The Bombing of Gaza. Worse than the Blitz?

I find there are only so many photos and clips of dead and shredded children one can take. The material coming out of the Middle East since October 7th has been heart rendering and anyone with an iota of empathy could not fail to be deeply affected by it. The pictures speak for themselves and for the purposes of this article I do not need to describe the suffering, it is self-apparent.

Those who have read some of my previous articles will know that I find historical comparisons useful for contextualising current or recent events. What we are witnessing in Gaza is the most sustained bombing campaign against an urban area since the Second World War.[1] As of 26th December, around 21,000 people in Gaza have been killed and 55,000 wounded by Israeli military action, mostly bombing, compared to 1,139 killed in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th.[2] The Gaza figures includes Hamas personnel but it is unclear how many. The Palestinian death toll is close to 1% of the total population of Gaza, a higher percentage than that of the UK population killed in the six years of the Second World War (0.75%) and not much less than Belgium, Italy or France for the same period (1.05, 1.15 and 1.26% respectively)[3]. Closer to the present time, it took Russia twenty-one months to kill 10,000 civilians in Ukraine including 560 children. The IDF by comparison took forty-five days to kill 10,000 civilians and just six to kill 583 children.[4]

For a historical comparison of a sustained aerial assault on a major conurbation, we need to look back to the Second World War, to the London Blitz and the Royal Air Force’s ‘Battle of Berlin’.[5] The ‘Blitz’ was a period from September 1940 to May 1941 where the German air force, the Luftwaffe, tried to bomb Britain into submission. While almost every large British city had at least one visit from the Luftwaffe, London bore the brunt and was bombed almost every night over the winter of 1940/41. In September 1940 when the Germans bombed by day, they killed 5,730 Londoners,[6] a body count the IDF has easily surpassed in a single month. Overall, total civilian deaths in the eight-month period of the Blitz were around 45,000 for all of the UK, with around half those killed were in London.[7] If the bombing of Gaza carries on for a similar period of time, the number of civilian dead will be in the region of 50,000.

The population of the UK in 1940 was 48,000,000 and London was the largest city in the world with a population of 8,500,000.[8] Although both the Luftwaffe and RAF targeted industrial areas, they often used incendiaries to burn as much of the targeted city as possible. There was no effort to minimise civilian losses, killing as many people as possible was an unspoken objective, designed to break the will of the enemy population to resist.

The IDF (Israeli Defence Forces), officially at least, is supposed to be striking military targets with civilian casualties being in military parlance, regrettable ‘collateral damage’. Since the First Gulf War in 1991, we have seen ‘smart munitions’, (guided bombs), hitting specific buildings, vehicles or other targets. One would expect given Israel’s sophisticated intelligence gathering ability and easy access to American guided munitions, that civilian casualties would be minimised but this does not seem to be the case. According to CNN, almost half of the bombs dropped on Gaza are of the ‘dumb’ unguided variety, although modern aiming equipment, skilled and experienced pilots and lack of anti-aircraft activity should compensate somewhat. Huge swathes of Gaza have been reduced to rubble leading President Biden, Israel’s chief ally, to accuse Israel of ‘indiscriminate bombing.’ Brian Castner, a former ordnance disposal officer who works as Amnesty International’s senior advisor on arms and military operations has said:

‘It is bad enough to be using the weapons when they are precisely hitting their targets. It is a massive civilian harm problem if they do not have that accuracy, and if you can’t even give a benefit of the doubt that the weapon is actually landing where the Israeli forces intended it to.’ [9]

The table below gives a comparison of the London Blitz. The RAF Battle of Berlin and the current bombing of Gaza.[10]

Gaza (7/10/23 to present) London (7/940-10/5/41) Berlin (18/11/41-31/3/44)
Population 2.3 million 8.5 million 4 million
Dead 23,000 22,000 (est) 9,390[11]
Civil Defence Minimal Light Robust
Bombers lost[12] Zero 600 (all of UK) 492

Both London and Berlin continued to function as cities throughout their protracted bombing. Shops still opened, transport operated and hospitals continued to treat the wounded. In Gaza basic services have broken down. Bombing in urban areas will inevitably cause civilian deaths even where care is taken, but the information at hand regarding Gaza, suggests the high level of physical damage and casualties are not due to a series of unfortunate accidents.

People will inevitably say Israel is entitled to defend itself, an argument that has some merit, and point to the barbaric attacks of 7 October as justification for what has followed, but where does self-defence merge into collective punishment, an act which is itself a war crime? Few experts think that Hamas can be totally eliminated and the bombing is the best recruiting sergeant it can hope for. More likely a darker political agenda is at work. Prominent figures in Israel are openly suggesting depopulating Gaza, with the Jerusalem Post suggesting that the population be relocated to Northern Sinai ‘to provide the people of Gaza with hope and a peaceful future.’[13] This would of course open Gaza to Jewish ‘settlers’.

  1. There were prolonged bombing campaigns in the Korean and Vietnam but there had a much a wider geographic spread
  5. ‘Sustained’ meaning two months or more
  6. Gardiner, J (2010) The Blitz, p.26
  7. Gardiner, J (2010) The Blitz, p.359
  10. Around half of British civilians killed in the Blitz were killed in London. Civil defence includes the availability of bomb shelter and anti-aircraft defences.
  11. Friedrich, J. (2006) The Fire, p.99 & Hastings, M. (1981) Bomber Command & Armageddon (205) p.363 & Ferguson, N (2007) The War of the World p.560
  12. Oxford Companion to the Second World War (1995) Dear, I.C.B. (ed) p.140 & 124

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