Explosive Violence in Gaza in 2021

In 2021, Gaza was the third worst-affected country for civilian casualties of explosive weapons, after Afghanistan and Syria. This is a result of the outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza in May 2021, which involved the heavy use of explosive weapons. Civilian casualties in Gaza reached their highest levels since 2014.

AOAV recorded 142 incidents of explosive violence, which caused at least 1,498 casualties, the vast majority of whom were civilians (1,478). All but 16 civilian casualties occurred in populated areas. In total, some 233 civilians were killed and 1,245 injured. At least 394 of those killed and injured were reported to be children, whilst 277 were women. Twenty armed-actors were recorded among the total casualties, with 2 injured and 18 killed.

Israel was the reported perpetrator in all but one of the 1,478 civilian deaths and injuries. The remaining civilian casualty was recorded from an incident with an unknown perpetrator, as it was unclear if the weapon was a blocked rocket or an Israeli shell.

Airstrikes were the primary cause of civilian death and injury, accounting for 83% of all civilian casualties (1,230), across 124 recorded strikes. Other types of explosive weapons that caused civilian casualties were ground-launched weapons (52 civilian casualties) and multiple-types of explosive weapons (140).

Due to the dense urban environment of the Gaza strip, where Israeli airstrikes were concentrated, 58% of all civilian casualties occurred in locations recorded as ‘Multiple (urban)’, across 25 incidents. Another 77 of the 142 incidents of explosive weapon use took place in urban residential areas, where 336 civilians were killed and injured. Other locations where civilian casualties occurred included encampments (with 82 civilian deaths and injuries), places of worship (56 civilians) and villages (32).

Since Action on Armed Violence’s monitor on global explosive violence harm began in 2011, AOAV has recorded 6,101 civilian casualties from explosive weapons in Gaza, and 6,359 casualties in total (as of 31 Dec 2021).

A Decade of Explosive Violence, 2011-2020

AOAV’s monitoring project, launched in October 2010, uses English-language media reports to capture information on who has been killed and injured by incidents of explosive violence.  We have over 10 years of explosive violence data recorded and analysed. This data below focuses on Gaza.

  • Palestine has been the ninth worst-affected state/territory by explosive violence over the past decade
  • From 2011-2020, AOAV recorded 5,700 deaths and injuries from explosive violence in Gaza (the strip)– of these, 5,107 (90%) were civilians
  • 75% of all civilian deaths and injuries recorded by AOAV in the past decade occurred in 2014
  • In 2014, only Iraq and Syria as state/territory saw more civilian casualties as a result of explosive weapons
  • Airstrikes caused the most harm in this period, with 60% of civilian deaths and injuries resulting from this type of explosive
A decade of explosive violence in Gaza

Although Gaza has experienced consistent explosive violence throughout the past ten years, the majority of civilian harm recorded by AOAV occurred within a very short time frame between early July and late August 2014. This was the result of the Israeli military’s Operation Protective Edge, which brought about extensive harm to civilian populations in Gaza through the combined use of airstrikes and artillery shelling, alongside a coordinated ground assault.

Prior to 2014, Gaza had witnessed fluctuating explosive harm. The first AOAV Explosive Violence Monitor recorded 304 civilian casualties over the course of 2011, making Gaza the world’s tenth worst-affected state/territory by explosives that year. In 2012, the situation deteriorated, and civilian deaths and injuries more than doubled from the previous year. Having recorded 154 incidents of explosive violence, resulting in 641 civilian casualties, the 2012 Monitor ranked Gaza as the seventh worst-affected state/territory by explosive violence. Somewhat surprisingly, 2013 then saw a sharp decline in explosive harm in Gaza. Whilst not disappearing completely, the nine incidents of explosive violence recorded by AOAV over the course of that year, reflected a stark improvement for the safety of civilians in Gaza. This improvement was, however, extremely short lived.  

In 2014, AOAV recorded 4,022 casualties from explosive violence in Gaza, of which 95% (3,813) were civilians. Having not featured on AOAV’s list of the fifteen worst-affected countries/territories in the previous year, Gaza was immediately catapulted to third place in the 2014 Monitor, behind Syria and Iraq.

The reason behind this huge rise in civilian harm was the initiation of Operation Protective Edge by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on 7 July 2014. The operation had the stated aim of putting an end to rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and followed months of escalating tensions in the region. It lasted until 26 August and wreaked havoc on Gaza’s civilian population, despite its narrow timeframe. The extreme concentration of violence in this month-and-a-half was reflected in AOAV’s data, with 98% of all civilian deaths and injuries recorded in Gaza that year occurring in July. Furthermore, more than half (52%) of all civilian casualties recorded globally by AOAV in July 2014 occurred in Gaza.

The majority of Gaza’s civilian casualties in 2014 resulted from aerial weapons such as air-dropped bombs and missiles. AOAV reported that 35% of all recorded civilian casualties from air-launched weapons in 2014 took place in Gaza – only Syria saw greater levels of harm. This being said, artillery shelling also caused untold amounts of destruction in Gaza in the same year – 43% of total recorded civilian deaths and injuries from artillery occurred in this one territory.

AOAV scrutinised Israel’s artillery policy in greater depth in the report ‘Under Fire’ released in December 2014. The report also reflected the intense damage wreaked by Israeli forces during this short, but extremely harmful, period. For example, AOAV highlighted how, during Operation Protective Edge, 26 schools in Gaza were completely destroyed, whilst 122 were damaged; at least 15 out of Gaza’s 32 hospitals were damaged; and 108,000 people were left homeless.

The actions of the IDF during Operation Protective Edge meant that AOAV cited Israel as the individual state actor responsible for the most reported civilian harm in 2014. It must also be noted that at least 4,382 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel during this time-frame – according to the IDF’s own figures. Despite this, due to Israel’s missile defence system and its far superior firepower, levels of harm between the two countries were incomparable. AOAV recorded 133 civilian deaths and injuries in Israel during 2014, whilst the number of civilian deaths in Gaza was 1,470 – 501 of which were children.

After the destruction of 2014, the following three years saw a large reduction in the levels of explosive harm in Gaza. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, AOAV did not cite Gaza amongst its list of the fifteen worst-affected countries/territories globally, nor did it not record above twelve incidents over the course of any given year. Although this reflected a stark improvement, the number of recorded incidents of explosive violence in Gaza did rise, albeit not radically, year-on-year over this period. However, this rise continued into 2018 when AOAV recorded 37 incidents of explosive violence in Gaza, resulting in 114 civilian casualties. As a result, the 2018 Monitor cited Gaza as the twelfth worst-affected state from explosive violence and the fourth worst affected by air-launched weaponry. The following year, although the number of recorded explosive incidents fell and AOAV cited Gaza as the fifteenth worst-affected state, the number of civilian casualties rose from the previous year to 148.

In 2020, AOAV recorded the lowest number of civilian casualties in Gaza since the Monitor began in 2011. Whilst any level of civilian harm is deeply problematic, the five incidents of explosive violence recorded in Gaza in 2020 caused just nine injuries and did not kill a single civilian. Given the extremely high death tolls Gaza has witnessed in the past decade, this certainly presents a marked improvement. However, as data from the past ten years shows, Israel’s highly advanced weaponry and superior firepower means high levels of explosive harm in Gaza remains an ever-present threat.

Over the ten-year period of the AOAV Explosive Violence Monitor there have been 5,107 recorded civilian deaths and injuries from explosive violence in Gaza. Overwhelmingly this harm has been perpetrated by a single state actor – the Israel Defense Forces – to whom AOAV attribute 97% of all casualties in Gaza in the last decade. Unlike many other countries/territories that have featured heavily in AOAV’s ongoing research, Gaza has witnessed the overwhelming majority of its explosive harm in an extremely short time period. Of the total recorded civilian deaths and injuries in Gaza over the last ten years, 75% occurred in 2014, reflecting the intense and concentrated impact of Operation Protective Edge.

The latest on explosive violence in Gaza