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Bending the truth

Human rights group B’Tselem’s statistics are far from being trustworthy

Tamar Sternthal
Published: 09.24.08, 19:42 / Israel Opinion

On Jan. 17, 2002 Abdul Salaam Sadek Hassouneh of Nablus burst into a bat mitzvah celebration

at a Hadera reception hall, shooting dead six and injuring 35 before Israeli security forces ended

the bloodbath by killing him.

 

But Hassouneh has another, lesser known claim to notoriety. He was the first of several

Palestinian terrorists killed while attacking Israelis to appear that year in B'Tselem's list of

"Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli security forces." He was followed by numerous other so-called Palestinian "civilians" in 2002, including Omar Mahmoud Abu Rub and Yusef Muhammad Abu Rub, killed by border police gunfire after they murdered six Israeli civilians in Beit She'an. Both attacks were claimed by Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

 

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In the wake of CAMERA's criticism of this grossly deceptive practice, B'Tselem revamped its

methodology for tracking Palestinian casualties of the intifada. In more recent years, the self-

described human rights organization has dropped the "civilian" label as pertaining to Palestinians

and describes most - but not all - Palestinians fatalities as either "killed when participating in

hostilities" or "did not participate in hostilities when killed."

 

Nevertheless, the organization's current detailed data on all Palestinians killed by Israelis since

Sept. 29, 2000 - cited widely by Western news organizations - are no less problematic for a

number of reasons. Most importantly, B'Tselem's research is as shoddy and unreliable as ever.

Take for instance, the case of 11-year-old Muhammad Ali Abu al-Wafa, killed Dec. 31, 2007 in

Khan Younis. B'Tselem lists him as one of those killed by Israeli security forces, although he

actually died in Hamas-Fatah clashes, a fact undisputed by Palestinian sources such as the

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Ma'an News Agency.

 

Even more shocking, perhaps, is that B'Tselem continues to blame Israeli security forces for

the Sept. 30, 2000 death of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura, despite the fact that a number of

independent investigations have definitively ruled out that possibility.

 

And, as it turns out, B'Tselem's newer system distinguishing between those who were and were

not participating in hostilities when killed is no more trustworthy than its earlier false identification of "civilians." Thus, B'Tselem reports that Muhammad Zaki Jum'ah al-Najar, killed Nov. 20, 2007 in Khan Younis, "did not participate in hostilities when killed." Yet, Hamas' English website boasts that "today, al-Qassam Brigades mourn the death of the mujahim (fighter): Mohammed Zaki al Najjar. The mujahid was martyred during a clash with the Zionist occupation forces. . . "

 

Terrorists’ affiliations ignored

An examination of this year's data is just as disheartening. B'Tselem carries an unusually brief

listing for Fahmi Abd al-Jawad Hussein a-Darduk, 15, of Nablus, killed May 19, 2008 "by

gunfire." B'Tselem does not specify that he was "killed while participating in hostilities" even

though he was carrying explosives and ignored soldiers orders to stop and raise his hands at a

checkpoint when he was killed.

 

Another serious flaw in B'Tselem's current data is that terrorists' affiliations are virtually always

ignored. Thus, one would have no idea that Bilal Hamuda Muhammad Saleh, supposedly "killed

while sleeping in a car" April 17, 2008 was the head of Islamic Jihad in Qabatiya, or that

Muhammad Shhadeh Abed Shhadeh (a-Ta'amari), killed March 12, 2008 in the Tulkarm district,

headed Islamic Jihad in Bethlehem.

 

Making this omission yet more deceptive, B'Tselem's end-of-the-year press release on

Palestinian casualties specifically claims that the organization has tallied civilian Palestinian

casualties. For instance, the press release from Dec. 31, 2007 misleads, stating that in 2007

Israeli security forces killed 373 Palestinians and that "about 35 percent of those killed were

civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities when killed."

 

Yet, Islamic Jihad leaders from Bethlehem or Qabatiya, even if they weren't murdering anyone at

the moment they were killed, are no more civilians than the man who shot dead six people celebrating at a bat mitzvah.

 

Unfortunately, journalists are time-strapped, and most are unlikely to look past B'Tselem's user-friendly press release to discover the inconsistencies and blatant falsehoods that stand behind it.

 

This leaves yet one more casualty of the conflict - the truth.

 

Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle

East Reporting in America), www.camera.org .

 

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