Breaking the Silence [Wikipedia] is an Israeli NGO that purports to be

an organization of veteran soldiers who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.

They say in this X thread that the killing by mistake of three Israeli hostages on the 15th of December was caused by the lax rules of engagement followed by the IDF:

The "deviation from the rules" claim is weak at best. The IDF’s own internal investigation found that the force in question was instructed to shoot at any "fighting age male". No soldier who fought in Gaza in past campaigns would be surprised to learn this.

These instructions are in line with what we know from testimonies of soldiers who took part in previous ground invasions in Gaza. "If it’s a man 15 years or older, like anyone who looks like he could be a combatant, shoot him" one soldier who fought in Gaza in 2014 told us.

Is it true that the instructions given to the IDF soldiers in Gaza are to consider "anybody who could be a combatant" as such and shoot them? If so, do they also count the number of civilians vs. Hamas fighters casualties accordingly?

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    The IDF claims that among the casualties in Gaza there are approximately 1/3 Hamas fighter and 2/3 civilians. Looking at the overall population in Gaza this is also consistent with a definition that any male above 15 years is counted as a Hamas fighter.
    – quarague
    Commented Jan 4 at 7:43
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    Given how little chance got even the escaped Israeli hostages with a white flag it is quite clear they are shooting at anything that moves. Including friendly fire that causes significant part of the IDF casulties. Commented Jan 8 at 17:22
  • @quarague explained in my answer Commented Jan 21 at 1:08

3 Answers 3


Yes, Israel assumes all adult men killed between 18-60 are combatants.

  • According to The Lancet, "Excess mortality in Gaza: Oct 7–26, 2023", "Children younger than 18 years, women aged 18–59 years, and both men and women aged 60 years or older (groups that probably include few combatants) constituted 68.1% of analysable deaths (4594/6745; figure B)." The Lacent was getting it's data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health which "odes not differentiate between combatant and civilian deaths".
  • This means (100%-68.1%) = 31.9% of deaths are combatant-aged men.


So the IDF is claiming 37.5% of casualties are "Hamas operatives and fighters" (9000 claimed / 23968 dead).

In summary,

  • The Lancet has shown 31.9% of casualties are combatants-aged men
  • Israel claims 37.5% are militants.
  • Since the ratio of militants to causalities as claimed by Israel exceeds the ratio of combatant-aged men to casualties, it stands to reason that if you assume the ratio of combatant-aged casualties to casualties as reported by The Lancet is static,
    • Israel claims every combatant-aged man is a militant, and further that 5.6% of the militant casualties are women and children.
    • Or, more succinctly, Israel claims that 118% of combatant-aged men are "Hamas operatives and fighters of other terror groups". (combatant aged casualties = 23986 * 31.9% = 7646 projected combatant aged casualties and 9000 claimed militants / 7646 projected combatant aged casualties).
    • Rigorous scrutiny notes:
      • If and only if there are more than 5.7% of child soldiers, elderly (60+) combatants, and female combatants then it is possible that Israel is not claiming every combatant aged male is a militant. But Israel isn't saying that, so I will assume that it is NOT the case, as The Lancet itself assumed "groups that probably include few combatants".
      • The math would be different here if Israel knew there were more casualties. But that's not what they say. In fact, they say that there are actually less casualties than the Gaza MoH. From Reuters, "an Israeli military spokesman said this week the Gaza health ministry 'continuously inflates the number of civilian casualties' and 'has been caught lying in the past'".

But it's worse,


  • Gaza is 50% under 18.
  • Of the 50% over 18, only half are men (25%). (statistically true for most populations in the world).
  • Of the 25% of men over the age of 18, only a (small) subset is actually Hamas combatants: if for no other reason, then because some subset is disabled, and elderly.

You would expect then for indiscriminate bombing to produce 25% casualties amongst adult aged men (a superset of combatant-aged men). The Lancet has found 31.9% of deaths fitting this criteria. So at best, of the group that be reasonably considered "combatants" one of the world's most sophisticated militaries can only over-represent this group by 7% and assume they're all militants.

  • 2
    Israel actually claims 39% of those killed are militants (9,000 out of 23,000), which makes your argument slightly stronger. Granted, 23,000 is a Hamas-provided number and not something Israel “acknowledges”, so I’m not sure we can use it as evidence of whom Israel considers a militant.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jan 21 at 0:22
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    Separately from that issue, Hamas is known to use child soldiers, so some of the claimed militants killed are likely under 18 years old. That’s a problem with your calculation and undermines your claim that the statistics prove that Israel considers every adult male aged 18-60 a militant.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jan 21 at 0:23
  • @DanRomik I've updated the answer. Commented Jan 21 at 0:30
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    To be clear, I don't have a position about whether the claim in the question is correct or not. The testimony cited by Breaking the Silence is a powerful one and should be taken seriously. And the data you're citing also has some value, but I just think as far as the specific claim being discussed is concerned, the data you cite doesn't do much to address that claim.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jan 22 at 7:51
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    Thanks. My objections remain, but you’ve done a very good job of explaining the data and assumptions your answer is based on. As for the rest, others can judge what they think.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jan 22 at 18:23

No. Israel constantly asks civilians to leave war zones (example). Indeed, hundreds of thouasands of civilians leave. As can be seen in pictures (example), these include many fighting-age males. Israel does not fight the fighting-age males who leave the combat zone; this shows that Israel does not consider them combatants.

It can be said, however, that any fighting-age male remaining in the warzone is considered a combatant. For context, see this question on politics.SE: How easy would it be to distinguish between Hamas fighters and non combatants?

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    By this logic, Israel is defining any "fighting-age male" who remains in an area of combat to be a combatant, whether or not they are taking part, directly or indirectly, in such combat. If that's not exactly what the question is asking, there will never be anything that does. This answer is an expanded version of the same No True Scotsman fallacy being questioned.
    – Nij
    Commented Jun 2 at 0:42
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    @Nij the question is about "any fighting-age male"; this claim is false. The claim about "any fighting-age male remaining in the warzone after being given enough time to leave" is a different claim. Commented Jun 2 at 0:50
  • 1
    @Nij you missed the first part of the claim. Israel encourages civilians, including fighting-age males, to get out of combat zones. If Israel considers them combatants, why let them leave and not just kill them in place? Commented Jun 2 at 5:38
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    Not the question, but assuming that evacuation orders leave only combatants in the area is clearly incorrect. It has been proved multiple times that the evacuation orders by the IDF cannot realistically be followed by a large part of the civilian population. Moreover it has also happened several times that the IDF bombed the areas designated as safe for the civilians. So even assuming that evacuation orders actually reach the population (unlikely), why would people move knowing that they are not safe anywhere?
    – Erwan
    Commented Jun 2 at 8:32
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    "And, what else can an army do to detect combatants in a densely-populated area, besides telling non-combatants to leave?" This is a loaded question based on multiple false premises, like it is impossible to tell (How about if the people are shirtless and waving a white flag? [e.g. in the original claim]) and that it is necessary to kill combatants at any cost, even if it means war crimes are committed. But you haven't addressed my objections to your answer.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 2 at 10:43

You would need to see the actual IDF soldier handbook to know if is true that they view "any fighting age male" to be a combatant. I'm addressing the claim only based on what is written in the OP.

The "deviation from the rules" claim is weak at best. The IDF’s own internal investigation found that the force in question was instructed to shoot at any "fighting age male".

This particular incident would not be evidence that they have such a belief. The claim is that the IDF instructed it's soldiers engaged in combat in Gaza to shoot at any "any fighting age male". That would indicate that they believe that since Hamas does not fight in uniform (Hamas's own videos of the conflict confirm that) a fighting age male found in a combat zone is likely enough to be a combatant that he should he be shot (i.e. why else would he be there)

You would need to find documented cases of them giving instructions to shoot at random fighting age males in non combat zones to make a case that they view them all as combatants .

No soldier who fought in Gaza in past campaigns would be surprised to learn this.

That is just expressing an opinion on behalf of people who they do not represent

These instructions are in line with what we know from testimonies of soldiers who took part in previous ground invasions in Gaza. "If it’s a man 15 years or older, like anyone who looks like he could be a combatant, shoot him" one soldier who fought in Gaza in 2014 told us.

Aside for this being testimony from one anonymous person, there was a clear caveat given that they are only to fire on people who looks like they could be combatants. Being Hamas does not fight in uniform what criteria can they give other than "looks like he could be a combatant"?

Most people who are not engaged in the conflict would do their utmost to stay from active combat zones. Even if you are 100% neutral you are still putting your life at major risk. It is a reasonable suspicion that a combat age male putting his life at risk to be in such an area, is interested in conflict.

At very least people entering the conflict zone are like people entering an area under martial law in the US. Which may very likely result in them getting shot dead if the soldiers perceive them as being a possible threat. Even if they are wearing civilian clothing


  • This is another answer that appears to be arguing "Yes, because what choice do they have to not commit an apparent war-crime" without being willing to say so, or provide evidence.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 3 at 9:31
  • The question provides no evidence either. It makes a hearsay accusation that I'm addressing. I don't believe it is a war crime to shoot people in civilian clothing who enter a combat zone when fighting an enemy who fights in civilian clothing. If it were every solider on a dangerous mission would just wear civilian clothing
    – Schmerel
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:12
  • Welcome to Skeptics.SE, Schmerel, where the whole point is that the questions have claims with poor evidence, and the answers address them with evidence. This isn't a place for opinions. Your unexpert legal opinions (and mine) are not welcome here. I suggest you find references to support that it is not a war crime to indiscriminately kill civilians or that Israeli soldiers could just wear civilian clothing in battle without also committing perfidy.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:48

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