B’Tselem is an Israeli “Human Rights” Organization whose full name is The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Just by it use of the phrase Occupied Territories you can tell its politics (even the most liberal Israelis I have spoken to call them the Disputed Terrotories.
Every year they publish a guide to Israeli and Palestinian Deaths and while the totals are correct, their classification methods are a bit on the “funky” side. For an example they define civilian casualties as whether casualties were involved in fighting at the time of their death. Lets say someone launches a rocket at Sedrot, then puts the launcher in the truck and hears the call to prayer. He puts down his rug and starts praying. At the same time IDF is honing in on where the missile was launched and sends retaliatory fire. That terrorist is considered a civilian because he wasn’t launching missiles at the time, he was praying. And that is just one example. The worldwide press uses and believes their numbers as if they came down from Sinai.
This report from Camera provides much ammunition for you to tell people that B’Tselem is B’ullcrap:
|B’Tselem’s Annual Casualty Figures Questioned|
|Like death and taxes, B’Tselem’s end-of-the-year publication of Palestinian and Israeli fatalities is a guaranteed affair, as is the accompanying press release. And, inevitably, journalists will dutifully report B’Tselem’s findings, sometimes inaccurately, sometimes not. And while the publication of the statistics is a sure thing, its accuracy and the underlying methodology is most definitely not. We have yet, however, to see a mainstream journalist challenge B’Tselem’s figures. Many journalists are anxious to report how many of the Palestinians killed were civilians. To some extent, B’Tselem obliges; its Dec. 28, 2006 press release, for example, announced: “This past year, we witnessed a deterioration in the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories, particularly in the increase in civilians killed and the destruction of the houses and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.” But how can B’Tselem make any determination about civilians when its own list of Palestinian fatalities does not identify civilians? Instead, B’Tselem identifies most (but not all) casualties as follows: “Killed when participating in hostilities” or “Did not participate in hostilities when killed.” B’Tselem made a deliberate policy choice to note whether casualties were involved in fighting at the time of their death and to refrain from labelling them as civilians or not. B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli confirmed this policy to CAMERA by phone last year.
Why, then, does the organization’s press release stray from this policy and make statements regarding the number of civilians killed in the Gaza Strip when B’Tselem no longer tallies Palestinian civilians?
As late as 2002, B’Tselem did provide separate lists of “Palestinian civilians” killed. In many instances, this label was completely inappropriate. As documented by CAMERA in 2003, B’Tselem’s loose definition of the term “civilian” included countless Palestinians who were killed while they were in the process of attacking Israelis, including opening fire at a bat mitzvah celebration in Hadera, killing six and injuring 35, setting off bombs, infiltrating Israeli communities and killing or injuring residents, and fighting with Israeli troops. B’Tselem has since abandoned that policy – perhaps in face of CAMERA’s criticism – but is the current practice any more credible? CAMERA reviewed B’Tselem’s details for many of those killed in December and November 2006 to find out.
An examination of those two months raised two warning flags:
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I) Not Participating in Hostilities? Not Necessarily So In a number of cases, B’Tselem maintains that civilians were not participating in hostilities even though the circumstances surrounding the death are disputed or unclear. For example: 1) B’Tselem reports that Muhammad Mahmoud Rajab a-Jarjawi, 19, killed Nov. 23 in Beit Lahiya, “Did not participate in hostilities when killed. Additional information: Killed while on his way home from prayers, which ended at five in the morning.” Yet the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency Web site (as supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring) reported that day:
2) B’Tselem recounts that Tha’ir Hassan ‘Abed al-Masri, 16, killed on Nov. 18 in Beit Lahiya, North Gaza district, “Did not participate in hostilities when killed. Additional information: Killed while working on his family’s land.” 3) B’Tselem also reports that the same day, Sa’id Salem Suleiman Hajaj, 20, was killed in al-Qaraya al-Badwiya Maslakh, North Gaza district. He also, reportedly, “Did not participate in hostilities when killed. Additional information: Killed on his way to work, not knowing there were soldiers in the area.” Yet, according to the AFP, he was a member of a Palestinian terrorist group and may have been armed:
4) Likewise, B’Tselem reports that Muhammad Salamah Hussein Hamidan, killed Nov. 16 in ‘Ein Beit al-Maa Refugee Camp in the Nablus district, “Did not participate in hostilities when killed. Additional information: Killed during an army operation while he was standing in his house next to the window.” Yet, according to wire stories on the incident, Hamidan, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, may have been armed when he was killed. AFP reports:
Also, the AP reported:
On what basis does B’Tselem accept as fact a family member’s version of events over the army’s? 5) Regarding Muhammad (‘Eid) Amin Mahmoud Ramaheh, Btselem details:
However, according to an IDF press release:
6) B’Tselem claims that Wahib Musieh Nayef a-Dik, killed on Dec. 14, 2006 in Kafr a-Dik:
Yet, the AP reports on the incident as follows:
The AFP reported:
There are conflicting Palestinian sources on whether or not a-Dik was involved in hostilities at the time he was killed. The Israeli army insists that he was involved in violence at the time of his death. How then can B’Tselem definitively state that he was not involved in the hostilities? The Absurd In an internally contradicting example of a Palestinian casualty placed in the category of “not being involved in hostilities at the time of death,” Btselem writes that 14-year-old Jamil Abd al-Karim Jamil al-Jabaji, killed Dec. 3, 2006 in Askar Refugee Camp, “Did not participate in hostilities when killed. Additional information: Killed while throwing stones at soldiers.” II) Participation in Hostilities Before Death Many journalists – and even B’tselem’s own press release writer – miss the key qualifier in the organization’s current policy of labelling whether or not casualties were participating in hostilities at the time of their death. Such reports, like this Dec. 29 BBC article wrongly assume a Palestinian killed while not participating in fighting is a civilian. There are numerous cases, however, of Palestinians fighters – those who regularly launch rockets, prepare bombs, dispatch suicide bombers, smuggle weapons, or battle Israeli soldiers – being killed by Israeli soldiers while not in the midst of hostile activities. For example, on Nov. 8, the IDF killed ‘Alaa a-Din Jamil Khamaiseh and Salim Yusef Mahoud Sa’id (Abu al-Heija) in al-Yamun (Jenin district). B’Tselem writes that they “did not participate in hostilities when killed. Regarding the former, B’tselem at least adds: “Killed while in a car during an attempt to arrest wanted persons.” Similarly, regarding Abu al-Heija, B’Tselem adds, to its credit, that he was “Wanted by Israel.” According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, both were members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade–designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the EU for carrying out suicide bombings and other violent attacks against Israelis–and thus should not be classified as civilians. Indeed, B’Tselem consistently fails to mention whether or not each casualty is a participant of a terrorist organization. A case in point is Muhammad Ramaha (example #5 discussed above), the head of Tanzim in the Ein Beit Ilma refugee camp. According to a Dec. 14, 2006 Israel Defense Forces release:
Not only did B’Tselem categorically state that Ramaha “did not participate in hostilities when killed,” despite the conflicting accounts, but the organization also covered up that Rahama was a Tanzim leader involved in numerous terrorist attacks. Both of these points have obvious bearing on the question whether or not Rahama can be considered a “civilian.” The same can be said about B’Tselem’s two-fold distortion regarding Said Hahjuj (example #3 above.) Conclusion B’Tselem can not be relied upon as a trusted source for figures on Palestinian civilian casualties. Nor can the details it provides on the circumstances of death for Palestinian casualties be considered accurate. As NGO-Monitor editor Gerald Steinberg notes, “the ‘halo effect’ protects the NGOs from the same type of accountability that they demand from others.” Journalists should take note and report on B’Tselem’s figures with healthy skepticism instead of allowing B’Tselem to ring in each new year with falsehoods and distortions.