Thursday, November 06, 2008

Are B’tselem’s “Impartial Statistics” Really Accurate?

During the past few years, the battle for hearts and minds has become an integral part of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. On the one side, Israel's enemies are waging a campaign to shape the messages and the data to fit their perception of "the truth". Israel, on the other side, has the IDF Spokesperson, the Foreign Ministry's Media and Public Affairs Division, and the Prime Minister's National Information Directorate. However, for various reasons, including the IDF's prohibition from about two years ago on Israeli reporters entering the Gaza Strip, there is a dearth of reliable first-hand coverage and the media is usually presented with diverse versions of events. One of the most conspicuous examples of this is the subject of the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli security forces. The Palestinians usually claim that the dead were innocent civilians, while in the Israeli version they are terrorists. The IDF and other official Israeli sources rarely issue data about how and how many Palestinians are killed. Into the breach comes B’Tselem, "The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories". The organization has established an impressive data base of individuals killed during the latest Intifada. Every Palestinian killed is noted by name, date and the circumstances surrounding his death. On October 21 the list ran to 4,757. B’Tselem’s is widely respected by the international community and its reports are often quoted by various arms of the United Nations, international organizations and the media as providing the “true facts.”

B’Tselem’s annual report summed up the statistics for Palestinians killed in 2007. According to the B’Tselem report issued on December 30, 2007, between January 1 and December 29, 2007 “the Israeli security forces killed 373 Palestinians, 53 of them minors; 290 were in the Gaza Strip, and the remaining 83 in the West Bank. At least 131, 35%, were civilians who were not fighting at the time they were killed.”

An examination of the data base appended to the report exposes many defects in fact-gathering, the deletion of pertinent facts and the omission of relevant information, as well as distortions and errors. The list was downloaded from the B'Tselem website on January 1, 2008, and analyzed by a team from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, headed by Dr. Dore Gold. Jonathan Dahoah-Halevi, formerly a lieutenant colonel in Military Intelligence, wrote the article summarizing their findings.

The B'Tselem report divided the Palestinians killed into three categories: “participated in fighting” (195), “did not participate in fighting” (119), and miscellaneous (66).

B’Tselem’s definition of “participated in fighting” is extremely narrow and relates only to Palestinians who at the time of their deaths were actively shooting, launching rockets, throwing Molotov cocktails, conducting surveillance to gather intelligence, etc. It does not include members of terrorist organizations who were not on the front line, or were on their way from one attack to another, or were involved in support for terrorism (i.e., transporting ammunition), or in planning and carrying out terrorist attacks. For example, six terrorist operatives from the Army of Islam (Al-Qaeda’s branch in the Gaza Strip) who died in a targeted killing were categorized by B’Tselem as “residents of the Gaza Strip killed while driving in a vehicle in the center of Gaza City.”

B’Tselem’s list of killed Palestinians makes almost no mention of their membership or roles in the various terrorist organizations. For example, Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, and his replacement, Abd Aziz Rantisi, and Salah Shehade, the head of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, who were responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel in which hundreds of Israelis were killed, are listed as “residents of the Gaza Strip” who were “targets of assassinations” and killed when they, respectively, “left the mosque,” “were in their cars,” and “asleep.”

Dahoah-Halevi’s analysis comes up with completely different data: among the 119 Palestinians who according to B’Tselem did not participate in the fighting, 55 were terror operatives (and one was an operative in the Authority’s national-security services), 60 were uninvolved civilians and three were not killed by Israel at all. Out of the 66 “uncategorized,” he found 60 terror operatives and six civilians. B'Tselem's data did not include 19 Palestinian operatives belonging to various terrorist organizations who were killed by Israel in 2007. Final tally: out of 396 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces, 330 (83.3%) were "military operatives" and 67 (16.7%) were civililans (not 31.3%, as claimed in the B'Tselem report).

The civilians who were killed were either involved in suspicious activities such as infiltration, surveillance during fighting, hunting birds near the border, holding toy rifles, disobeying soldiers’ orders to halt, etc.; or were in a battle arena in a built-up area; or were in proximity to terrorists or rocket launchers; or were killed during the dispersal of riots; or were killed while attacking soldiers.

Information about the circumstances surrounding the deaths and terrorist organization affiliation of the names on the list was taken from the Palestinian press, Arab news sites, official Palestinian terrorist organization websites, human rights organizations websites, the official sites of the State of Israel and the Israeli media, archive material, sites of Palestinian families, sites documenting Palestinian deaths, the official sites of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian municipalities and local councils devoting space to shaheeds, etc.

מח' מידע ואינטרנט – אגף תקשורת

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