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Monday, December 31, 2007

Lies, damn lies, and B'Tselem's statistics

B'Tselem just came out with its annual report on how horrible Israel is, and for purposes of "balance" it threw in some statistics on Palestinian Arabs killing each other.

It comes to the apparent conclusion that even with a reduction of Palestinian Arab deaths at the hands of Israel this year, Israel was responsible for more PalArab deaths than Palestinian Arabs themselves were. It counts 373 Palestinian Arabs killed by the IDF and 344 killed in internal fighting.

The press releases don't go into the details of B'Tselem's methodology, and its apparent attempt to keep track of intra-Palestinian Arab violence gives it a veneer of respectability and even-handedness. But look a bit deeper into how it claims to get its numbers, buried almost unnoticeably on its website:
Since the beginning of the current intifada, B’Tselem has published on its website the names of every person (Israeli, Palestinian, and foreign) who was killed in the violence.

The data include the person’s name, age, and place of residence, the date and place of death, and who killed the individual. The data on Israelis who were killed indicate whether they were a civilian or member of the security forces. Regarding Palestinians who were killed, the data state whether they took part in the fighting, in the event that B’Tselem has this information. In some cases, the data provide a short description of the circumstances in which the individual was killed.

B’Tselem emphasizes that the listing of a person as a civilian, or having not participated in the fighting, or the inclusion of any other details regarding the cause of death, does not indicate that the person or entity that killed the individual violated the law, or that the deceased was innocent, or that any other legal or moral conclusion can be drawn from the facts. The lists of fatalities relate to persons killed during incidents related to the al-Aqsa intifada, and are to be viewed solely in that light.

The problem is that B'Tselem uses a very expansive definition of deaths related to the intifada when counting Israeli killings and a very narrow one when counting Arab killings.

For example, it counts this as an Israeli killing related to the intifada (and as a killing of a minor):

Jihad 'Alian Muhammad a-Nabahin, 17 year-old resident of al-Bureij Refugee Camp, Deir al-Balah district, killed on 09.11.2007 in al-Bureij Refugee Camp, Deir al-Balah district, by gunfire. Did not participate in hostilities when killed. Additional information: Killed when he and his friend tried to cross the perimeter fence and enter Israel.

If he was killed for only trying to cross a fence, and had no intent to do anything bad to Israelis (as B'Tselem implies when it says that he was not participating in hostilities), then what exactly does this death have to do with the intifada?

But when it comes to intra-Arab deaths, B'Tselem becomes much more restrictive in saying that they have to do with the intifada. While Hamas/Fatah battles do seem to count, tunnel collapses and "work accidents" and Arabs shooting other Arabs at checkpoints and Christians killed for being Christian and many other types of deaths do not make it into their list. So while over 600 Arabs were violently killed by each other this year, B'Tselem implies that the number is only 344, thereby neatly making it look like Israel is responsible for more Arab deaths than Arabs themselves are - a very wrong implication.

But B'Tselem's dishonesty does not end there. They nicely list 53 minors and come to conclusions that most of them "did not participate in hostilities" when they were killed. Probably most of them didn't, but again B'Tselem's definition of "not participating in hostilities" includes minors who tried to cut through the fence around Gaza, trying to escape arrest, trying to "collect" Qassam rocket launchers, or throwing stones (the very definition of "intifada" according to Palestinian Arab propagandists.) Once again, B'Tselem interprets its own definitions in ways that maximize propaganda value and minimize adherence to a true picture.

One interesting statistic that B'Tselem doesn't bother mentioning in its press release: the number of females killed. B'Tselem likes to count "minors" even though the majority killed were 16 and 17 years old. But its own list shows only 2 adult women (and 3 girls) killed by Israel during the year, as opposed to the 41 adult women and far more than 3 girls killed by PalArabs this year, statistics that B'Tselem doesn't count in its quest for "human rights."

In other words, B'Tselem will use statistics that seem to imply an Israeli policy of random shooting of non-combatants but that randomness falls apart when one sees that the minors are usually fully grown and the number of females killed is diminishingly small compared to men.

Publicizing those statistics as well as the others mentioned would make Arabs look more bloodthirsty than Israelis, and B'Tselem cannot countenance such a conclusion.