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Monday, January 05, 2009


How many civilians are dead in Gaza?

The news, for example this story as just one of many, is widely reporting that "as many as 25 percent [of the dead in Gaza] are civilians." But U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes, who is the source of that "25%" figure, just appeared on Al Jazeera and claimed in no uncertain terms that, while there is no way of knowing just how many civilians are dead, that his office has claimed that "at least 25 percent are civilians." Which is quite different from AP's (and other's) misstatement that "as many as 25 percent are civilians." Indeed, when questioned by the Al Jazeera reporter as to whether the real figure might be 50%, or even 75%, he indicated that that was possible, but unknowable, and stood by the "at least" 25% figure.

The bottom line is simple - since the U.N. doesn't even know the identity of who has been killed, and even if it did is hardly in a position to look into the background of each one to determine if they were a "civilian" (or a "non-combatant") or not, the "25%" figure basically reflects the percentage which are women and children. Which is certainly a conservative way of arriving at a conclusion, but certainly misleading, and potentially very misleading. Bear this in mind the next time (and it won't be long, I'm sure) that you hear that "25%" figure.

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