I once asked an Israeli Facebook friend to explain to me how he could justify settlement expansion in the West Bank. He didn’t justify it, but rather explained it like this:

About expanding the settlements it goes like this (very simply):

    1. Israeli leftists are against
    2. Israeli right wingers are “pro”
    3. Most Israelis don’t give a shit about it (low participation in political decision-making. Normal phenomenon of “wealthy” countries)

The problem is:

  • Leftists are trying to influence in a “peaceful way” — through demonstration, campaigns in the press, etc.
  • Right wing puts facts in the ground — they just go and build settlements [presumably he’s including the Israeli government, the largest sponsor of settlement construction, among the ‘right-wingers’]
  • Leftists are proven wrong every day with the Palestinians’ non-stop violence
  • Hence — nobody cares about the leftists, and people who were type 1 (see above) become more and more type 3

I replied to him by putting his words in a Palestinian context. Please note that I’m not justifying terrorism. I’m merely explaining it, as he explained settlement expansion above.

About terrorism it goes like this (very simply):

    1. Palestinian leftists are against
    2. Palestinian right wingers are “pro”
    3. Most Palestinians feel helpless and just want to live their lives (low participation in political decision-making. Normal phenomenon of populations living under occupation and an ‘Authority’ that doesn’t really represent them and a world that disrespects and reverses their democratic choice when they try to vote for a less quisling party)

The problem is:

  • Leftists are trying to influence in a “peaceful way” — through demonstration, campaigns in the press, etc.
  • Right wing puts facts in the ground — they just go and build bombs and rockets
  • Leftists are proven wrong every day with the Israelis’ non-stop settlement expansion, assassinations, mass imprisonments, sieges, humiliations at checkpoints, mass killings in Gaza, refusal to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, etc.
  • Hence — nobody cares about the leftists, and people who were type 1 (see above) become more and more type 3

This little exchange captures certain persistent elements of the conflict. But there’s more at work, particularly now that the Second Intifada’s over, than just “extremists on both sides” and jaded apathy.

First of all, there’s the fact that Palestinians have virtually stopped attacks against Israeli civilians since the Intifada ended 2005, mostly due to their realization that such attacks are futile. Worse than futile — they legitimize right-wingers in Israel and turn international public opinion against Palestinians.

More and more Palestinians are hoping peaceful means will be more effective in ending the occupation. I’ve written a little about the massive and growing campaign of non-violent resistance in Palestine and around the world, and I predict it will become a major factor in the not-too-distant future.

(Another hopeful development is the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a formidable panel of experts and diplomats who seek to pressure the European Union to stop supporting Israeli policies that are illegal under international and European law.)

But despite the restraint shown by Palestinians in the past four years, Israeli violence has remained consistent and at times escalated enormously. The numbers tell the story.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs,* in all of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, 54 Israeli civilians (including 13 settlers, 8 children, and 7 killed by Qassam rockets) and 23 soldiers were killed by Palestinians, for a total of 77 Israelis killed.

11 of them were killed by Fatah-affiliated groups. 16 were killed by Hamas. 18 were killed by Islamic Jihad. 32 were killed by lone gunmen or people with unknown affiliations.

In other words, Israelis lost fewer than twenty people per year during these four years, nearly half of them to lone angry criminals — fewer than the 30 soldiers they lose to suicide each year, surely far fewer than they lost to non-political crime, and probably fewer than they lost to food allergies.

It’s too many, of course. One is too many.

But compare this to the Palestinian casualties.

As Samuel L. Jackson might say: Hold on to your butts.

In 2006, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 657 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers.

In 2007, 384 were killed.

In 2008, not including the offensive on Gaza called Operation Cast Lead, 460 were killed.

This adds up to more than 1,500 Palestinians killed in those three years, including nearly 300 children. (Israel has consistently killed about 20% children since September 2000.)

When you add in Operation Cast Lead and the rest of 2009, you double the total number killed, and the number of dead children jumps to 661.

Thus the total number of Palestinians killed in the past four years is about 3,000 — more people than live in my home town of Stigler, OK. This is about 750 people per year for the past four years — two people dying violent deaths every day, a child every other day. Despite the stunning drop in Israeli casualties (which reached a sharp peak in 2002 when 269 civilians and 153 soldiers killed and was in the single digits by 2009), the rate of Palestinian death has actually been slightly greater over the past four years than it was during 2001-2004, the height of the Second Intifada!

But again, casualties tell only part of the story. There’s also the fact that Palestinians aren’t building Muslim-only colonies inside Israel while Israel continues to expand Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, that Palestinians are holding a grand total of one Israeli soldier prisoner while Israelis hold more than 10,000 Palestinians in jail, many of them without charge or trial, hundreds of them children, or that Gazans (and to a lesser extent, West Bankers) are held under a state of siege while Israelis are free to travel almost anywhere in the world and import, export, and purchase whatever they like. Etc.

Still, this picture is vastly incomplete. There are factors of history, politics, culture, and strategy that a blog post can’t begin to touch on.

For that, I had to write a book.


    * To read Israel’s list of its casualties since September 2000, google “Victims of Palestinian Violence and Terrorism since September 2000.”