Henry Siegman has a history of dishonesty when writing about the Arab-Israeli conflict. So it is perhaps no surprise that the Los Angeles Times found it necessary to publish a correction to demonstrably false assertions in Siegman’s June 18, 2006 Op-Ed, "Israelis killing Palestinians, and vice versa: Is ‘moral equivalency’ really so wrong?"
In his column, which argues that people should morally equate Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians with Israeli counter-terror operations, Siegman claims that "since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza last year ... Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli artillery and airstrikes virtually on a daily basis." In other words, Siegman alleges that practically every day between Sept. 12, 2005 (when Israel completed its withdrew from Gaza) and June 18, 2006 (when Siegman's column was published) Israel has killed Palestinian civilians with artillery or airstrikes.
The charge is preposterous. Even according to figures published by the partisan Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), on most days since the Israeli withdrawal no Palestinians were killed at all—neither Palestinian civilians, nor Palestinian combatants; not by Israeli airstrikes or artillery and not by Israeli gunfire; not even in "work accidents" or internecine Palestinian fighting (all of which seem to be included in the PRCS figures.)
In the period Siegman discussed (Sept. 13, 2005 through June 18, 2006), there were 139 days during which no Palestinians were killed. On 109 days, there were Palestinian fatalities from a variety of causes. (Because the PRCS doesn't provide daily statistics for October 2005, that month is not considered in the above breakdown.*) In other words, according to this Palestinian source, fewer than half of the days since Israel's Gaza withdrawal involved Palestinian fatalities of any kind. The percentage is significantly lower when one considers Palestinian civilians killed by Israelis, and minuscule when considering Siegman's criteria–Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli artillery or airstrikes.
A look at May 2006, the most recent full month that falls during Siegman's time frame, is revealing. Cross checking the PRCS figures with Associated Press dispatches from the month, it turns out that only 2 Palestinian civilians died as a result of Israeli artillery or airstrikes: A Palestinian woman was killed on May 20 when an Israeli aircraft fired missiles at senior Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed Dadouh's vehicle in the Gaza Strip; and a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli shells fired toward a suspected rocket-launching sites on May 5.
The prior month for which the PRCS published daily statistics, March 2006, shows similar results. (PRCS has since published statistics for April. See footnote.) Only on one day during that entire month were any Palestinian civilians killed by an Israeli airstrike. (On March 6, an Israeli missile launched at Islamic Jihad gunmen killed bystanders.)
Tragic as these deaths were, relevant statistics and news reports make clear that such events did not happen "virtually on a daily basis," but in fact rarely happened at all.
CAMERA informed the Los Angeles Times of the above facts, and on July 16, the newspaper ran the following correction:
A June 18 article on the Mideast conflict ... said that Palestinian civilians have been killed "virtually every day" since Israel's disengagement from Gaza. Statistics from B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, show that Palestinian civilians have been killed on fewer than half the days since the disengagement last year.
(Note that the correction itself is misleading. Click here for details.)
The rest of Siegman’s piece isn’t much better.
Since 2000, the author argues, "Israel’s policy has been to refuse to consider concessions that would have to be made in negotiations with the Palestinians."
This is clearly false. Israel accepted the Road Map peace plan endorsed by the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia in 2003.
Again ignoring the Road Map, Siegman claims that a political prospect for Palestinians statehood "has been eliminated by the conditions imposed by Olmert for a renewal of peace talks ...."
The conditions for renewal of talks, however, are established in Phase I on the Road Map–that is, they are imposed the international community, not by Olmert. And by endorsing the Road Map, the Palestinians themselves agreed to those conditions, including the cessation of violence and the dismantling of the terror infrastructure.
Siegman also suggests that if Israel would only recognize "Palestinian national rights and the pre-1967 borders ... Hamas would agree to minor and reciprocal border adjustments."
But Israel has committed "to leave a very large part of the territories, a contiguous part of the territories, for a Palestinian state to be created by the Palestinians," a point reaffirmed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert less than a week before publication of Siegman’s column. And as a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, Siegman should know that like today, there were no no official borders before 1967. The 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan established–at the insistence of the Jordanians–that the "Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto."
Siegman is entitled to his own opinion that terrorists who target men, women and children simply because they are Jewish are equivalent to soldiers carrying out counter-terrorist operations while trying–albeit sometimes unsuccessfully–to avoid civilian casualties. But to support this morally confused opinion with fabrications and distortions on the pages of a mainstream publication is clearly indefensible.
* Note: The breakdown of total days with fatalities vs. total days without fatalities was updated on Aug. 24 to include PRCS's daily statistics for April 2006. When this article was first published, those numbers were not available.