What the fatality statistics tell us

Against the background of shock and disgust at the mass terror attack on the Jerusalem bus on August 19, and the fear of advanced Qassam rocket attacks, the government of Israel energetically renewed its policy of targeted killings. From August 21 through yesterday, September 1, Air Force fighters killed 11 Hamas activists in six targeted assassinations in crowded central locations. Four other Palestinians were killed in those actions, among them a young girl and an old man, and dozens were injured. The threatened revenge attack has not occurred. Is this not proof that targeted killings are the way to go?

That might have been the conclusion in December 2000 as well, after the first three targeted killings that Israel carried out the previous month. At the end of September and October 2000, the Palestinians killed 11 Israelis in the territories, five of whom were security personnel, according to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights. In November, 22 Israelis were killed, 18 in the territories, 11 of whom were security personnel, and four in Israel proper. In December, the Palestinians killed eight Israelis in the territories, five of whom were civilians and three were security personnel. No Israelis were killed in Israel proper in December. This could be seen as a direct result of the pressure brought to bear by the series of six targeted killings that same month.

However in February 2001 the ratio between those killed in the territories and those killed in Israel changed: four Israelis were killed in the territories, among them one soldier, and eight in Israel, run down by a bus driver from Gaza. In March 2001, two Israelis were killed in the territories and eight in Israel, among them three in the first deadly suicide bombing, which took place on March 4.

From that point on, the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have been competing with each other to see who could carry out the most deadly suicide attack in Israel. In October 2001, Fatah, which until that time had concentrated mostly on shooting attacks in the territories, joined the competition. The more Israel pursued its policy of targeted killings, the more the members of all the terror organizations competed with each other in attacks on Israel.

The Palestinians also counted their dead: 115 in September-October 2000 (the majority of whom were killed during demonstrations, and among whom were 32 children killed by IDF fire), 109 in November 2000, 48 in December 2000, 18 in January 2001, and 20 in February. It is convenient to think that most of those killed were armed terrorists, and that Israel’s policy, a strong preemptive strike to prevent deterioration, had proven itself.

But it turned out that according to calculations of the Shin Bet and by its own definitions, of the 2,341 Palestinians who were killed up to the beginning of August this year, 551 were terrorists, “that is, bearing arms and explosives” (Ze’ev Schiff, Haaretz, August 8, 2003). To those who wonder who the other victims were, whether they were suspects, or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time - here is a partial answer: Until the end of August this year, IDF soldiers killed 391 minors, according to B’Tselem. According to the Red Crescent, the IDF killed 141 women. B’Tselem determined that 291 Palestinian security personnel were killed, some of whom were participating in the fighting, whether during an IDF incursion or during attacks they initiated in the settlements or against soldiers.

However many did not take part in the fighting, and were killed while they were standing at their posts as defined in the Oslo Accords. Many others were killed in bombardments, in invasions of cities, or in attempts to detour roadblocks. In addition to some 120 Palestinians who were targets of assassination, 82 Palestinian civilians were killed “by mistake.” They, it is to be assumed, are not included in the 551 terrorists as defined above.

Here are the disastrous proportions, in the hope that someone in Israel will take notice: 80 percent of the Palestinians killed were not connected to armed actions.

Like the Israelis, who experience the horror of bus bombings, the Palestinians too are all exposed to the terror of missiles and bombs exploding in the heart of the civilian population centers. This terror, and the tribal need for vengeance (which is not foreign to Israelis) have become a true “terror infrastructure.” The bottomless pit of its ammunition is the pointlessness and hopelessness of the lives of tens of thousands of young people. The targeted killings may sabotage technical capabilities for a time. But they do not deter more and more young people from seeking the means to act.

An educational counselor met regularly last year with the children of the Qalandiyah refugee camp. When she asked them how they see themselves in 20 years, most answered “buried.” Those same children or their friends were seen, on Sunday of this week, climbing the separation fence that encloses their refugee camp. They bent back the fence, broke the sensors and the floodlights, and took every piece of metal from the fence that was not nailed down, and it all happened no more than 300 meters from the nearest soldiers. When asked if they cared that they might be shot and killed, they responded with a snicker. What targeted killing can overcome that kind of serenity in the face of death?

Ha’aretz is an Israeli newspaper that publishes in English and Hebrew. Ha’aretz’s website can be found at http://www.haaretzdaily.com