Beyond Images - Briefing 11  Perspectives on the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
CASUALTY FIGURES: Why are there more Palestinian than Israeli victims of the conflict?
London - published Friday 23 August 2002

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"The Palestinians have suffered nearly three times as many deaths since the intifada began in October 2000 as the Israelis. This shows that Israel is the aggressor and that the Palestinian people are the victims of this conflict."

Summary of Response

  • The comparison is very misleading.

  • Most Palestinian casualties have been young men who have been involved in violent attacks against Israelis at the time they died.

  • Most Israeli casualties are men, women, children, teenagers and the elderly going about their daily lives who are deliberately targetted by Palestinian terrorist groups.

  • Most Palestinian attacks are intercepted - were it not for this, the Israeli casualty figure would be much higher.

  • Furthermore, the method of operation of the Palestinian groups exploits Palestinian civilians in a cynical way and makes it inevitable that the Palestinians will suffer greatly.

  • The greater number of Palestinian casualties does not mean that they are the "victims" and Israel is the "aggressor".

The toll of human life

  • Since October 2000, over 600 Israelis have been killed and over 4000 injured by Palestinian violence, with over 10,000 live-fire incidents against Israeli targets.

  • During the same period, over 1500 Palestinians have been killed and several thousands injured.

  • Israel's armed forces are equipped with some of the best military hardware in the world - the F16s, Merkava tanks, Apache helicopters etc.

  • These facts have led many people to assume that Israel is the aggressor and that the Palestinian people are the victims.

  • However, this is a misconception. While each death and each injury is a tragedy in human terms, the losses which Israel and the Palestinians have suffered have completely different explanations.

Most Palestinian casualties since October 2000 have been young men, killed in the course of involvement in acts of violence

  • Most Palestinian casualties have been young men who were involved in acts of violence at the time they were killed.

  • The Palestinian casualty figure includes 162 suicide bombers by the end of June 2002; armed infiltrators who have been intercepted at Israeli checkpoints or while attempting to break through the fences of kibbutzim or settlements; bomb-makers whose weapons have exploded prematurely in their weapon labs; snipers who were shot by Israeli soldiers who returned fire; and mortar squads which have been detected.

  • The figure also includes over 100 self-declared terrorist leaders who have masterminded the series of attacks, and squads of heavily armed Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP and Tanzim fighters who have fought against Israeli forces.

  • According to an Israeli think-tank which researched the events surrounding every fatality between October 2000 and June 2002, fewer than half of Palestinian victims were non-combatants. By contrast, almost 80% of Israeli victims were non-combatants (survey reported in the Jerusalem Report, July 15 2002).

  • Only 5% of Palestinian killed have been women. Over 30% of Israelis who have been killed are women. Other Israeli groups which have suffered heavily are Israeli teenagers and the elderly. Many Israeli Arabs, Beduin and migrant workers have also lost their lives.

Most Palestinian attacks are prevented. Thousands of Israelis would have been killed if the attacks had "succeeded"

  • Most Palestinian attacks are prevented by Israeli security forces.

  • Israel's defence minister claims that over 80% of Palestinian attacks fail. Israeli soldiers or border police intercept the attackers, or their missions fail for technical or operational reasons. Virtually every day the Israeli media describe the latest "miraculous" escape.

  • The latest series of attempted Palestinian attacks include so-called "mega-terror" attacks. The purpose of these is to kill hundreds or even thousands of Israelis in massive atrocities (see Beyond Images Briefing 3 - Mega-Terror: The Escalating Threat to Israel)

  • It is only because of Israel's constant vigilance, and sheer miracles, that the death toll among Israelis is not much higher.

  • For this reason, it is misleading for journalists or Palestinian spokesmen to claim that the higher casualty figure of the Palestinians "proves" that they are right and the Israelis are wrong. It is only because of Israel's security measures (which those same journalists and spokesmen of course condemn) that Israel's casualties have not been much higher.

  • It is a matter of the parties' intentions, as well as the results.

Israel does not target civilians - the Palestinian terror groups do

  • Israel does not target deliberately Palestinian civilians (see Beyond Images Briefing 7). Its military operations are directed against the Palestinian groups which have aimed their violence in a terrible and indiscriminate way against Israeli society. Israel has been forced, reluctantly, to use its military power to quell the attacks on its citizens, and to seek to minimise Palestinian civilian casualties while doing so.

  • By contrast, the Palestinian terror groups deliberately target civilians, aiming to kill and maim as many as possible. These groups have adopted violence against civilians as a doctrine. It is premeditated, their chosen modus operandi.

  • It is misleading to compare the number of Israeli victims of the Palestinian groups which have chosen violence, with the number of Palestinian victims of Israeli forces which have been forced to respond to that violence.

The method of operation of Palestinian terror groups makes it inevitable that the Palestinian people suffer greatly

  • Hamas, the PFLP, the Tanzim, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade all operate within the West Bank and Gaza in a way that makes Palestinian "non-combatant" suffering inevitable.

  • These groups have established bomb factories in densely populated residential areas of Palestinian towns and villages.

  • Palestinian homes have been heavily booby-trapped, for example during the recent battle of Jenin, in order to kill entering Israeli troops (a practice condemned by both Amnesty International and the UN).

  • During the early months of the intifada, which witnessed many riots of stone-throwing young men and boys, Tanzim militia gunmen routinely took up position behind the rioters and used them as cover to fire on Israeli forces - and then of course accused Israel of "deliberately killing children" when Israeli forces defended themselves.

  • Palestinian snipers have used civilian areas as bases from which to attack, in the apparent hope of causing Israeli retaliation. For example, the village of Beit Jala was used through much of 2001 for sniper attacks against the nearby Jerusalem suburb of Gilo.

  • Palestinian terrorists have used the easing of curfews to kill Israeli civilians (See Beyond Images 13 - Moshav Worker Lynched). They then condemn Israeli for tightening curfews on civilians.

  • In mid-March, Israeli soldiers stopped a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance and upon searching it discovered a suicide bomb belt being smuggled underneath an innocent 6 year old boy (the International Red Cross expressed "outrage").

  • The use by Palestinian groups of the Palestinian people in such a cynical way contributes to the casualty figure on the Palestinian side.

A political culture of "martyrdom" is certain to escalate suffering

  • Palestinian society has widely adopted the suicide bombers as "heroes" of the "resistance" and "martyrs" to their cause. By their own admission, Palestinian life may be sacrificed for ideology.

  • The culture of martyrdom has been echoed by Mr Arafat himself, in his notorious speech of March 2002 calling for "a million martyrs"

  • The mass murder of Israeli civilians is celebrated on the streets. Sweets are handed out to children in the camps of Gaza. The bombing of the cafeteria at the Hebrew University, killing 9 students in July 2002, brought thousands of Gazans onto the streets in jubilation.

  • Even Palestinian funerals become transformed into political rallies, containing blood-curdling calls for revenge and ending with rifle and machine-gunfire.

  • This culture incites and inflames violence, and ultimately brings more misery on the Palestinian people.

  • Those who create this atmosphere are in no position to complain about Israel's attitude to force. There is absolutely no Israeli equivalent to this political culture.

The view of David Horowitz, editor of the Jerusalem Report

  • David Horowitz is editor of the Israeli news magazine The Jerusalem Report. He is a well-known liberal. He advocates a "viable accommodation" between Israel and the Palestinian people, and therefore can hardly be dismissed as "anti-Palestinian". Here is his view (written in April 2002, at the beginning of Operation Defensive Shield):-

    "Astoundingly, at a time when Yassar Arafat's strategic embrace of terrorism is cynically, viciously, bloodily evident every day, there are still innumerable international leaders, policy makers and journalists who insist on viewing this escalated conflict as one between a Palestinian David legitimately resisting occupation and seeking statehood, and an Israeli Goliath, knowing its independence.
    The more accurate depiction is that Israeli civilians are being terrorised by gunmen and bombers, themselves incited to violence by a duplicitous Palestinian leadership which urges its own Fatah killers to out-murder the Hames fundamentalists and yearns for peace in English while advocating "martyrdom" in Arabic. This leadership rejects Israel's legitimacy and has manipulated its public to the depths of despair by assuring it that Israel understands only the language of force and brutality, and by withholding from it the fact that Israel sought to partner the Palestinians to statehood on almost all the territory they purport to seek".

Beyond Images Conclusion

  • Loss of life is a tragedy. But the casualty figures of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples do not indicate the rights and wrongs of the conflict, or prove that the actions of the two parties are morally equivalent.

  • The Palestinian peoples' suffering in the last two years is ultimately the result of their leaders' embrace of fanatical and self-destructive violence


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