Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The UN reports figures from the Gaza Ministry of Health as of Friday: “between 7 October and 7:00 on 22 December, at least 20,057 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. About 70 per cent of those killed are said to be women and children. As of then, 53,320 Palestinians have been injured.”
If Gaza’s population before the outbreak of hostilities on October 7 was 2.2 million, then Israel has killed 0.9% of the population, nearly a full 1 percent. Almost all of them have been innocent noncombatants, since 70% are estimated to have been women and children, and most of the men killed have been civilians – the elderly, workers, shopkeepers, and professionals, including physicians and journalists.
The Israeli campaign has now entered into WW II territory. The belligerents in the Second World War may have polished off between 65 million and 75 million people, a good 55 million of them noncombatants. But these numbers are worldwide, and they represent a small percentage of the world’s population during the war.
Italy is a good comparison for Gaza, since about 1.1% of its pre-war population was killed in WW II. That took from 1940 to 1945 (Mussolini’s Italy entered the war in 1940 and he fell in 1943 but Allied dithering allowed the Nazi Germans to take over Italy until 1945).
So Israel is killing Palestinians in Gaza at many, many times the rate that the warring countries killed Italians in Italy during WW II, since at 11 weeks we have nearly reached the 1% dead threshold that took nearly 5 years to achieve in Italy.
Vittorio Daniele and Renato Ghezzi wrote in Investigaciones de Historia Económica that, moreover, those who survived the trauma of the war were severely damaged. They write,
- Research, conducted in 13 European countries on a large sample of adults (>50 years old), showed how the experience of World War II (WWII) during childhood increased the probability of suffering from diabetes and depression, and was associated with less education and life satisfaction in adulthood (Kesternich et al., 2014).
War most often brings hunger to the population. The United Nations now estimates that half of Palestinians in Gaza are starving.
That happened to the Dutch during the Nazi blockade. Daniele and Ghezzi note, “Studies conducted on cohorts of Dutch men, born during the German blockade of food supplies to the Netherlands (the ‘Hunger Winter’, 1944–1945), found that prenatal exposure to severe malnutrition deficiencies, particularly in the first gestation period, was associated with a higher risk of personality disorders, coronary heart disease and metabolic disorders in later life (Neugebauer et al., 1999, Roseboom et al., 2001) and with persistent epigenetic changes (Heijmans et al., 2008).
So all the pregnant women who survive the bombardments can expect to give birth to children more likely to have attacks and to experience personality disorders; and even the way their DNA processes proteins will be affected. There are tens of thousands of pregnant women in Gaza.
Some of the same health and behavioral problems have been found for children below 10. The loss of education was also enormous, and affected their lifetime earnings.
Steven Harvey wrote in 1985 about the Allied strategic bombing of Italy in the journal History. He argued that Italy had the least-developed air force among the belligerents and had few means to defend itself from allied bombing. There were food shortages and rationing had to be imposed. “One of the reasons for the food shortages was a 25 per cent decline in agricultural production by 1943, caused by labour shortages and reduced supplies of fertilizer (also partly due to labour shortage…).”
The Italian government never organized proper air raid warnings. Harvey wrote, “When the RAF first bombed Turin the first casualties had started arriving in hospital before the air raid alarm was given. Nearly two and a half years later, during the first American daylight raid on Naples, the bombs fell on busy streets crowded with afternoon shoppers, because even though the American formation had been in sight of the coast for several minutes, the alarm had still not been sounded.”
He gives a for-instance: “Numerous [American] attacks on Naples killed about 3000 people between 1 January  and the armistice.” The population dispersed, many taking refuge in the countryside, which hurt industrial and food production. But Italy is a big place and was relatively lightly bombed. It differs radically from tiny Gaza, which has seen 2,000-pound bombs repeatedly dropped on densely populated urban areas (the US never did that to Mosul, contrary to what some observers have alleged).
Unlike in Gaza, most of the people killed in Italy during the war were killed by ground operations, not from the air. Still, Harvey argues that the air campaign contributed significantly to the collapse of the Mussolini government.
The massive war machines of the 1940s that ground up and destroyed so many lives took five years to kill the proportion of the population in Italy that the Israelis have killed in only about 11 weeks in Gaza.