The IDF has just opened its files on the question of Palestinian civilians killed in the recent Gaza war. According to these records, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, the number of Palestinian civilians killed is far below the figures cited by Palestinian sources — roughly one third of the 895 reported by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Although right now it’s just the IDF’s word against the Palestinians’, we would do well to recall the widespread claims of mass killings following the IDF operation in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002. First the Palestinians were claiming many hundreds of deaths, but the real number ended up being somewhere in the 20-50 range — possibly even fewer than the number of IDF soldiers killed in the same operation.
Here, too, we have already seen signs of wild exaggerations of the Palestinian non-combatant death figures. There was the case of the horrible testimonies of Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who, despite his claims of being an “objective” observer, was in fact a far-left political activist who came out in support of the 9/11 attacks. In the worst case of alleged civilian casualties, the IDF bombed in or near a school at the Jabalya refugee camp on January 6. The Palestinians reported finding the bodies of over 40 civilians under the rubble; the IDF now reports that only 12 people were killed in the incident, of whom only 3 were civilians.
It is too early to tell what will emerge from the clash of numbers on the Gaza war. But the IDF did not wait so long out of laziness: These reports are based on a thorough review, name-by-name, of the victims purportedly killed in attacks, cross-referenced with Palestinian hospital and other records.
It should go without saying that every civilian killed in war is a tragedy and, in some sense, somebody’s failure. But before people toss around blithe accusations of Israeli war crimes or the deliberate targeting of civilians, we need a better sense of the facts. Hopefully we’ve moved closer to that.