In response to:

Is Israel Committing Genocide? from the June 6, 2024 issue

To the Editors:

My article “Is Israel Committing Genocide?” [NYR, June 6] cited numbers of the dead and wounded in Gaza, including the number of women and children killed, as reported by the United Nations. Shortly after the article went to press, reports circulated that the UN had changed the source on which it relies for fatality statistics in the territory. The total number of deaths reported remained the same, but the UN stated that the Gaza Health Ministry had not yet established the full names and identity numbers of more than 10,000 of those killed. It therefore distinguished between the total death toll (35,233 people as of this writing) and the number of identified victims (24,686 people), only specifying the number of women and children included in the latter. The ministry is still trying to collect information about the remaining victims from morgues and hospitals across the territory.

Given the circumstances in Gaza, it is understandable that collecting this information is very difficult. Many hospitals in the territory are not functioning. It will take time to see whether there is a significant disparity between the information initially reported and the final figures.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also entered the discussion about numbers by asserting that Israeli forces had killed roughly 14,000 Hamas combatants and 16,000 civilians. He did not say how he obtained this information. In most armed conflicts, at least two or three times as many people are wounded as are killed. That is reflected in the figures reported by the ministry, and that is what one would expect in a war in which many deaths are attributable to the bombing raids that have devastated Gaza. If Netanyahu is correct about the number of Hamas combatants Israel has killed, the combined number of dead and wounded combatants would probably exceed the number that Israel has claimed are in the territory. Israel should declare victory, and the war would be over.

That Israel has decided to continue the war raises questions about Netanyahu’s figures. His use of such figures evokes memories of the Vietnam War, during which American military commanders, including General William Westmoreland, regularly claimed that Vietnamese who were killed, including many civilians, were Viet Cong combatants. This helped to create the illusion in some circles that America was winning the war, until it was lost.

As I pointed out in my article, Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups have been barred from operating in Gaza during the conflict by the Israel Defense Forces. Their exclusion has substantially limited our knowledge of what is taking place in Gaza. One of them, the Israeli organization B’Tselem, has provided what I believe to be reliable statistics on past conflicts. Its inability to operate in Gaza during the current conflict has eliminated that source of information.

Aryeh Neier
New York City