Assessments of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often come down to a simple comparison: How many have been killed on each side. No one disputes that, by this simple calculation, Palestinian deaths outnumber those endured by the Israelis – by a lot. That approach, however, invokes a widely used mathematical idiom: statistics lie.
According to a study by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, between 2000 and early 2003, nearly 2,000 Palestinians had been killed compared to 750 Israelis. But a closer, more robust look at the numbers uncovers the flaws of that effortless assessment. Indeed, it is clear that these disproportionate death tolls are due to the fact that there are many more Palestinian combatant deaths than Israeli combatant deaths. Palestinians’ rejection of Israelis’ far superior heath care, along with the Palestinians’ use of human-shields, has widely distorted these numbers in favor of the Palestinians.
The most significant problem with a simple death toll is that it includes deaths of combatants (i.e. terrorists, suicide bombers, etc.). If you remove combatants from the equation and only look at noncombatants (innocent civilians), the tables immediately turn in favor of the Israelis.
According to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 80% of the Israeli death toll is comprised of innocent civilians. On the Palestinian side, only 45% of those killed are non-combatants. Moreover, 40% of Israelis killed are females, compared with just 5% for Palestinian deaths. The numbers clearly indicate that the Palestinians actually target Israeli noncombatants and females, while Israel focuses solely on those that pose a threat, while at times inadvertently killing innocent civilians.
But even that assessment does not tell the whole story. According to the Jerusalem Post, because “Palestinian medical facilities are unable to treat many of their wounded adequately,” Israel offered the Palestinians their assistance. “The Israeli Health Minister Nissim Dahan has several times offered to treat ‘all Palestinians wounded in the current intifada in Israeli hospitals and at Israeli expense,’ but the Palestinians have not bothered to reply...”
It's hard to understand why the Palestinians would ever opt to reject this offer. But it is likely driven by the Palestinian leadership's understanding that when one of their citizens dies, Israel bears the burden. Motives aside, it is clear that many of the Palestinian noncombatant deaths could have been prevented had they accepted Israel’s gracious offer. Indeed, a significant reason for the disparity in deaths between the Israelis and the Palestinians is due to Israel’s far better health care capabilities.
Moreover, Israel displays a firm commitment to protect innocent life, while Palestinian combatants deliberately target innocent civilians and women, as the data suggests. The Israeli Army has a code of ethics. Israeli soldiers must act “out of recognition of the supreme value of human life," and “do all in [their] power to avoid causing harm to [noncombatants'] lives, bodies, dignity, and property.”
Hamas forces, on the other hand, have been known to surround themselves with innocent civilians, creating human shields, in order to prevent Israel from attacking legitimate military targets. The intention is to tilt public opinion and inflate the number of innocent Palestinians killed by making it impossible for Israel to carry out its missions.
Consider the story of Abu Bilal al-Ja’abeer, told by Ja’abeer himself on Arab television. When Israeli forces targeted his house, they didn’t blindly bomb it. Instead, they alerted Ja’abeer that he had “five minutes to evacuate the house. You and your children.” Ja’abeer proceeded to call in friends and neighbors to form a shield around his house, making it impossible for Israel to carry out its legitimate mission.
This practice, however, is not simply employed as a means of protecting one's private property. Hamas MP Fathi Hammad said in a speech on February 29, 2008, that "For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry ... This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahideen..." Not only is this method illegal under international law, but Hammad also felt the need to go even further. "We desire death like [the Zionists] desire life," he concluded.
The Israeli army attempts to save the lives of legitimate military targets, and the Palestinians use that as an opportunity to tilt public opinion by causing more Palestinian deaths. The Israeli army should be praised for respecting the rights of all humans, even those who present a legitimate threat to Israel’s national security. Instead, Israel is the primary source of international opposition and is often tagged as the world’s worst human rights violator.
It’s time we not only educate ourselves before simply grasping onto public opinion, but also stop singling out a nation that should actually be passionately praised. Israel has endured vicious, inaccurate criticism throughout its entire history, and those who perpetuate those claims will only find themselves on the wrong side of history.
Photo Credit: Israel Defense Forces