B’Tselem, Los Angeles Times Redefine “Civilian”

Misrepresenting civilian deaths in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, guest columnist Rashid Khalidi erroneously reported June 17 in the Los Angeles Times that “The U.S. media regularly fail to mention that three times as many Palestinians as Israelis–most on both sides civilians–have been killed since September 2000, when the second intifada began” (“Can Hamas Cut a Deal for Peace?”)

Khalidi seriously overstated the percentage of Palestinian civilian casualties. According to the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 2,329 Palestinians have died in the conflict between Sept. 2000 and June 15, 2003, and 785 have died on the Israeli side. On the Palestinian side, 867 were “non-combatants killed by the opposite side.” In contrast, on the Israeli side, 604 killed were non-combatants killed by the opposite side.” Thus, while it is true that at 76.9 percent, most Israelis killed were civilians, it is not true that most Palestinian fatalities were civilians. Only 37.2 percent of Palestinian fatalities were civilians. (See www.ict.org.il for details.)

In response to CAMERA’s requests for a correction, the Los Angeles Times wrote back that the editor, Nicholas Goldberg:

confirms the figures in the opinion piece. Rashid Khalidi gave as his source the statistics provided by B’Tselem. The B’Tselem site (www.btselem.org) says that since September 2000, there have been a total of 2,103 Palestinians killed (this is from the list of total Palestinians killed, which doesn’t break it down by civilian or non-civilian). Then, the month-to-month deaths shows that since September 2000, there have been 1,732 “Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli security forces.” The editor has told me that he finds that source a credible one to support the contention as stated in the essay that “most” killed on the Palestinian side have been civilian.

After reviewing B’Tselem’s detailed lists of month-by-month Palestinian casualties, it is easy to understand why their numbers are so different from ICT’s. B’Tselem has a very loose definition of the term “civilian,” (to say the least!) including countless Palestinians who were killed while they attacked Israelis, like opening fire at a bat mitzah celebration in Hadera, killing six and injuring 35, setting off bombs, infiltrating Israeli communities and killing or injuring residents, and fighting with Israeli troops.

For example, out of the 31 Palestinians listed under B’Tselem’s category “Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli civilians in the Occupied Territories,” 13 were engaged in attacks at the time of their death. Fortunately, B’Tselem provides useful details about the attacks launched by these Palestinian “civilians.” Representative incidents include:

* Dec. 24, 2001: Jamil Mouhammad Abu ‘Adwan, killed by gunfire of an Israeli civilian whom he and two other Palestinians had shot and severely injured at Ramin Junction

* Feb. 22, 2002: Tawfiq a-Shimali, killed by an Israeli civilian’s gunfire, after having operated an explosive device in a supermarket in the settlement Efrat

* March 18, 2002: Muhammad ‘Awad, killed by Israeli civilian gunfire in Netzarim settlement, after he entered the settlement and shot a soldier to death

* May 17, 2002: ‘Ali Idris Hamdan, killed in the settlement of Beit El by the security officer of the settlement, after Hamdan entered the settlement and stabbed the security officer

Likewise, similar cases abound in the lists of “Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli security forces in Israel.”

* Jan. 17, 2002: ‘Abd a-Salam Sadeq Hasouna, killed by IDF gunfire after having fire at Israeli civilians in a Hadera banquet hall, killing 6 guests at a bat mitzvah

* Nov. 28, 2002: ‘Omar Mahmoud Abu Rub and Yusef Muhammad Abu Rub, killed by border police gunfure after they entered Beit She’an, opened fire, and killed six Israeli civilians

These cases are innumerable, thereby disqualifying B’Tselem as a source “credible to support the contention as stated in the essay that ‘most’ killed on the Palestinian side have been civilian.” CAMERA pointed out B’Tselem’s redefinition of the word “civilian” to the Times on July 3. Nevertheless, on July 7, Khalidi’s error still stands uncorrected, suggesting the Los Angeles Times may be no more credible than B’Tselem.

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