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Body count

January 4, 2008

B’TSELEM – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories has published a list of Palestinians and Israelis killed in Israel and the occupied territories between 29.9.2000 and 26.12.2007.

Under the heading “intifada fatalities” the statistics tell the sad story of seven years of violence in the dry language of mathematics. The numbers speak of all the Israelis and Palestinians – human beings – whose lives were cut short by the atrocities of their neighbors. All summed up, 6035 men, women and children have been killed as a result of the hostilities in what was once called the promised land.

Lateral damage

The first thing that strikes me when taking a closer look at the statistics, is how lopsided the numbers seem. While 4335 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces from 2000 to 2007, “only” 1028 Israelis were killed by Palestinians. Thus, the Israeli violence against the Palestinians is clearly not proportional to the actual threat posed by Palestinian militants. That the high number of Palestinian victims has little to do with Israeli self defense, is also shown by the fact that 2056 of the dead Palestinians did not take part in hostilities. Keeping the 609 Palestinians of whom it is not known whether they were taking part in hostilities out of the equation, less than 50% of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were enemy combatants. The statistics also show that while 368 Palestinians were killed during the course of targeted killings, only 219 of these were the intended targets of such extrajudicial executions. That means that the Israeli forces operate with more than 50% collateral damage. This is overkill in the most literal and tragic meaning of the word.

Innocent bystanders

The Palestinian militants are no better when it comes to killing civilians. Quite the contrary, in fact. Of the 1028 Israelis killed by Palestinians, 705 were civilians. When you know that only 234 – one third – of these civilians were killed in the occupied territories, it becomes painfully clear that these killings can hardly be labeled anything but terrorism.

Love thy neighbor

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves against attacks by enemy fighters. It might also be argued that the Palestinian people has the right to defend their land against occupation forces. However, the majority of the victims of violence from both parties were civilians. That means that less than half the killings committed by Palestinian militants and Israeli forces fall into the “defense” category. The rest were simple murder, or in some cases manslaughter. While it probably would be more than a little naive to claim that soldiers and guerrilla fighters should never ever kill each other, it is absolutely reasonable to expect that professional warriors and self-proclaimed religious freedom fighters make a serious effort to keep civilian casualties at a minimum. I do not expect Israelis and Palestinians to start loving their neighbors anytime soon. It might not even be reasonable to  expect them to stop hating each other. However, I do hope that they will try not to murder each other in such huge numbers the next seven years.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 4, 2008 4:37 pm

    Excellent post. I’ve often found that discussions about the Israeli/Palestinian are rarely based on hard data but more on opinion and emotion. The fact is that the violence that is so prevalent in that region-whether it is undertaken by Israelis or Palestinians-is almost never justified and it is innocent people who do most of the dying. It bothers me to no end that there are some people on both sides of the conflict that actually believe that violence will help them achieve their political goals, when in reality no one is winning, but only losing.


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