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The missing data on the Palestinian revolt

On Wednesday, Palestinian youths from a village in the northern West Bank attacked Israeli Border Police officers outside Damascus Gate, in Occupied East Jerusalem, killing one and wounding another. The three assailants were killed on the spot.

With nearly daily bloodshed, most news agencies have been using ‘copy and paste’-style paragraphs to provide context for readers. Here are three such summaries, taken from reports of Wednesday’s attack by Reuters, The Associated Press, and AFP.

“It was the latest in a spate of stabbings, shootings and car-rammings by Palestinians that has killed 27 Israelis and a U.S. citizen since October. Israeli forces have killed at least 155 Palestinians, 101 of them assailants according to authorities. Most of the others have died in violent protests.” (Reuters)

“Since mid-September, 27 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks. At least 154 Palestinians have died from Israeli fire, including 109 Israel said were attackers. The rest have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.” (The Associated Press)

“The wave of violence has killed 26 Israelis, as well as an American and an Eritrean, according to an AFP count. At the same time, 164 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, most while carrying out attacks but others during clashes and demonstrations.” (AFP)

These three paragraphs vary, but they all share some troubling similarities, evidence of how – even unthinkingly – coverage of an anti-colonial revolt is being distorted by a narrative that is shaped and promoted by the Israeli government and its allies.

Israel’s assertions about Palestinian assailants are repeated without even a ‘balancing’ counter-claim, despite the fact that in many cases, the circumstances in which Palestinians have been killed are disputed. As Gideon Levy wrote recently: “Israel executes people without trial nearly every day.”

Israeli forces’ use of lethal violence to suppress anti-occupation protests is barely mentioned. Reuters wrote that “most” of the other Palestinian fatalities “died in violent protests”, which both removes Israeli agency and also manages to infer blame on the part of the protesters themselves.

Finally, in contrast to Palestinian fatalities, the Israelis killed by Palestinians are not categorised in any way at all – not even ‘civilian’ or ‘military’. Nor are we told what proportion of Palestinian attacks took place inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

But the information is there, for anyone who wants to look for it.

Don’t mention the occupation

According to the Israel Security Agency (ISA), otherwise known as Shabak or Shin Bet, over a three month period (October-December), there were a total of 1,170 “attacks” by Palestinians (excluding Gaza), which included stabbings, shootings, and vehicle rammings. (Note that around 75-80 percent of these “terror attacks” were firebombs, typicallysynonymous for a Molotov cocktail.)

Revealingly, a mere 14 of these attacks – about 1 percent – took place inside the Green Line, the internationally-recognised division between Israel and the OPT. With regards specifically to stabbings, just 12 from a total of 85 such attacks occurred within Israel ‘proper’. Thus, according to the ISA, 86 percent of stabbings have happened in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

This pattern is supported by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), whose website features what is described as “a list of major terror attacks against Israelis.” Out of a total of 143 separate attacks listed by Israel MFA as occurring in the four-month period October-January, just 21 of them – 15 percent – occurred within the Green Line; the rest, 85 percent, took place in the OPT.

Israel MFA’s list of 143 incidents includes 81 in which uniformed members of Israel’s security forces were either the target of the attack, or suffered casualties. The list also reveals that at least 69 soldiers, police officers (including Border Police) and settlement guards were wounded October-January, in addition to three fatalities (two soldiers and a Border Police officer).

The ISA has also stated that half of all Israelis moderately or severely injured in October were “members of the security forces.”

Suppressing protests – where’s the coverage?

As mentioned, Western media coverage has glossed over, misrepresented, or simply not reported, the routine violence being used by Israeli occupation forces to suppress Palestinian protests – protests by civilians living under a 49-year-old military regime.

Over a two-week period, October 1-14, the Palestinian death toll reached 31 with “at least 17 [of those killed] shot dead at demonstrations.” By the end of November, Israeli occupation forces had killed 39 Palestinians purely in the context of protests and raids.

In addition, over that two-month period, Israeli forces shot 4,192 Palestinians with either live ammunition or rubber-coated metal bullets. Thus on average, Israeli occupation forces shot almost 500 Palestinians every single week, suppressing protests and in raids, during October-November.

UN OCHA and Al-Haq data shows that in the four months October-January, Israeli occupation forces killed more than 50 Palestinians and injured approximately 14,000 in the suppression of protests and during raids. This extraordinary number is simply not reflected in most media coverage of the revolt.

Why October 1?

As Israeli journalist Amos Harel wrote a few days ago, the Israeli army “dates [the current round of violence] from the October 1 murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin, near Nablus.” It is obvious that this timeline serves Israel’s purposes – but why is it accepted so unquestioningly by journalists?

In the first five months of 2015, Israeli occupation forces killed 11 Palestinians and wounded a further 933 in the OPT. By the end of August, 26 Palestinians had been killed over the previous eight months by Israeli forces and settlers, with a further 1,372 Palestinians injured.

Over ten days in July, 7 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli occupation forces and settlers: a 21-year-old Palestinian shot dead “when he picked up a stone to throw” at soldiers; a 52-year-old father shot in his own home; three members of the Dawabsheh family; and two Palestinian teenagers shot dead while protesting the fatal arson attack in Duma.

But no one speaks of a ‘wave of violence’ when the fingers on the trigger are wearing Israeli army uniforms; it is the violence of the occupied that begins chronologies, not that of occupation forces or the colonists they protect. Yes, there has been an uptick in violence since the beginning of October – but it has not come out of the blue.

Palestinian lives (or deaths) are labelled ‘assailants’ or ‘violent protesters’. Israelis are just – Israelis. We are not told that 6 out of 7 stabbings (or alleged stabbings) carried out by Palestinians have taken place in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, whose indigenous inhabitants have spent half a century under colonial, military rule.

We are not told how many of the Israeli casualties were members of the occupation forces, or settlers living in West Bank colonies. The timelines do not begin with the murderous attack on the Dawabsheh family, or the shooting to death of Falah Abu Maria; they do not even take into account the Palestinians killed and injured throughout the year, up to October 1.

The thousands – thousands – of Palestinians shot by Israeli occupation forces go unmentioned. If it was the other way round – if thousands of Israelis had been shot by Palestinians over four months, you can be sure it would merit a mention in the news agencies’ ‘context’ paragraphs.

On January 26, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated a simple truth: “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation.” Disappearing the violence of occupation and misrepresenting the Palestinians’ anti-colonial revolt is to be expected from Israeli authorities; but the media should not be helping them.

Published first by Middle East Monitor.

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