B’Tselem’s Flawed Analysis of Seven Months of Gaza Violence
On November 22, 2018, B’Tselem published “Seven months of protests by Gaza fence: Over 5,800 Palestinians wounded by live Israeli gunfire,” claiming that “58% (237) [of 406 rioters who took a B’Tselem survey] … were not in the immediate vicinity of the fence (i.e., more than 10 meters away) when injured.” This report utilizes a flawed methodology that, according to B’Tselem itself, “is not a representative sample” of casualties in the Gaza border riots. Indeed, the examples provided take place during the most violent period from March-May and include testimonials from Palestinians admitting to committing acts of violence and rioting. Yet, B’Tselem minimizes the context of violence and terror, denying Israel’s sovereign right to defend its border, belittling the human rights of Israeli civilians living in close proximity to the border, and ignoring Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups’ incitement to violence against Israel.
Notably, B’Tselem’s attack against Israel’s Supreme Court and its April 2018 verdict ruling that the IDF has a right to use force in order to defend the border and civilians – “the Supreme Court  justices have given this reality their seal of approval” – is part of a broader campaign by B’Tselem delegitimizing the Israeli Supreme Court.
B’Tselem’s publication distorts the record in the following ways:
- Methodological Failures
According to B’Tselem, the organization surveyed just 406 out of an alleged 5,800 individuals with gunshot wounds, representing just 7% of the casualties. B’Tselem does not detail how these individuals were selected, does not provide the reader with the exact questions asked to these individuals, nor does it state whether any of these individuals were affiliated with Palestinian terror groups.
B’Tselem further relies exclusively on questionnaires given to the wounded Palestinians. There is no indication that B’Tselem did or could independently verify the self-reported claims of interested parties.
B’Tselem claims “41% – 167 (including 29 minors) – reported being hit when they were in the immediate vicinity of the fence (up to 10 meters from it); 35% – 145 (including 24 minors) reported being hit at a spot further away from the fence, up to a distance of 150 meters from it; 22% – 92 (including 9 minors) – reported being injured at a distance greater than 150 meters from the fence.” B’Tselem does not clarify how individuals participating in a chaotic violent riot would be able to accurately calculate or recall exactly how far they were from the border fence when they were shot, nor does it consider that some rioters may have lied. B’Tselem’s creation of an arbitrary and leading single group of 10-150 meters also biases the questionnaire results, as individuals who claim to have been 15 meters from the fence are placed in the same category as those 150 meters away.
- Ignoring Hamas and Palestinian Terror Groups’ Recruitment and Use of Children
B’Tselem’s survey included responses from 63 minors (under 18) who claim to have suffered from “live gunshot wounds.” According to the organization, “Two-thirds of the minors surveyed (41) reported being injured while they were watching the protest, waving a flag, photographing or filming the protest, moving away from the protest, or treating the wounded.” B’Tselem does not question why these children were present in an obviously violent situation where there was known potential for injury, nor does the organization condemn Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups’ use of children throughout the violence over the past seven months.
Indeed, the examples detailed by B’Tselem show that minors were also directly participating in the violence, including attacks on Israeli soldiers, when they claim to have been injured. For example, 16-year-old ‘Abdallah Salmon states, “we went forward and crossed through the checkpoint gate. We made our way towards the Israeli soldiers…Yusuf and I threw stones. Yusef went towards the soldiers and I stayed behind him, about 15 meters away. We continued to throw stones.”
- Legal and Moral Failures
B’Tselem accuses Israel of an “unlawful open-fire policy” and falsely describes the rules of engagement, complaining that “The orders permit the use of live fire against unarmed protesters who pose no danger to anyone and are on the other side of the fence, inside the Gaza Strip. Coming near the perimeter fence, damaging it or crossing over it are not capital offenses.” B’Tselem does not disclose how it knows the rules of engagement, which are classified. In contrast, the Israeli Supreme Court’s April 2018 decision completely rebuts B’Tselem’s claims. Furthermore, under the laws of armed conflict, Israel may target combatants and so-called protesters who are directly participating in hostilities by attempting to break through the border fence and threatening great risk to Israeli civilians and soldiers.
The fact that 96% of injured individuals according to B’Tselem’s pie-chart suffered from injuries to their limbs, not head or torso, demonstrates that the IDF went above and beyond its international legal obligations to limit harm to those participating in hostilities.
- Violent Rioters or Peaceful Protestors?
B’Tselem ignores the danger posed to Israeli soldiers and civilians, claiming without evidence that “As a general rule, the protectively clad troops sniping at them from other side of the fence were not in any real danger.” On July 20, an Israeli soldier was killed by Palestinian sniper fire along the Gaza border during the “return march.” IDF soldiers have also been injured by grenades, IEDs, and other violence targeting them. For example, Meir Amit posted a video of an IED being deployed against IDF soldiers. The video shows soldiers approaching the fence and the IED detonating, injuring four soldiers. Even according to the seven testimonies presented in B’Tselem’s report, four of the individuals were directly participating in the hostilities by “setting tires on fire,” “throwing stones at the Israeli army,” and crossing “through the checkpoint gate.” The other three identify as being in close proximity to violent rioters.
Furthermore, B’Tselem ignores Hamas’ calls for violence against Israeli civilians and violence committed against Israeli civilians in the context of the riots. On May 17, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas leader, stated that “when we talk about ‘peaceful resistance,’ we are deceiving the public. This is a peaceful resistance bolstered by a military force and by security agencies, and enjoying tremendous popular support” (emphasis added). On September 8, Hamas released a statement saying that “We are committed to the legacy of the martyrs and their determination to preserve our land and defend it to the last drop of our blood and to hold on to our weapons until the last soldier is defeated and raped from our pure land in all parts of Palestine” (emphasis added).
Beyond these statements, Israeli civilians have been targeted regularly for the past seven months with incendiary kites and rockets. On November 10, a Gazan entered 500 meters into Israel and set a greenhouse on fire in the Netiv Ha’asara border community. The incident took place in extremely close proximity to civilian homes. On November 12-13, Israeli civilians were targeted with more than 400 rockets launched by Palestinian terror groups in Gaza. B’Tselem fails to mention any of these incidences.
Additionally, a significant number of those killed during the riots were identified by Palestinian terror groups as being combatants affiliated with them (see NGO Monitor’s submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 Protests in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” for details). B’Tselem’s reference to the rioters as “bystanders” is therefore highly problematic.
- Health Complications in Gaza
B’Tselem describes Gaza’s health care system as being on the “brink of collapse,” and argues that this is “largely the result of the Israeli-imposed blockade on Gaza.” Aside from the misuse of the legal term, blockade, B’Tselem makes no mention that on May 16, Hamas refused to accept medical supplies from Israel, hyperbolically stating that “The occupation is trying to show that it has a human face, which is wrong. These trucks carrying these medical supplies are covered with Palestinian blood.” B’Tselem also makes no mention of Hamas and its terror tactics as a reason for Israeli import restrictions, nor does it mention the specific type of goods that are actually banned, which include weapons as well as “dual use” industrial materials (but not medical supplies).
B’Tselem also decries that “Israel refuses, as a general rule, to allow the wounded to travel just a few dozen kilometers through its territory so as to reach hospitals in the West Bank, where at least some of them would be able to receive the care they need.” This too, ignores the fact that Israel must carefully vet individuals for terror concerns prior to allowing them entry into Israel. On November 22, it was revealed that the Shin Bet had uncovered that a West Bank Hamas cell was planning major bombing attacks against Israeli civilians. According to the Times of Israel, “The coordination and planning between the operatives in the West Bank and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip were conducted, in part, by Palestinians traveling from the coastal enclave [Gaza] to hospitals in Israel” (emphasis added).
Furthermore, two of the testimonies provided by B’Tselem show that Palestinians in Gaza have alternative options for treatment. Muhammed Abu ‘Aker states that “I got a referral for treatment in Egypt, but I didn’t go for financial reasons.” Muhammed Abu Hussein’s mother describes how her son was going to “travel to the United States thanks to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund….”