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HAMAS is like the Bill Clinton of terrorist groups. I am not suggesting that the terror group needs a lesson about what to do with Cuban cigars, it more a matter of twisting phrases and honesty. Or to put it a different way when it comes to Hamas Civilian casualty numbers, it depends what “IS” is.

The casualty numbers reported by the press and Used by Hamas are compiled by Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). The PCHR numbers are seriously flawed. One of the problems with their figures is that they classify as Civilians, casualties that most reasonable people would call military

For an example, Lets say someone launches a rocket at Sedrot, then puts the launcher in the truck and hears the call to prayer. He puts down his rug and starts praying. At the same time IDF is honing in on where the missile was launched and takes out the truck and the people who just launched the missile. Those terrorist’s are considered civilian because they weren’t launching missiles at the time, they were praying. And that is just one example.

Beyond that the group does not report Senior Combatants in their numbers at all. Camera has done a numerical analysis of the numbers age and gender and convincingly proves a significant numbers of combatants may have been misclassified as civilians:

CAMERA:Gaza Casualties: Civilian or Combatant?
by Steven Stotsky

As Israel’s Operation Cast Lead winds down in Gaza, controversy rages over whether Israel used indiscriminate and excessive force. Israel defends its actions claiming that 3/4 of the fatalities were Hamas members or other combatants opposing Israeli forces. The Palestinian claim, echoed in much of the media coverage, is that the vast majority of the fatalities were unarmed civilians.

A complicating factor in quantifying the number of civilian casualties is the call by Hamas leaders for their members to shed their uniforms and fight in civilian clothing ( “Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery,”New York Times, Jan. 11, 2009).

CAMERA examined the data collected by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), which provides the most comprehensive tally of casualty figures in Gaza. The results of CAMERA’s analysis are summarized below.

  • PCHR counts as civilians individuals identified by other sources as combatants and omits any mention of slain senior fighters from terrorist groups.
  • An analysis of the fatalities by age and gender suggests that significant numbers of combatants may have been misclassified as civilians.


PCHR clearly represents a partisan source that favors Hamas over Israel. This is evidenced by the terminology and tone it uses in its reports – for example, labelling the Israeli Defense Forces as the “Israeli Occupation Forces” and describing Israeli military operations as “war crimes.”

The data examined here covers the period of Dec. 27, 2008 through January 14, 2009. PCHR produces both daily updates and weekly reports on Palestinian casualties in Gaza. CAMERA’s study examined both types of reports, but the report focuses on the weekly updates.

Omissions and Inaccuracies in PCHR Data

PCHR data is quite extensive and detailed, yet a sampling of newspaper accounts and a cursory review of items posted by the Maan News Agency, another Palestinian source, uncovered a number of omissions and misclassifications of combatant status. CAMERA’s examination of PCHR’s reports found no mention of several senior commanders from Hamas who were reported killed :

• Abu Zakaria al-Jamal on Jan. 3
• Muhammad Hilou on Jan. 4 (a name similar to this was listed, but there was no indication that he was a member of Hamas or a combatant)
• Mahmoud Shalpokh on Jan. 4
• Ayman Siam on Jan. 6
• Amir Mansi on Jan. 10

It was reported by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center that Hamas explicitly forbade the publishing of the names of Hamas fighters killed in combat. Is PCHR abiding by this demand? Commanders and fighters from other militant groups reported killed by Maan News Agency also were not found in the PCHR reports:

• Muhammad Abu An-Nasr – killed on Jan. 7
• Shams Omar – Al-Quds (Islamic Jihad) commander in Gaza – killed on Jan. 10
The Israelis identified by name two Hamas fighters among the fatalities at the UNRWA school shelled on Jan. 6, but their names do not appear in the PCHR report.

And a number of individuals PCHR named but did not identify as combatants were identified by Maan as members of militant groups.

• Jihad Abu Medif (Medyiff) – identified as member of Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade
• Haitham Abu al-Qumsan – identified as member of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades
• Hamdi Fareed Abu Hamada – identified as member of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades
• Eyad al-Maqqousi – identified as member of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades
• Mohammed ‘Abed Hassan Brbakh – identified as DFLP commander
• Tariq Nimer Abu Amsha – identified as member of Islamic Jihad al-Quds Brigades
A large proportion of young men targeted and killed by the Israelis are neither labeled as combatants nor described as civilians, yet in the tallies PCHR provides to the media, most are automatically categorized as “civilians.”

The above examples indicate that PCHR’s policy of categorizing “civilians” is flawed. The question remains, how many of the numerous fatalities of young men classified as civilians, may have been in fact combatants? If most of those unlabeled male fatalities were combatants, this would dramatically increase the proportion of fatalities who were combatants.

An Analysis of the Fatalities by Age and Gender Suggests Combatants May Have Been Misidentified as Civilians

The most recent weekly update records 1042 Palestinian fatalities through Jan. 14. It defines 698 of these fatalities as civilians ( 67 percent) and an additional 166 “civil police officers” (16 percent) it also regards as non-combatants. Included in the civilian fatality total are:

• 230 children (defined as those aged 17 or under)
• 76 women
• 392 (38 percent of all fatalities) adult men labeled as civilians

A statistical analysis of the data raises questions about the accuracy of PCHRs application of the civilian label to adult men and to male teenagers.

Table of tabulated PCHR data from Weekly reports

Time period                        combatants security force   
other males        
18- 40 yrs
>40 yrs   
15-17 yrs
>18 yrs
Total from update for 12-27 to 12-31
        77 “civilians”
not listed  separately
Identified in updates for 1-1 to 1-14
Summed total
Difference between summed reports and PCHR sum total
not  listed separately
PCHR reported total to 1-14
not listed
* this number excludes males age 15-17.

* this number excludes males age 15-17.

These statistics raise questions about the accuracy of PCHR’s data and its labeling of combatants and civilians. First, there is an unusually high proportion of fatalities in the adult male group, the same group which provides nearly all of the combatants.

• Out of 1042 fatalities, at least 782 were males aged 15 or higher. While males over age 15 make up approximately 25 percent of the Gaza population, they made up 75 percent of the fatalities.

• Where the data is broken down by age, it indicates that most fatalities were males between ages 15 and 40.

Is it a coincidence that this is also the age range of most of those identified as combatants?

Even after excluding those identified by PCHR as combatants, there is still a disproportionate number of fatalities among this age group in relation to their representation in the population. This issue raises questions which warrant further investigation. Given reports that Hamas fighters shed their uniforms and were indistinguishable from civilians, and given footage from the conflict showing people actively engaged in shooting from within crowds of civilians, it is right to question how it is possible to distinguish combatants from those who accompany them in battle.

Among Child Fatalities, an Unusual Proportion are Males Aged 15 to 17

PCHR records 230 child fatalities to January 14. But it gives specific age and gender information for only 172 . Of these 172, 49 (28 percent) are 15 -17 year old males. Considering that this age group accounts for approximately 8 percent of the under-18 population, 15-17 year old males are overrepresented as fatalities. Since Palestinian terror groups are known to have used teenagers from this age category to carry out suicide bombings, it is not unreasonable to suspect that a number of these teenage fatalities resulted from them having participated in combat.

A Note on Child Casualties

A significant proportion of the child and women fatalities were the result of targeted attacks on the homes of Hamas leaders. Israel reports that these homes serve as command quarters and as munitions depots where arms are stored. Israel claims that it notifies the occupants of houses it plans to hit before attacking them. PCHR corroborated this claim in at least one instance. In two instances, Israeli warnings were ignored and large numbers of children and women, the families of the targeted senior Hamas officials, were killed.

Further investigation of Palestinian casualty claims is warranted. As was the case in the summer 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, the media is all too willing to repeat the claims of partisan sources that most of the casualties resulting from Israeli actions are civilians despite evidence that these claims are exaggerated and the statistics they cite are manipulated.

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