and killed 250 members of Hamas and the various factions, in addition to the 200-300 operatives from the [Izz al-Din] al-Qassam Brigades. In addition, 150 security personnel were killed, and the rest were from people. (The original text of the interview in Arabic, as reprinted in the Hamas newspaper Felesteen, can be found on the website of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. It was also reported by Agence France Presse)
This statement not only supports the Israeli numbers, but it also acknowledges what Israel has long said about the 250 policemen who were killed on the first day of combat: they were "members of Hamas and the various factions" and were indeed "combatants" by any realistic definition of that term.
Fathi Hamad's figures are in striking contrast to those originally issued by Palestinian groups which claimed that only 48 combatants were killed and that the total amounted to a mere 17 percent of all fatalities.
Because it uncritically accepted the original Hamas claims of very few combatant deaths, the Goldstone Report was able to reach its flawed conclusion that the purpose of the operation must have been to kill civilians, not combatants. This is what the Goldstone Report said:
The Mission notes that the statistics from non-governmental sources are generally consistent. Statistics alleging that fewer than one out of five persons killed in an armed conflict was a combatant...raise very serious concerns about the way Israel conducted the military operations in Gaza. The counterclaims published by the Government of Israel fall short of international law standards.
Now that the truth has been admitted by the Hamas leadership -- that as many as 700 combatants were, in fact, killed -- the Goldstone Commission is obliged to reconsider its false conclusion and correct its deeply flawed report.
Richard Goldstone himself has repeatedly said that he hoped that new evidence will prove his conclusions wrong. Well, this new evidence -- a classic admission against interest -- does just that!
The original false figures have also been submitted by the Palestinian Authority to the International Criminal Court. It too has an obligation to correct the record. It would be an outrageous miscarriage of justice for the International Criminal Court to open an investigation of a nation that, in actuality, had the best ratio of combatant to civilian deaths in any comparable war.
The admission by Fathi Hamad that Israel's figures were correct and those originally offered by Palestinian groups were false exposes the rush to judgment against Israel that has stained the so-called "human rights" community so often in the past. It is essential that this new evidence be widely circulated, which it has not been to date, and that those who condemned Israel on the basis of false allegations correct the record. Don't hold your breath! In today's distorted world of "human rights," truth takes a back seat to ideology, and false claims -- especially those that "support" radical ideologies -- persist even after they have been exposed.
Professor Alan Dershowitz's latest book is a novel, The Trials of Zion.