The murder of the three abducted Israeli teenagers is a mind-boggling atrocity, for which no justification is possible. But it is almost as stupid as it is immoral, because it lends credence to the standard narrative—accepted no less widely in the US than in Israel—of a basically innocent Israel under constant threat from terrorist savages. So, even in the wake of this atrocity—especially in the wake of this atrocity—it is important to challenge that narrative.
Israel certainly does have to deal with a continual terrorist threat, mainly from Palestinians under Israeli occupation. According to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, 28 Israelis—the majority of them in the occupied territories–were killed by Palestinians in the 4-year period between mid January 2009 and May 2014. But B’tselem has other interesting statistics. During the same period, 7 Palestinians were killed by Israeli civilians and 568 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces. Of course, these 568 deaths were the product of the officially sanctioned operations of the uniformed security forces of the state acting ostensibly in the defense of its citizenry. Some of the Palestinians who died were indeed engaged in acts of violence in one form or another. But the sheer asymmetry in the numbers—575 total Palestinians killed vs. 28 Israelis–is striking, and raises obvious questions. After all, there has been no continuing armed Palestinian revolt over the past four years—how did all these people die?
B’tselem does its best to find the answers to this question on a case by case basis. Here verbatim are its accounts of its two most recent (May2014) documented cases of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces
Nadim Siyam Nawarah 17 year-old, resident of Ramallah, killed on 15 May 2014 in Bitunya, Ramallah and al-Bira district, by gunfire bullets. Additional information: Shot in the chest and killed in a demonstration that included stone-throwing. Was not throwing stones when killed. Another person was killed in the incident. More on the incident
Muhammad Mahmoud ‘Odeh Salameh 16 year-old, resident of al Mazra’a al-Qibliya, Ramallah and al-Bira district, killed on 15 May 2014 in Bitunya, Ramallah and al-Bira district, by gunfire bullets. Additional information: Shot in the back and killed in a demonstration that included stone-throwing. Was not throwing stones when killed. Another person was killed in the incident. More on the incident
Here are some other descriptions of the circumstances of Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israeli security forces: “Shot while carrying the body of Hamzah Abu al-Heija who had been killed just before by security personnel gunfire.” “Fired at by soldiers in ambush after he and two friends went through a gap in the Security Barrier in order to gather the gundelia plant.” “Shot after he argued with a soldier and shoved him.” “Hit in the head by firing from military tower while collecting gravel approx. 100 meters from Gaza border fence. Military claims he tried to damage fence.”
B’tselem wasn’t able to obtain information on the majority of the 568 Palestinian deaths, but a very large proportion—close to half—of the cases it was able to investigate fall into the broad category represented by the foregoing examples. The undeniable pattern is one of callous if not casual indifference to Palestinian life by the Israeli security forces. It is an indifference that enables Israel, in the words of Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, “to kill, wound and arrest innocents as a matter of routine.”
Israeli brutality is seldom as shockingly depraved as the cold-blooded murder of abductees, but it should still shock us. Besides, the shortfall in Israeli depravity is more than compensated by the overwhelming Israeli “advantage” in the numbers. Any believer in Israeli innocence should check out the B’tselem website, which has valuable statistics (although not always qualitative information) for all the years since the beginning of the first Intifida in 1989. I am confident that what was true over the last four years can be demonstrated for almost any significant period of time since 1948: Israelis have inflicted far more death and suffering on Palestinian civilians than they have Palestinians on Israelis. The numbers are never even close.
So, terror works both ways—there is Palestinian terror and Israeli terror, although we never call the latter by its name. Terror in Israel/Palestine is asymmetrical both in quality and in quantity. Israeli terror is usually spontaneous, prompted by some Palestinian “misbehavior,” while Palestinian terror typically involves the premeditated targeting of innocents. On the other hand, deaths from Israeli terror are far, far more numerous.