Debunking 6 Common Israeli Myths: Myth 1 – No Moral Equivalence

Israel and its supporters claim that while Palestinian suicide bombers deliberately target Israeli civilians, Israel tries to avoid harming Palestinian civilians and that those who have died are “collateral damage.” Hence, they argue, there is no moral equivalence between the killing of civilians by Israel and Palestinians. This defies both common sense and all the available evidence.

Suicide bombing is a reprehensible and unacceptable tactic. These attacks should stop immediately. What needs to be added, and what is almost always missing in American media commentary is a similar condemnation of Israel’s deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians.

Since the Palestinian uprising started in late September 2000, more than 1,500 Palestinians, and 400 Israelis have been killed (as of April 12, 2002), the vast majority on both sides being unarmed civilians. Most of the deadly violence against innocent civilians, therefore, has been committed by Israeli forces and has been directed at Palestinians.

Israel and its supporters claim that while Palestinian suicide bombers deliberately target Israeli civilians, Israel tries to avoid harming Palestinian civilians and that those who have died are “collateral damage.” Hence, they argue, there is no moral equivalence between the killing of civilians by Israel and Palestinians. This defies both common sense and all the available evidence.

On the one hand, Israel wants us to believe that 400 of its own civilians were deliberately targeted, while more than three times as many dead Palestinians all somehow just got in the way of what Israel claims is its humane and disciplined army. It is, in essence, an argument that 1,500 people all died by accident.

Every human rights group that has examined Israel’s practices has documented systematic and deliberate use of violence targeted at unarmed Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces. Physicians for Human Rights USA which investigated the high number of Palestinian deaths and injuries in the first months of the Intifada, concluded that:


“the pattern of injuries seen in many victims did not reflect IDF [Israel Defense Forces] use of firearms in life-threatening situations but rather indicated targeting solely for the purpose of wounding or killing.”

[ PHR USA, 22 November 2000: http://www.phrusa.org/research/forensics/israel/update_commentary.html ]


This finding was based on “the totality of the evidence” the investigators collected about:

“the high number of gunshots to the head; the volume of serious, disabling thigh injuries; the inappropriate firing of rubber bullets and rubber-coated steel bullets at close range; and the high proportion of Palestinian injuries and deaths.”

The findings of Amnesty International [ http://www.amnesty.org ] and Human Rights Watch [ http://www.hrw.org ] confirm this pattern. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem [ http://www.btselem.org ] has documented and condemned the targeted use of violence against Palestinian civilians and has found evidence of systematic torture of thousands of Palestinian detainees, including children.

What has been confirmed by human rights groups has also been observed directly by journalists.

A notable example was a lengthy investigative report in the New York Times Magazine by Michael Finkel, who responded directly to Israel’s claims that its soldiers shot only when they were under threat. In a striking passage about the clashes at Karni Crossing, a checkpoint on a road leading from the Israeli settlement of Netzarim in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip into Israel, Finkel recounts:


“I spent two weeks at Karni during daylight hours, and in my time there, the Israeli Army fired live ammunition almost every day. Sometimes only two or three shots, sometimes a dozen or more. On occasion the shots were fired when cars or buses needed to enter or exit the settlement, at other times I could ascertain no reason for the shooting. Not once did I see or hear a single shot from the Palestinian side. Never during the time I spent at Karni did an Israeli soldier appear to be in mortal danger. Nor was either an Israeli soldier or settler even slightly injured. In that two-week period, at least 11 Palestinians were killed during the day at Karni.”

[Source: “Playing War” by Michael Finkel, New York Times Magazine, December 24, 2000]


In October 2001, Harper’s magazine published the “Gaza Diary” of journalist Chris Hedges [ http://www.harpers.org/online/gaza_diary/gaza_diary.php3?pg=1 ]. Hedges’ entry for June 17, 2001 provides even more shocking evidence of the wanton and deliberate killing of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers at Gaza’s Khan Yunis refugee camp.

Hedges writes:


“It is still. The camp waits, as if holding its breath. And then, out of the dry furnace air, a disembodied voice crackles over a loudspeaker.

“‘Come on, dogs,’ the voice booms in Arabic. ‘Where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!’

“I stand up. I walk outside the hut. The invective continues to spew: ‘Son of a bitch!’ ‘Son of a whore!’ ‘Your mother’s cunt!’

“The boys dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the electric fence that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement. They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune and mounted with loudspeakers. Three ambulances line the road below the dunes in anticipation of what is to come.

“A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than ten or eleven years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children’s slight bodies. Later, in
the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos.

“Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen.

“Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered — death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo — but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”

There can be no doubt that Israeli troops have been targeting innocent Palestinian civilians for death from the beginning of the uprising. This understanding was also reflected in UN Security Council Resolution 1322, passed on October 7, 2000, which

“Condemns acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians, resulting in injury and loss of human life.”

In making the moral superiority claim, Israel’s apologists are either shamelessly denying the irrefutable evidence cited above and are simply lying, or they are asserting that some forms of murder are morally superior to other forms of murder.

Author: Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish

News Service: The Electronic Intifada

URL: http://electronicintifada.net/coveragetrends/6myths.shtml#1