The release of the WikiLeaks logs on the Iraq War this week has led some Israelis to ask anew whether the country is the victim of a double standard in the way the international community views human rights.
The key question:
Why did Israel, following Operation Cast Lead last year, come under such harsh
international criticism culminating in the Goldstone Report, while the war in
Iraq, which has claimed the lives of over 150,000 people, has yet to lead to the
establishment of a similar UN-sanctioned probe?
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First, it is important to point
out that the world’s three premier human rights organizations – Human Rights
Watch, Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross –
do not have statistics on the number of combatants and civilians killed by
coalition forces in Iraq and the consequent ratio between them.
Jerusalem Post contacted all three organizations this week and not a single one
had the necessary statistics. They do, however, have the numbers from the IDF
operation in the Gaza Strip last year.
One researcher, in charge of the
Iraqi desk for one of the NGOs, told the Post that no one had ever worked on
tallying up the Iraq numbers. In addition, he said, it would be difficult to do
so, since there are differences of opinion regarding the way to define
“The Iraqis define combatants one way and the US another
way,” the researcher said.
This sounds familiar, given the differences of
opinion that emerged between Israel and its critics during and following
Operation Cast Lead.
The IDF claimed that the Hamas policemen killed
during the operation – totaling 264, according to Israel – should be defined as
combatants since in many instances, according to the IDF, the policemen took up
arms against IDF troops. The Palestinians rejected this claim and categorized
the policemen as civilians. The Goldstone Report did the same.
York Times, in its main article on the WikiLeaks revelations, cited a study by
the Red Cross, which concluded that in the average of 20th century warfare, 10
civilians were killed for every combatant.
One organization that did
claim to have a tally of combatants and civilians killed by US and coalition
forces throughout the war was the Iraq Body Count (IBC), a UK-based organization
that has tracked civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In total, over
150,000 people have been killed and 80 percent of them – more than 122,000 –
were civilians, said the IBC.
According to John Sloboda, a founder of
IBC, American and coalition forces have killed at least 22,668 combatants as
well as 13,807 civilians.
The rest of the civilians were killed by
terrorist groups, militias and insurgents.
According to Sloboda, this
would mean that for every civilian killed, two combatants were killed,
essentially a ratio of 1:2.
The number of people killed during Operation
Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip is disputed by the different sides. Israel, for
example, claims that 1,166 people were killed, including 709
Based on this, the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths is
1:3 – one civilian for every three combatants.
Many, however, do not
accept the Israeli numbers.
B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for
Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, claims that 1,390 people were killed
during the operation in Gaza. It says only 349 were combatants, 248 were
policemen and 32 are unknowns since B’Tselem said it could not determine for
certain whether they had participated in the hostilities.
Two more people
are referred to as being killed in targeted killings – apparently a reference to
Nizar Rayan, a Hamas cleric, and Said Siam, the Hamas interior
If one adds all of these together, Israel killed 60% civilians
during Operation Cast Lead – not greatly dissimilar to the ratio provided by the
Iraq Body Count.
Notably, Operation Cast Lead came after a year during
which the IDF had succeeded in lowering civilian deaths to an unprecedented
ratio of 1:30. This was a far cry from 2002, when the ratio was 1:1, meaning
that for every terrorist killed, one civilian was killed.
Israel’s improvement was the investment in special weapons systems, smart bombs
that are large enough to kill a target but small enough to minimize collateral
damage. There was also an upscaled Israeli effort to warn civilians to flee
areas and to divert missiles at the last moment if civilians entered a planned
In total, during Operation Cast Lead, the IDF dropped over
5,000 missiles in the Gaza Strip; over 81% of them were smart bombs, an
unprecedented percentage in modern warfare.
In comparison, during the
beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, coalition forces used smart bombs 68% of the
time. During the Kosovo War of 1999, the percentage was 35%.