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(photo credit: AP)
A report issued on Tuesday by epidemiologist Elihu Richter and Dr. Yael Stein charged that a recent document released by the human rights organization B'Tselem on the number of Palestinian combatants and non-combatants killed in Operation Cast Lead "is flawed by major errors of commission and omission and possibly major misclassification biases."
Richter and Stein published the report for the Center for Injury Prevention and Genocide Prevention Program at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
So far, B'Tselem has published summary figures but intends to release the names of every Palestinian who allegedly died in the military operation along with basic information about each one, including whether they were combatants or non-combatants.
The summary figures are sharply at odds with the official casualty figures published by the IDF after the fighting. According to B'Tselem, 1,387 Palestinians died in Operation Cast Lead; according to the army, 1,166 Palestinians were killed. According to B'Tselem, 773 of the Palestinians who were killed were non-combatants while 330 were combatants; according to the army, 295 of the dead were non-combatants while 709 were combatants. The army could not classify 162 Palestinian males aged 16-50.
The army's figures also include about 240 Gaza policemen who were killed in IDF air attacks on their police stations on the first day of the fighting. B'Tselem does not include the policemen as combatants but acknowledges that some of them were also members of Hamas.
The authors of the report charged that B'Tselem's classifications of combatant and non-combatant status were "flawed by restrictive definitions." B'Tselem wrote that its classification was based on "a new approach" of the International Committee of the Red Cross which declares that anyone who fulfills a "continuous combat function" should be considered a combatant even if he is not taking a direct part in hostilities at the moment he is killed. A person who does not fulfill a continuous combat function, but is killed when directly participating in hostilities is also considered a combatant. On the other hand, "persons who continuously accompany or support an organized armed group but whose function does not involve direct participation in hostilities maintain their status as civilians and are not legitimate objects of attack."
The authors also wrote that the raw data provided by B'Tselem were sufficient to indicate that many victims not classified as combatants by the human rights organization actually were.
For example, in the breakdown of the number of Palestinians killed from birth until the age of 18, the ratio of males to females increased dramatically as the age increased. Thus, B'Tselem found that 33 males and 27 females were killed up to the age of six (1.2 male/female ratio) compared with 26 males and 4 females between the ages of 17 and 18 (6.5 male/female ratio.) The authors concluded that "the findings suggest that a very large number of the 153 males, aged 11 to 18, could have been involved in, drawn into or exposed to combatant situations either as shields, fighters, circumstantial helpers, sporadic helpers or accidental bystanders."
The statistics regarding adult deaths listed as non-combatants showed similar trends.