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Friday, October 08, 2010

The myth of the 10,000 Palestinian Arab prisoners

How many Palestinian Arab prisoners are being held in Israel?

People who follow the news would automatically say, 10,000. They would have good reason to believe that; 
the magic number of "10,000 prisoners" is used as received wisdom by Arabs, left-wingers and the news media as fact.

For example:

Daoud Kuttab, quoted in the NYT, November 2009: "Israel is holding more than 10,000 Palestinians, some without charge or trial. "

MJ Rosenberg in HuffPo, November 2009, headline: "Gilad Shalit's Counterparts: 10,000 Palestinian Prisoners In Israeli Jails"

BBC, November 2009: "Israel holds about 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in jail on security grounds - a major bone of contention with the Palestinians."

ABC News Australia, April 2010: "Hamas spokesman Adnan Abu Amar says it is hoped the video will renew pressure on Israel to reach a deal with Hamas to free many of the 10,000 or more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in return for the soldier's freedom."

Palestine News Network, September 2010: "There are at least 10,000 Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israeli army jails."


Only one problem: the number is wrong. Not only that, but it was never right!

 B'Tselem has been keeping statistics of how many Palestinian Arab prisoners are being held in Israel, back to 2001. According to their statistics, the number of prisoners never surpassed 10,000. They reached a high of about 9600 in October, 2006, and have been steadily declining ever since.

Between June 2007 and August 2010, the number of prisoners has dropped from 9344 to 6011, a decrease of 36%.

Here it is graphically:

I'm sure that most of them were released because their sentences were finished; this was not meant as a good-will gesture.

Here we have another case where Arab activists and left wingers, by repeating bogus statistics over and over, manage to convince even the news media that the numbers are accurate. While the New York Times and the BBC might lean left, they do put on a pretense of objective reporting and fact checking - yet they let these numbers get reported as truth.

Last year I showed that Addameer's absurd statistics of between 650,000 and 800,000 Palestinian Arabs being arrested since 1967 were complete fiction, as anyone with the slightest grasp of numbers could easily confirm. Yet those numbers had been quoted uncritically by Goldstone, Time Magazine and Jimmy Carter, among others.

When will the media wake up to the fact that many Arabs and leftists are willing to lie to them without any compunction? By not doing basic fact checking, they are complicit in purveying falsehoods that influence millions of people.

Imagine if the New York Times would report that Israel has released over 3000 prisoners in recent years. It completely upends the Arab narrative of  a vicious IDF randomly and capriciously arresting and holding thousands of people annually, indefinitely. It would make people think twice before accepting hateful, inciting claims against Israel by the Left. However, even well-meaning people do not have the means or ability to check what should have already been checked, so they understandably will accept what the media tells them, especially when it is stated as an aside, as a fact so well known that it is not even worth checking.

Israel is at fault as well. It is properly the job of the Israeli government to correct these lies, not bloggers. This posting may or not make it to the BBC, a year after their story, but Israel should have responded immediately.

Not only does the Government of Israel not correct the lies, but it doesn't capitalize on the PR value of the truth! 3000 prisoners released could be a huge story - but it is unknown.

The flip side of the coin is - should Israel have held on to all 9600 prisoners for an extra year or two, and then offer to swap 3000 of them for Shalit - prisoners that would have been released anyway, but in quantities that could have made a huge psychological impact and more pressure on Hamas as well as a propaganda victory?

(A separate question is whether B'Tselem makes any effort to correct the lies when they help further its own agenda.)

This is a big problem, all around.