10,000 dead children in Gaza? Really?

From someone in a social media discussion:

85,000 children dead in Yemen due to their civil war. More than 10,000 dead in Gaza since October.

Which got the reply:

The 10,000 number for Gaza is an exaggeration. Hamas is a terrorist organization that pulls numbers out of a hat. The only way the 10,000 could be accurate is if they are counting their teenage soldiers as children.

My response:

1) HOW MANY DEAD CHILDREN?

It is so unusual to have precise numbers in a conflict it made me doubt the figures too. So I did some light research. Checking with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the medical, reporting and conflict resolution sectors, plus the UN and independent aid agencies gives some insight.

These figures are validated, verified and the records independently checked. Trusted news organisations have looked into how they come about and are content.

The US government challenged the numbers because israel’s were one tenth of the Palestinians’ numbers. Israel was wrong and released much bigger numbers nearly the same as the Palestinians were giving out.

The numbers you see online of total deaths and child deaths and confirmed and trustworthy.

The IDF claims they are killing just two civilians for each combatant. They give no more details at all than that. The US says the IDF has killed between 5000 and 9000 Hamas combatants, meaning a ratio of between 1:2 and 1:4. Let’s assume the IDF figure is accurate, and not as flawed as their previous numbers.

Let us also pretend that ratio applies to the use of child soldiers, regardless of how young so including babies.

That means there are at least 6,600 confirmed civilian child deaths.  Is that an acceptable number?

By the way, teenage soldiers are still children. Child soldiers are victims too.

2) ACCURACY OF THE NUMBERS

The principal source is the Gaza’s Ministry of Health (MoH). On the face of it, probably the least reliable of sources since it is run by Hamas. However…

In December, when the MoH reported 15,899 dead, the Times of Israel reported the IDF confirmed 5,000 combatants + 10,000 civilian = 15,000 deaths. So the IDF is giving similar numbers. This is far higher than the Israeli government had been claiming in November; it is the Israeli government that has had to revise its reporting, upwards by a factor of ten! It later said this was because they were providing numbers of confirmed terrorists, not Palestinians. This discrepancy was used by Joe Biden to erroneously say the MoH figures were wrong.

MoH uses a centralised computer system with each hospital providing details of each casualty and corpse. They release figures every few hours. When the US queried the details in October, the MoH provided the raw data including names, ID numbers and so on. At that time it was 6,747 named dead and 281 unidentified.

The data is shared with the totally separate health ministry in the West Bank. It confirms the numbers itself and says it trusts the figures provided. The ID numbers for Gaza, West Bank and Israel are held by the Israeli Population Registry Office and so can be validated.

The MoH has a long track record of being reliable, according to the World Health Organization and the UN. In conflicts in 2008, 2014 and 2021, the MoH’s figures at the time matched the UN’s own subsequent investigation figures to within 4%. Israel’s own figures for the 2014 war were 2125 killed, UN said 2251 and MoH said 2310 – so within 9% of Israel’s estimate. When Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem tallied up deaths in 2014, it made it 2185 (9% fewer) but said such differences were “fairly normal” and down to different ways of counting.

3) WHO TRUSTS THE NUMBERS?

Médecins Sans Frontières confirm the numbers (plus detail attacks and airstrikes on medical facilities and staff).

Airwars – a charity that investigates civilian deaths in conflicts – has done a specific analysis of scores of these records to check them and confirmed them. They have now checked and independently confirmed the details of over 900 of the bodies.

The charity Every Casualty Counts studies death tolls in wars and they say all they found was one person recorded twice in the data.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed the data statistically, such as correlating ID numbers and age, and could find no evidence of falsification.

Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director: “These figures are professionally done and have proven to be reliable”.

The Guardian newspaper, generally considered a very reliable source for such information, are content the numbers are realistic. The BBC has also investigated and reported on the numbers with the same conclusion. Ditto for Reuters.

Note that these numbers are only the known deaths. They do not include people missing or bodies still buried under rubble and not reported. The Palestinian Red Crescent and US government’s assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs say the numbers must be higher than those published.

It is also only confirmed dead. Tens of thousands have had hospital treatment, many with life-changing wounds. That will include children, and have created orphans.

Heroes among the civilians

In response to a cartoon about the Israeli response in the Gaza strip on GoComics, someone wrote:

Do not look for heroes in this conflict. There are victims and terrorists on both sides.

I felt compelled to reply.

There are heroes.

  • The war reporters. Over 80 dead and many imprisoned.
  • The aid workers. Over 100 UN aid workers dead.
  • The medics. Over 280 healthcare workers killed and at least 14 strikes on Doctors Without Borders medical facilities or vehicles.
  • Then the less glamorous ones who are trying to keep the sanitation working, digging people and bodies from buildings, burying corpses, trying to identify people’s remains.
  • And there will be countless incredible feats of courage by civilians that will never be known or recognised.

No medals for any of the above though. Medals are saved for the people with the armour and guns and creating the harm.

Airstrikes kill civilians

We are told that drone strikes have surgical precision.

We are told that intelligence is always checked before targeting people.

Afghanistan: US admits Kabul drone strike killed civilians

We are told lies.

These are extra-judiciary (i.e. sentence delivered without trial) executions (i.e. killings).  We usually call that murder.

Why is nobody held accountable?

Oh, I forgot.  We are.  By the families, friends and sympathisers of the victims, who hold us responsible for the actions of our military and governments.

Are you happy, being party to mass murder of innocent civilians, including children?

Smart missiles

Because of the current proposed airstrikes on Syria, I was trying to remember where the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital was that was attacked in an airstrike fairly recently.

Now that these days we have ‘smart missiles’ and ‘smart bombs’ and ‘laser guided precision’ and assurances civilian casualties are avoided, I just wanted to check the details.

On Googling it I found:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Kunduz, Afghanistan – October 2015 – sustained air attack by USA – 42 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Maaret al-Numan, Syria – February 2016 – 2 raids by Syria or Russia – 7 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières children’s hospital – Azaz, Syria – February 2016 – ballistic missile from Russia – 10 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital -Hajjah, Yemen – August 2016 – airstrike by Saudi-coalition – 11 dead, hospital partially destroyed and closed down
  • Médecins Sans Frontières supported hospital – Saraqab City, Syria – January 2018 – 2 airstrikes – 5 dead, hospital closed down

They just go on and on.  Then I saw:

“In 2016, 32 MSF-supported medical facilities were bombed or shelled on 71 occasions. In 2015 we documented 94 attacks on 63 MSF-supported hospitals and clinics in Syria.”

It’s a good job there’s GPS and smart missiles and the like guaranteeing civilians don’t get killed in airstrikes.

An email to my MP: “Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria”

Subject: Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria

Dear Cat Smith MP,

You are my MP as I live at <my home address>.

Please do all you can to prevent the government escalating the situation in Syria.

The news this morning suggests the Prime Minister intends to carry out a military response to an alleged chemical attack which has not yet even been investigated.

  • After the recent embarrassment to Britain over the poisoning of the Russian agent and his daughter, I would have hoped the government would be more circumspect over this event.
  • The Syrian conflict is already a proxy war, where external agents are major players. The intervention by us now when the Syrian government appears to be winning is classic proxy war participant behaviour to attack the leading side to prolong the war. Even if this is not the case, it is how it is interpreted, and puts Britain in a very bad light.
  • A weak government is often perceived as being keen to go to war as a way to bolster support. Although that is a government fault, it reflects badly on us as a country reinforcing the impression that killing people overseas gets popular support from the British people.
  • Following the USA’s knee-jerk reaction an to international incident always makes Britain look weak, rather than making a powerful statement as claimed.
  • Following Donald Trump’s Twittered reaction to anything makes us look utterly ridiculous.
  • War should always be the last resort in diplomacy, not the first.
  • The poisoning, tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions, the misinformation over international events and accusations of false-flag actions are all very similar to activities in the Cold War. A military response at this time feels to me, as someone who remembers the tail end of the Cold War, a very dangerous escalation. The world still has nuclear weapons, I should dread for more generations to grow up under the fear of nuclear super-powers in a perpetual stand-off like that under which I grew up. It is crushing to ambition and hope for the future to know your life can be snuffed out by the whim of one’s own government or by an error in the nuclear command control. Please don’t let this government slide us back into the previous century.

I expect better arguments for not carrying out this strike will become apparent through the day.

As my elected representative, should the government bother to ask your opinion, please do all you can to communicate the foolishness of a violent escalation to the situation in Syria.

 

“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

The Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict

I noticed this on the 1974 entry on Wikipedia’s page Timeline of women’s legal rights (other than voting):

Article 1 of the declaration specifically prohibits bombing of civilian populations.

Article 5 of the declaration requires countries to recognise the destruction of dwellings as a criminal act.

This applies to all member states of the United Nations and has since 1974.

Think on that when you see news stories of wedding parties being hit by drones or see destroyed apartment blocks and homes in the Middle East.

If these are war crimes, who are the criminals and where are the trials?

What happens now about the burning Syrian oil fields?

The oil wells currently being blown up in Syria and being used by IS should have been dealt with months ago.  This has been said by quiet lone voices but only became newsworthy just this past week as the airstrikes against them began.

We know from the 2nd Gulf War that these will burn and continue to burn until the fighting is over.  Presumably, if IS somehow manage to put out and cap a well, it will become a target again and this continue until the territory is retaken.

This will mean months, or years, of the burning of crude oil polluting the local land indefinitely and air downwind for the duration, which the government cautiously warns will be three years or more.

What a waste of an irreplaceable commodity.  What a filthy, highly carcinogenic, CO2-filled cloud it will produce.

And the workers at these oilfields are not going to be AK47-wielding jihadists but the same oil-field workers who were there before.  Civilians.  Likely doing their job at gun-point now.  Now being blown up or burned to death by our bombing.  Airstrikes kill civilians.

War is great, innit?  Lovely grainy black-and-white pictures of something going “Puff” from 12,000 feet up reported as the good work of terrorists being dealt with, when actually it is just destruction and killing and maiming and polluting.

About 300 to 1,000 civilians were killed in Iraq for each person killed in the Twin Towers terrorist attack.  I wonder what the kill ratio will be for the Paris terrorist attack.  At that rate it will need to be about 39,000 to 130,000 ‘collateral’ civilian deaths.

62 workers were caught up in the recent Azerbaijan oil rig fire accident, of whom half are likely dead.  It is looking like a tragedy caused by lax safety measures and a violent storm.  Bad enough, but still not as bad as the awful, no, horrific Piper Alpha disaster which took 167 of the 228 lives on board.

Syria has about 40 oil fields with a number of wells per field but I cannot find the latter number – shall we assume 10?  Assuming 62 workers per well (as they are all land-based, I believe) that gives us 34,800 civilian workers as potential death targets of the oil well bombings.  That’s a ratio of 190 civilian deaths for each Parisian victim.  I wonder if that will be enough to satiate the politicians’ blood lust?  If not, there’s the fire control crews, the replacement workers for wells that are put put and repaired, pipeline maintenance crews, pumping station crews, management and admin offices and all manner of other support and ancillary staff who come under the heading of ‘infrastructure’.

I’m sure that with a bit of effort—killing the accountants, secretaries, maintenance staff and cleaners too—it ought to be possible to get up to the same kill ratio of 300 foreign civilians to victim as was achieved in Iraq.

Do think on that when being impressed by those grainy, black-and-white videos taken from long range – that ‘infrastructure’ includes the people who work there, leaving their widows, angry fathers and brothers and embittered children ready to refresh the ranks of IS or produce the next generation of terrorists.

Assuming the cancer from the oily black smoke doesn’t deal with them first, of course.

“We were only following (the UN’s) orders.”

Another OU student made this observation on his blog:

The whole Authoritarianism thing a complete area on its own as there is a definite case of further investigation needed into why socially superior society accepts these individuals as authority.

which prompted these thoughts:

I did a Coursera course on international criminal law which talked about how the “I was only following orders” defence was challenged at the Nuremberg Trials and created a precedent for international justice by rejecting it.  I find that whole history—from Nuremberg to modern day decisions about what legal action can be taken across borders—fascinating.  We now have continental courts of justice and war trials procedures and all sorts of good stuff to improve the safety and security of (most) everyone on the planet from abuses by their own government.

But the pendulum seems to have swung the other way from the principal established in the mid-1600s of sovereign states having absolute control of internal affairs, (“Westphalian Sovereignty”) to NATO saying the Westphalian principles are undemocratic and humanity is not relevant and then Tony Bliar simply called it anachronistic and that you can therefore attack who you like with impunity which, it appears, he could.

When I take a step back and look at the last 1,000 years of European history, it seems in this past 20 years we have undone the work of the preceding 350 in a supposed pursuit of justice on behalf of the citizens of other countries.  We have scrapped the idea of governments killing their own citizens and replaced it with it being OK to kill the civilians of other countries.

The victims of the Nazis got justice (as much was practically possible, anyway) at Nuremberg.  But where do civilians killed by Western airstrikes get their justice?  As Hilary Benn said yesterday: “Ve are only folloving ze orders of ze United Nations!”

So that’s all right then.

As for accepting authority, the Milgram Experiment was the one where unwitting volunteers were talked into electrocuting people to death because the bloke in the white coat told them to.

When Hilary Benn¹ gave his speech, the bit about “We are only following a UN mandate” was the bit that won over the MPs: knowledge that whatever happens, not only does their collective responsibility mean they are only a tiny bit to blame if things go wrong, it was all the UN’s idea anyway.  They can vote for war and airstrikes that will kill civilians² with impunity.

Maybe that right there is a very good argument for our elected representatives to be held responsible for their actions, not just those of countries we don’t like, and I don’t mean at the ballot box.  Maybe we should be sending our war criminals to trial as a lesson to the others.  Maybe the MPs will cheer less than they did last night when they voted for war.

 

¹ The son of Tony Benn, the man who said “When there is a great cry that something should be done, you can depend on it that something remarkably silly probably will be done“.

² The first targets are to be oil fields and related infrastructure.  These are operated by civilians.  (Why weren’t these destroyed over a year ago?  Oh, yeah, the oil has to keep flowing, doesn’t it?  Even if it is bankrolling Islamic State.  Until it ends up all over the media that Israel and Turkey are cheerfully buying it for sale to the world market.  But it’s not all about oil, oh no…)

Not in my name

The decision in the House of Commons today was the wrong one.  I hardly know where to begin with the reasons why.

But I can tell you the causation for the decision: political incompetence and ignorance, which is why I want to study peace studies and get into a position where I can influence stupid (because they are) MPs.

This is why we are about to kill more moslem civilians and create more anti-West sentiment:

(a) Something must be done.
(b) Airstrikes are something.
(c) Airstrikes will be done.

The problem with collective responsibility is that nobody takes responsibility.

And, Mr Corbyn, you were wrong to permit a free vote.  That will end your career as party leader before this week is out.  Your adherence to the party was greater than your adherence to your principles, and that is why you are not a great man.  Sorry, dude.  I was with you until you blinked.  But thanks for having a go.  Rather than listen to the self-serving and mercenary political advisers, you should have rallied the academics and used them to defeat the debate in advance with facts and case studies.  The Tories will always be better at rhetoric, they do it at school.  You should have used evidence.