Myths & Facts Online

The “al-Aksa Intifada”

By Mitchell G. Bard


“The outbreak of violence in late 2000, dubbed by Arabs the al-Aksa intifada, was provoked by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.”
“A handful of Israelis have been killed in the uprising while thousands of innocent Palestinians have been murdered by Israeli troops.”
“Violence is an understandable and legitimate reaction to Israel's policies.”
“The al-Aksa uprising has been conducted only in the disputed territories and has had no impact on Israel.”
“Israel uses excessive force to respond to children who are just throwing stones.”
“The Palestinian Authority is acting to prevent violence by arresting terrorists and confiscating illegal weapons.”
“The shooting of a child being protected by his father shown on TV proves Israel does not hesitate to kill innocent Palestinian children.”
“Israel uses rubber bullets to maim and kill unarmed Palestinians.”
“The Mitchell Report made clear that Israeli settlement policy is as much to blame for the breakdown of the peace process as Palestinian violence and that a settlement freeze is necessary to end the violence.”
“Israel's use of F-16 fighter jets typifies the disproportionate use of force applied by Israel against innocent Palestinian civilians.”
“Palestinian violence is the reaction of a people living under occupation, which will continue so long as the occupation persists.”
“Israel has consistently refused to take any steps to calm the situation and its unrelenting attacks provoked Palestinian violence.”
“Israel has no justification for withholding tax monies due to the Palestinian Authority.”
“Palestinians attack Israeli forces in spontaneous outbursts of frustration.”
“The Palestinians have observed the cease-fire negotiated by CIA Director George Tenet.”
“Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian terrorists is immoral and counterproductive.”
“Israel indiscriminately murders terrorists and Palestinian civilians.”
“Israel's use of American-made weapons in retaliatory attacks against the Palestinians is illegal.”
“Israel perpetrated a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002.”
“Israel opposed an investigation by the United Nations because it wanted to conceal the crimes it committed in Jenin.”
“Israel prevents Palestinian ambulances from taking sick and injured Palestinians to hospitals.”
“Israeli forces in ‘Operation Defensive Shield' set out to destroy the Palestinian Authority and reoccupy the West Bank.”

 

MYTH

“The outbreak of violence in late 2000, dubbed by Arabs the al-Aksa intifada, was provoked by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.”

FACT

To believe Palestinian spokesmen, the violence was caused by the desecration of a Muslim holy place Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) by Likud leader Ariel Sharon and the “thousands of Israeli soldiers” who accompanied him. The violence was carried out through unprovoked attacks by Israeli forces, which invaded Palestinian-controlled territories and “massacred” defenseless Palestinian civilians, who merely threw stones in self-defense. The only way to stop the violence, then, was for Israel to cease fire and remove its troops from the Palestinian areas.

The truth is dramatically different.

Imad Faluji, the Palestinian Authority Communications Minister, admitted months after Sharon's visit that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon's  "provocation." "It [the uprising] had been planned since Chairman Arafat's return from Camp David, when he turned the tables on the former US president and rejected the American conditions."1a

“The Sharon visit did not cause the ‘Al-Aksa Intifada.’” 

Conclusion of the Mitchell Report,  (May 4, 2001)

The violence started before Sharon's September 28, 2000, visit to the Temple Mount. The day before, for example, an Israeli soldier was killed at the Netzarim Junction. The next day in the West Bank city of Kalkilya, a Palestinian police officer working with Israeli police on a joint patrol opened fire and killed his Israeli counterpart.

Official Palestinian Authority media exhorted the Palestinians to violence. On September 29, the Voice of Palestine, the PA's official radio station sent out calls "to all Palestinians to come and defend the al-Aksa mosque." The PA closed its schools and bused Palestinian students to the Temple Mount to participate in the organized riots.

Just prior to Rosh Hashanah (September 30), the Jewish New Year, when hundreds of Israelis were worshipping at the Western Wall, thousands of Arabs began throwing bricks and rocks at Israeli police and Jewish worshippers. Rioting then spread to towns and villages throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami permitted Sharon to go to the Temple Mount Judaism’s holiest place, which Muslims have renamed Haram al-Sharif and regard as Islam’s third holiest place only after calling Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub and receiving his assurance that if Sharon did not enter the mosques, no problems would arise. The need to protect Sharon arose when Rajoub later said that the Palestinian police would do nothing to prevent violence during the visit.

Sharon did not attempt to enter any mosques and his 34 minute visit to the Temple Mount was conducted during normal hours when the area is open to tourists. Palestinian youths — eventually numbering around 1,500 — shouted slogans in an attempt to inflame the situation. Some 1,500 Israeli police were present at the scene to forestall violence.

There were limited disturbances during Sharon's visit, mostly involving stone throwing. During the remainder of the day, outbreaks of stone throwing continued on the Temple Mount and in the vicinity, leaving 28 Israeli policemen injured, three of whom were hospitalized. There are no accounts of Palestinian injuries on that day. Significant and orchestrated violence was initiated by Palestinians the following day following Friday prayers.

“It is not a mistake that the Koran warns us of the hatred of the Jews and put them at the top of the list of the enemies of Islam. Today the Jews recruit the world against the Muslims and use all kinds of weapons. They are plundering the dearest place to the Muslims, after Mecca and Medina and threaten the place the Muslims have faced at first when they prayed and the third holiest city after Mecca and Medina. They want to erect their temple on that place....The Muslims are ready to sacrifice their lives and blood to protect the Islamic nature of Jerusalem and El Aksa!”

Sheikh Hian Al-Adrisi, Excerpt of address in the al-Aksa mosque (September 29, 2000)2a

The real desecration of holy places was perpetrated by Palestinians, not Israelis. In October 2000, Palestinian mobs destroyed a Jewish shrine in Nablus Joseph’s Tomb tearing up and burning Jewish prayer books. They stoned worshipers at the Western Wall and attacked Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem with firebombs and automatic weapons.

None of the violent attacks were initiated by Israeli security forces, which in all cases responded to Palestinian violence that went well beyond stone throwing. It included massive attacks with automatic weapons and the lynching of Israeli soldiers. Most armed attackers were members of the Tanzim Arafat’s own militia.

Since all attacks were initiated by Palestinians under Arafat’s orders, only Arafat has the power to end the violence. Israel and the United States have repeatedly called on him to do so and renew the peace process.

 

“The issues of Jerusalem, the refugees and sovereignty are one and will be finalized on the ground and not in negotiations. At this point it is important to prepare Palestinian society for the challenge of the next step because we will inevitably find ourselves in a violent confrontation with Israel in order to create new facts on the ground. ... I believe that the situation in the future will be more violent than the Intifada.” 

Abu-Ali Mustafa of the Palestinian Authority,  (July 23, 2000)3a

 

MYTH

“A handful of Israelis have been killed in the uprising while thousands of innocent Palestinians have been murdered by Israeli troops.”

FACT

During the "al-Aksa intifada," the number of Palestinian casualties has been higher than the figure for Israelis; however, the gap has narrowed as Palestinian suicide bombers have used increasingly powerful bombs to kill larger numbers of Israelis in their terror attacks. As of mid-July 2002, 1,779 Palestinians had been killed and 778 Israelis.

The disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties is primarily a result of the number of Palestinians involved in violence and is the inevitable result of an irregular, ill-trained militia attacking a well-trained regular army. The unfortunate death of noncombatants is largely due to the habit of Palestinian gunmen and terrorists using civilians as shields.

What is more revealing than the tragic totals, however, is the specific breakdown of the casualties. According to one study, Palestinian noncombatants were mostly teenaged boys and young men. "This completely contradicts accusations that Israel has ‘indiscriminately targeted women and children,' according to the study. "There appears to be only one reasonable explanation for this pattern: that Palestinian men and boys engaged in behavior that brought them into conflict with Israeli armed forces."

By contrast, the number of women and older people among the noncombatant Israeli casualties illustrates the randomness of Palestinian attacks, and the degree to which terrorists have killed Israelis for the "crime" of being Israeli.3b Israeli troops do not target innocent Palestinians, but Palestinian terrorists do target Israeli civilians.

MYTH

“Violence is an understandable and legitimate reaction to Israel's policies.”

FACT

The basis of the peace process is that disputes should be resolved through negotiations. One of the conditions Israel set before agreeing to negotiate with the PLO was that the organization renounce terrorism. It formally did so; however, the PLO and other Palestinian groups and individuals have consistently resorted to violence since the Oslo process began in 1993. Whether or not Israel made concessions, Palestinians have still committed heinous attacks. In some instances atrocities are perpetrated because of alleged mistreatment; in other cases, they are deliberate efforts to sabotage negotiations. Regardless, the Palestinian Authority, which has a nearly 40,000-person police force (larger than allowed under the peace agreements) and multiple intelligence agencies, must be held responsible for keeping the peace.

Since the Signing of the Declaration of Principles4a
(September 13,1993-August 11, 1999)

Terrorist Activity Judea and Samaria Gaza Strip
IDF soldiers killed 20 32
IDF soldiers wounded 617 419
Israeli civilians killed 43 5
Israeli civilians wounded 567 86
Molotov cocktails 1784 715
Shootings 305 453
Cases of arson 102 13
Explosive devices 157 181
Fragmentation grenades 58 62
Stabbings 284 214

 

MYTH

“The al-Aksa uprising has been conducted only in the disputed territories and has had no impact on Israel.”

FACT

Palestinian violence in the West Bank and Gaza has taken the lives of numerous civilians and soldiers. In addition, terrorists acting in the name of the uprising have carried out heinous attacks inside Israel. The violence also has collateral impact on the Israeli psyche, military and economy.

Israelis must now be careful traveling through many parts of Israel and the territories that should be safe. Palestinians have also sniped at Jews in cities such as Gilo that are outside the territories. The violence has severely undermined the faith Israelis had that if they made territorial concessions, peace with the Palestinians was possible.

The uprising also affects military readiness because troops must be diverted from training and preparing against threats from hostile nations and instead must focus on quelling riots and fighting terrorism.

Finally, the violence has caused a sharp reduction in tourism and damaged related industries. Some 64,000 Israelis have lost their jobs because of the Palestinian uprising.5a

It is not only the Israelis who suffer. The loss of tourism also hurts Palestinians. The number of visitors, for example, who normally visit Bethlehem for Christmas was significantly lower than usual. The same is true in other pilgrimage sites in the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian shopkeepers in places like the Old City are also affected by the drop in tourism. Terrorist attacks also force Israel to periodically prohibit Palestinian workers from entering Israel, hurting individuals trying to make a living and provide for their families.

 

“The Palestinian Authority has turned into a terrorist entity. The terrorist attacks against us are not only being carried out by unofficial bodies, but official levels are also playing an active part.” 

Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz6a

MYTH

“Israel uses excessive force to respond to children who are just throwing stones.”

FACT

Palestinians, young and old, attack Israeli civilians and soldiers with a variety of weapons. When they throw stones, they are not pebbles, but large rocks that can and do cause serious injuries.

Typically, Israeli troops under attack have numbered fewer than 20, while their assailants, armed with Molotov cocktails, pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, hand grenades and explosives, have numbered in the hundreds. Moreover, mixed among rock throwers have been Palestinians, often policemen, armed with guns. Faced with an angry, violent mob, Israeli police and soldiers often have no choice but to defend themselves by firing rubber bullets and, in life-threatening situations, live ammunition.

The use of live-fire by the Palestinians has effectively meant that Israeli forces have had to remain at some distance from those initiating the violence. In addition, the threat of force against Israelis has been a threat of lethal force. Both factors have inhibited the use of traditional methods of riot control.

According to the rules of engagement for Israeli troops in the territories, the use of weapons is authorized solely in life-threatening situations or, subject to significant limitations, in the exercise of the arrest of an individual suspected of having committed a grave security offense. In all cases, IDF activities have been governed by an overriding policy of restraint, the requirement of proportionality and the necessity to take all possible measures to prevent harm to innocent civilians.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians escalated their violent attacks against Israelis by using mortars and anti-tank missiles illegally smuggled into the Gaza Strip. Palestinians have fired mortar shells into Jewish communities in Gaza and Israel proper and IDF reports indicate that anti-tank missiles have been fired at Israeli forces in Gaza.

IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz told visiting American Jewish leaders on Feb. 28, 2001, that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been stockpiling weapons smuggled into Gaza by sea and underground tunnels linked to Egypt.

The possession and use of these weapons and other arms by the Palestinians violates commitments they made in various agreements with Israel. Under the Oslo accords, the only weapons allowed in the Palestinian-controlled areas are handguns, rifles and machine guns, and these are to be held only by PA security officers. The recent violence makes clear that in addition to the police, Palestinian civilians and members of militias, such as the Tanzim, also are in possession of such weapons.7a

The number of Palestinian casualties in clashes is regrettable, but it is important to remember that no Palestinian would be in any danger or risk injury if they were not attacking Israelis. If children were in school or at home with their families, rather than throwing rocks in the streets, they too would have nothing to fear. And children throw more than rocks. Abu Mazen, Yasser Arafat's deputy revealed that children are paid to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel. He told a Jordanian newspaper that "at least 40 children in Rafah lost arms from the throwing of Bangalore torpedoes [explosive charges]. They received five shekels [approximately $1.00] in order to throw them." [FN Almazen [Kuwait], (June 20, 2002).]

Also, while the number of Palestinians who have died is greater than the number of Israelis, that should not minimize the traumatic loss of life on the Israeli side. From September 29, 2000, through October 21, 2002, 640 Israeli Jews, including 451 civilians, were murdered by Palestinians. Contrary to Palestinian assertions that they are fighting a war against armed forces, fewer than one-third of the Israelis that have been killed were soldiers.In just the first half of 2002, Palestinians carried out 91 suicide attacks.8a

It is also worth considering how police in the United States and other nations react to mob violence. Abuses do sometimes occur when police are under attack, but no one expects them to stand by and allow their lives to be put in danger to assuage international opinion. In fact, the Palestinian Authority itself does not hesitate to use lethal force against protestors. For example, after the U.S. coalition attacked Afghanistan, Hamas organized a rally in the Gaza Strip in which thousands of Palestinians marched in support of suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Palestinian police killed two protestors when they tried to break it up.9a

It is only Israelis who are denied their right to self-defense or see it used as a propaganda weapon against them. 

MYTH

“The Palestinian Authority is acting to prevent violence by arresting terrorists and confiscating illegal weapons.”

FACT

At times cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces has been good, and Israel has publicly commended the Palestinian Authority (PA). More often, however, the PA has failed to take adequate measures to prevent attacks against Israelis. While many terrorists have been apprehended, they are usually released shortly afterward and, at least some of them have subsequently been involved in assaults against Jews. In May 2001, for example, Arafat freed more than a dozen Islamic radicals who had been in jail since a wave of suicide bombings that killed 60 Israelis in eight bloody days in 1996.10a

The PA is also filled with illegal weapons, including machine guns, hand grenades, explosives and mortars. Despite repeated promises, no effort has been made to collect the weapons. On the contrary, the PA has been actively stockpiling them. This is a serious violation of the agreements signed with Israel, one that provokes mistrust and threatens Israeli security.

MYTH

“The shooting of a child being protected by his father shown on TV proves Israel does not hesitate to kill innocent Palestinian children.”

FACT

Perhaps the most vivid image of the "al-Aksa intifada" was the film of a Palestinian father trying unsuccessfully to shield his son from gunfire. Israel was universally blamed for the death of 12-year-old Mohammed Aldura, but subsequent investigations found that the boy was most likely killed by Palestinian bullets.

The sketch below shows an IDF aerial photo of the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip where Mohammed Aldura, 12, was killed. The sketch marks the location of the father and son who took cover adjacent to a Palestinian shooting position at the junction. After Palestinian policemen fired from this position and around it toward an IDF position opposite, IDF soldiers returned fire toward the sources of the shooting. During the exchanges of fire, the Palestinian child was hit and killed.

An IDF investigation of the incident released November 27, 2000, found that Aldura was most likely killed by a Palestinian policeman and not by IDF fire. This report was confirmed by an independent investigation by German ARD Television, which said the footage of Aldura's death was censored by the Palestinians to look as if he had been killed by the Israelis when, in fact, his death was caused by Palestinian gunfire.11a

 

MYTH

“Israel uses rubber bullets to maim and kill unarmed Palestinians.”

FACT

Rubber bullets are an imperfect means of pacifying a violent mob. They are designed to minimize the risk of serious injury but they cannot alleviate it altogether. In the overwhelming majority of cases, rubber bullets do not cause death or serious injury. In many circumstances, they may be the only available option short of live-fire. Children using guns, or intent on causing injury or death to their intended target by some other means, pose a lethal threat, particularly when that threat takes the form of a large-scale attack.

“In contrast [to Ariel Sharon's concrete steps to ease the economic hardship of the Palestinians] we've seen absolutely no response from Arafat to our urgings to him to now bring the violence to a stop. He has made no statements that would indicate that he even wants to see it stopped. In fact, he has called for the continuation of the intifada. He has not given any orders, secret or otherwise, to his forces which would bring some measure of control of the situation.” 

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for
Near East Affairs Edward Walker
testifying at a congressional hearing12a

Many police forces around the world use rubber bullets to disperse violent crowds. For example, following the victory of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 National Basketball Association finals, Los Angeles police used rubber bullets to end violent outbursts by rowdy fans.13a The police felt compelled to use this method of crowd control with a group of overly exuberant basketball fans who turned violent celebrating their team's victory, while Israel uses it against a hostile population with whom it is essentially at war.

MYTH

“The Mitchell Report made clear that Israeli settlement policy is as much to blame for the breakdown of the peace process as Palestinian violence and that a settlement freeze is necessary to end the violence.”

FACT

In November 2000, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was appointed to lead a fact-finding committee to investigate the cause of the "al-Aksa Intifada" and explore how to prevent future violence. The report his committee issued on April 30, 2001, did recommend a settlement freeze — as one of more than 15 different confidence-building measures — but Mitchell and Warren Rudman, another member of the committee, explicitly stated in a letter clarifying their view: "We want to go further and make it clear that we do not in any way equate Palestinian terrorism with Israeli settlement activity, 'seemingly' or otherwise."

Mitchell and Rudman also disputed the idea that the cessation of settlement construction and terrorism were linked. "The immediate aim must be to end the violence....Part of the effort to end the violence must include an immediate resumption of security cooperation between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at preventing violence and combating terrorism." They added, "Regarding terrorism, we call upon the Palestinian Authority, as a confidence-building measure, to make clear through concrete action, to Israelis and Palestinians alike, that terror is reprehensible and unacceptable, and the Palestinian Authority is to make a total effort to prevent terrorist operations and to punish perpetrators acting in its jurisdiction."14a

MYTH

“Israel's use of F-16 fighter jets typifies the disproportionate use of force applied by Israel against innocent Palestinian civilians.”

FACT

How do you determine the proportionate use of military force? When Palestinian terrorists plant bombs at Israeli shopping malls and kill and wound dozens of civilians, would the proportionate response be for Israelis to plant bombs in Palestinian malls? No one in Israel believes this would be a legitimate use of force. Thus, Israel is left with the need to take measured action against specific targets in an effort to either deter Palestinian violence or stop it.

In the specific case of Israel's use of F-16s, Major General Giora Eiland, Head of the IDF Operation Branch, explained Israel's reasoning:

I know that the F-16 was not designed to attack targets in Palestinian cities. But we have to remember that although we use this kind of aircraft, it is still very accurate. All the targets were military targets....it was rather a tactical decision, simply because the targets were big enough, were strong enough or solid enough that attack helicopters were considered not effective enough to penetrate or to hit these specific targets. So when we decided or we chose these targets then we were looking for the best ammunition for them and in this specific case it was F-16. It doesn't imply that this is a new stage and from now on the only way that we are going to deploy our forces or our aviation is only by F-16s. Actually we see it as something that will not be used in a very open way.15a

Israel's deployment of the fighters came after 88 Israelis had already lost their lives, including 55 civilians. The civilians were not killed accidentally, they were deliberately targeted. In the previous two-and-a-half months, Palestinians had attempted to place 28 bombs inside Israel. The F-16 attack came in direct response to one that exploded at a Netanya shopping mall May 18, 2001, killing five Israelis.

A month before deploying the F-16s, the U.S. State Department accused Israel of an "excessive and disproportionate" response to Palestinian violence when it launched air strikes against targets in Gaza, even though the spokesman admitted the retaliation was "precipitated by the provocative Palestinian mortar attacks on Israel."16a The U.S. position is ironic given the so-called Powell Doctrine enunciated by Secretary of State Colin Powell, which holds that "America should enter fights with every bit of force available or not at all."17a Consider a few examples of the application of this doctrine:

  • General Powell insisted on deploying overwhelming force before going to war against Iraq in the Gulf War. The Allied force of more than half a million troops demolished Saddam Hussein's army at a cost of fewer than 200 American lives while approximately 35,000 Iraqis were killed, including many civilians.

  • Powell also oversaw the invasion of Panama, which required the deployment of 25,000 troops and the use of F-117 Stealth bombers for the first time. Thousands of Panamanian civilians were injured and displaced and at least 100 killed. He said later, "Use all the force necessary, and do not apologize for going in big if that is what it takes. Decisive force ends wars quickly and in the long run saves lives."18a

  • In reaction to an attempt to assassinate President Bush in 1993, the U.S. launched 23 cruise missiles at Iraq's intelligence headquarters and hit a civilian neighborhood in the process. Powell later said this was an "appropriate, proportional" response.19a

  • The U.S. also deployed massive force in the Balkans and, in 1999, accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade killing three and injuring 20.

  • The U.S. has relied heavily on fighter planes and bombers to conduct its post-September 11 war in Afghanistan. A number of incidents have subsequently been reported in which civilians have been killed, including the bombing of a wedding party that killed 48.19b

The United States has not hesitated to use overwhelming force against its adversaries, even though the threats have been distant and in no way posed a danger to the existence of the nation or the security of its citizens. While U.S. military objectives were accomplished, they also were routinely accompanied by errors and collateral damage that resulted in the loss of civilian lives.

Israel is in a different position. The threat it faces is immediate in time and physical proximity and poses a direct danger to Israeli citizens. Still, Israel has not used its full might as the Powell Doctrine dictates. The use of force has been judicious and precise. In those instances where mistakes occur — as inevitably happens in war — the incidents are investigated.

The bottom line is that Israel would have no need to respond with military force if the Palestinians were not attacking its citizens and soldiers.

MYTH

“Palestinian violence is the reaction of a people living under occupation, which will continue so long as the occupation persists.”

FACT

The idea that Palestinian violence is spontaneous is countered by the organized way that attacks against Israel are often carried out and the expressed intention of Palestinians, particularly from terrorist groups like Hamas, to wage war so long as a Jewish state exists. The premise of the peace process was that by reaching an agreement with Yasser Arafat, violence could be controlled. If he cannot control the behavior of the people under his authority, then the agreements have little value. On the other hand, if he does have control, then it is clear he is using it to foment violence rather than prevent it.

The evidence suggests that Arafat does in fact have control over most activities by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Approximately 97 percent of the Palestinian population is now under his jurisdiction. Arafat has demonstrated an ability to quickly eliminate Palestinians who challenge his rule by arresting and, in some cases, executing them. When he chooses, he has also arrested members of terrorist groups, but he has routinely released them so they can continue to attack Israel. He has allowed the terrorist organizations to produce explosives, build mortars, train members and recruit youngsters for suicide missions.

MYTH

“Israel has consistently refused to take any steps to calm the situation and its unrelenting attacks provoked Palestinian violence despite Yasser Arafat's appeals for restraint.”

FACT

On May 22, 2001, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a unilateral cease-fire in an effort to calm the situation, and in the hope the Palestinians would reciprocate by ending their violent attacks against Israelis. Instead the Palestinians intensified the level of violence directed particularly at Israeli civilians. Yasser Arafat did nothing to stop or discourage the attacks. More than 70 attacks were recorded in the next 10 days, during which Israel held its fire and eschewed any retaliation. The campaign of Palestinian terror during the Israeli cease-fire culminated with the suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco June 1 that killed 20 people and injured more than 90, mostly teenagers. In the face of overwhelming international pressure generated by the horrific attack, and the fear of an Israeli counterattack, Arafat finally declared a cease-fire. It too didn't last.

MYTH

“Israel has no justification for withholding tax monies due to the Palestinian Authority.”

FACT

At the beginning of 2001, Israel decided to withhold more than $50 million in taxes it owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in response to the ongoing violence. U.S. officials, and others, pressured Israel to transfer the money because of the PA's dire financial straits and inability to pay many of its bills. Israel recognized that its action was harsh, but believed it was necessary to demonstrate to the Palestinians that the inability or unwillingness to stop the violence had a cost. Israel must use whatever leverage it can to protect its citizens and this economic sanction was a milder response than a military one.

While Israel's action was blamed for the sorry state of the Palestinian economy, the truth was the Arab countries suspended the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars, collected as donations, meant for the PA. The justification for the Arab states' action was their concern that the funds would be embezzled and encourage further corruption in the PA.20a For example, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that Yasser Arafat stole more than $5 million in foreign aid intended for needy Palestinians.20b

In July 2002, Israel agreed to transfer some of the tax revenues to the Palestinians as a confidence-building measure after Palestinian violence subsided, and an agreement was reached to set up a committee of U.S. representatives to oversee the transaction.20c

 

Case Study

The speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, Ahmed Karia, suddenly vacated the villa he built for $1.5 million in Jericho after President Bush raised the issue of PA corruption. A sign on the door was posted that said the villa had become a welfare institution for the relatives of Palestinians killed in terror attacks.20d

MYTH

“Palestinians attack Israeli forces in spontaneous outbursts of frustration.”

FACT

Occasionally, Palestinians riot spontaneously for any number of reasons, from frustration to anger. More often, however, Palestinian violence is premeditated and planned by either terrorist cells within the Palestinian Authority or by the PA's own leaders. In the summer of 2001, for example, Palestinian commanders circulated instructions on confronting Israeli troops. The orders included the preparation of Molotov cocktails, hand grenades and barricades. Explosive "belts" were to be prepared for "hundreds of suicide youths who will be willing to confront the advancing troops." The insturctions also suggested conserving ammunition and attacking tanks only with "suitable weapons" and not with light guns. "Forward positions should be established by fighters willing to sacrifice their lives to stop the advancing enemy."21a

“Israel is at war with an enemy that declines, in its shrewdness and its cowardice, to fight Israel's soldiers, but is instead murdering its civilians, its women and children.” 

Michael Kelly22a

MYTH

“The Palestinians have observed the cease-fire negotiated by CIA Director George Tenet.”

FACT

In June 2001 CIA Director George Tenet traveled to the Middle East in an effort to solidify a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and lay the groundwork for a resumption of peace talks. The Tenet Plan called for an end to all violent activities. In the six weeks following Tenet's visit, however, Palestinians carried out 850 terrorist attacks resulting in 94 Israeli casualties, 17 of them fatalities.23a

“Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat must condemn this horrific terrorist attack, act now to arrest and bring to justice those responsible, and take immediate, sustained action to prevent future terrorist attacks.” 

President George W. Bush after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed
15 people, including six children, and wounded 90 when
he blew himself up in a restaurant in downtown Jerusalem.24a

MYTH

“Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian terrorists is immoral and counterproductive.”

FACT

Israel is faced with a nearly impossible situation in attempting to protect its civilian population from Palestinians who are prepared to blow themselves up to murder innocent Jews. One strategy for dealing with the problem has been the peace process. Since 1993, Israel believed that negotiating was the way to reach peace with the Palestinians, but after Israel gave back much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and offered virtually all of the remainder, the Palestinians rejected their concessions and chose to use violence to try to force Israel to capitulate to all their demands.

A second strategy is for Israel to "exercise restraint," that is, not respond to Palestinian violence. The international community lauds Israel when it simply turns the other cheek after heinous attacks. While this restraint might win praise from world leaders, it does nothing to assuage the pain of the victims or to prevent further attacks. Moreover, the same nations that urge restraint to Israel have often reacted forcefully when put in similar situations. For example, the British assassinated Nazis after World War II and targeted IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland. And, in the wake of the murderous attack by terrorists on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it was revealed that the Clinton Administration had attempted to assassinate Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden in 1998 in retaliation for his role in the bombings of the United States embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The Administration of George W. Bush has said it also would not hesitate to kill bin Laden.31a

“If you've got an organization that has plotted or is plotting some kind of suicide bomber attack, for example, and [the Israelis] have hard evidence of who it is and where they're located, I think there's some justification in their trying to protect themselves by preempting.”

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney25a

In April 1986, after the U.S. determined that Libya had directed the terrorist bombing of a West Berlin discotheque that killed one American and injured 200 others, it launched a raid on a series of Libyan targets, including President Muammar Qaddafi's home. This was widely viewed as an assassination attempt. President Reagan denied it, but later admitted "it was possible, perhaps probable, that he might be at or near the intelligence center when our planes struck." Qaddafi escaped, but his infant daughter was killed and two of his other children were wounded. In addition, a missile went off track and caused fatalities in a civilian neighborhood. Reagan justified the action as self-defense against Libya’s state-sponsored terrorism. "As a matter of self-defense, any nation victimized by terrorism has an inherent right to respond with force to deter new acts of terror. I felt we must show Qaddafi that there was a price he would have to pay for that kind of behavior and that we wouldn't let him get away with it."26a

Israel has chosen a third option – eliminating the masterminds of terror attacks. It is a policy that has caused great debate in Israel, but is supported by a vast majority of the public (70% in an August 2001 Ha'aretz poll). The policy is also supported by the American public according to an August 2001 poll by the America Middle East Information Network. The survey found that 73 percent of respondents felt Israel was justified in killing terrorists if it had proof they were planning bombings or other attacks that could kill Israelis.27a

Deputy Chief of Staff Major-General Moshe Ya'alon explained the policy this way: "There are no executions without a trial. There is no avenging someone who had carried out an attack a month ago. We are acting against those who are waging terror against us. We prefer to arrest them and have detained over 1,000. But if we can't and the Palestinians won't, then we have no other choice but to defend ourselves." 28a

The Israeli government also went through a legal process before adopting the policy of targeted killings. Israel's attorney general reviewed the policy and determined that it is legal under Israeli and international law.28b

Targeting the terrorists has a number of benefits. First, it places a price on terror: Israelis can't be attacked with impunity anymore, for terrorists know that if they target others, they will become targets themselves. Second, it is a method of self-defense: pre-emptive strikes eliminate the people who would otherwise murder Jews. While it is true that there are others to take their place, they can do so only with the knowledge they too will become targets. Third, it throws the terrorists off balance. Extremists can no longer nonchalantly plan an operation; rather, they must stay on the move, look over their shoulders at all times, and work much harder to carry out their goals.

“I think when you are attacked by a terrorist and you know who the terrorist is and you can fingerprint back to the cause of the terror, you should respond.”

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell29a

 

Of course, the policy also has costs. Besides international condemnation, Israel risks revealing informers who often provide the information needed to find the terrorists. Soldiers also must engage in sometimes high-risk operations that occasionally cause tragic collateral damage to property and persons.

 

“I think any time people are doing suicide bombings and blowing up your people at bus stops and in restaurants, you certainly cannot sit there and tolerate that.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld30a

The most common criticism of "targeted killings" is that they do no good because they perpetuate a cycle of violence whereby the terrorists seek revenge. This is probably the least compelling argument against the policy, because the people who blow themselves up to become martyrs could always find a justification for their actions. They are determined to bomb the Jews out of the Middle East and will not stop until their goal is achieved.

Case Study

A Washington Post story about the “cycle of death” in the West Bank included an interview with Raed Karmi, an official in Fatah, the dominant faction in Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. The report begins with the observation that Karmi is running out to join a battle against Israeli soldiers and grabs an M-16 assault rifle. What the story fails to mention is that only Palestinian police are supposed to be armed. The story implies that Israeli and Palestinian violence is equivalent in this “cycle” because Karmi said he was acting to avenge the death of a Palestinian who the Israelis assassinated for organizing terrorist attacks. Karmi admits that he participated in the kidnapping and execution-style murder of two Israelis who had been eating lunch in a Tulkarm restaurant. Karmi was jailed by the Palestinian Authority, but he was released after just four months and subsequently killed four more Israelis, including a man buying groceries and a driver who he ambushed. “I will continue attacking Israelis,” he told the Post.32a

 

MYTH

“Israel indiscriminately murders terrorists and Palestinian civilians.

FACT

It is always a tragedy when innocent civilians are killed in a counterterrorism operation. Civilians would not be at risk, however, if the Palestinian Authority arrested the terrorists, the murderers did not choose to hide among noncombatants, and the civilians refused to protect the killers.

Israel does not attack Palestinian areas indiscriminately. On the contrary, the IDF takes great care to target people who are planning terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Israeli forces have a history of accuracy in such assaults, nevertheless, mistakes are sometimes made. Whereas the terrorists make no apology for their attacks on civilians, and purposely target them, Israel always investigates the reasons for any errors and takes steps to prevent them from reoccurring.

Israel is not alone in using military force against terrorists or in sometimes inadvertently harming people who are not targets. For example, on the same day that American officials were condemning Israel because a number of civilians died when Israel assassinated the leader of the military wing of Hamas, news reports disclosed that the United States bombed a village in Afghanistan in an operation directed at a Taliban leader that instead killed 48 Afghan civilians at a wedding party. In both cases, flawed intelligence played a role in the tragic mistakes.

MYTH

“Israel's use of American-made weapons in retaliatory attacks against the Palestinians is illegal.

FACT

The United States has been closely monitoring Israeli actions. Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell asking whether Israel was violating U.S. law by using American arms in its strikes against Palestinian terrorists. Powell responded in a letter dated August 17, 2001, that Israel's actions did not violate U.S. law. The law in question is the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and it states that defense articles will be used only for specified purposes, including internal security and legitimate self-defense. Israel has maintained that it has been acting in self-defense and the Bush Administration concurs.33a

MYTH

“Israel perpetrated a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002.”

FACT

Secretary of State Colin Powell concisely refuted Palestinian claims that Israel was guilty of atrocities in Jenin. " I see no evidence that would support a massacre took place."34a Powell's view was subsequently confirmed by Human Rights Watch and an investigation by the European Union.35a

The Palestinians repeatedly claimed that a massacre had been committed in the days immediately following the battle. Spokesman Saeb Erekat, for example, told CNN on April 17 that at least 500 people were massacred and 1,600 people, including women and children were missing. The Palestinians quickly backpedaled when it became clear they could not produce any evidence to support the scurrilous charge and their own review committee reported a death toll of 56, of whom 34 were combatants. No women or children were reported missing.36a

Israel did not arbitrarily choose to raid the refugee camp in Jenin. It had little choice after a series of suicide bombings had terrorized Israeli civilians for the preceding 18 months. To defend itself and bring about hope for peace, Israeli forces went into Jenin to root out one of the principal terrorist bases.

The Palestinian Authority's own documents call Jenin the "suiciders capital." The camp has a long history as a base for extremists, and no less than 28 suicide attacks were launched from this terror nest during the recent wave of violence. These terrorists violated the cease-fire agreed to by Israel and undermined Israeli efforts to resume political negotiations toward a final peace agreement.

The majority of casualties were gunmen. Palestinian snipers targeted soldiers from a girls' school, a mosque, and a UNRWA building, and in returning fire and pursuing terrorists some noncombatants were hit. Any civilian casualty is a tragedy, but some were unavoidable because Palestinian terrorists used civilians as shields.

While Israel could have chosen to bomb the entire camp, the strategy employed by the U.S. in Afghanistan, the IDF deliberately chose a riskier path to reduce the likelihood of endangering civilians. Soldiers went house to house and 23 were killed in bitter combat with Palestinian terrorists using bombs, grenades, booby-traps and machine guns to turn the camp into a war zone.

Television pictures gave a distorted perspective of the damage in the camp as well. Jenin was not destroyed. The Israeli operation was conducted in a limited area of the refugee camp, which itself comprises a small fraction of the city. The destruction that did occur in the camp was largely caused by Palestinian bombs.

Palestinians have learned from fabricating atrocities stories in the past that a false claim against Israel will get immediate media attention and attract sympathy for their cause. The corrections that inevitably follow these specious charges are rarely seen, read, or noticed.

MYTH

“Israel opposed an investigation by the United Nations because it wanted to conceal the crimes it committed in Jenin.”

FACT

Israel had nothing to hide and invited an impartial fact-finding team to visit Jenin.37a The historical animosity of UN bodies toward Israel raised questions, however, about the fairness of its representatives. These doubts were reinforced when the UN refused to include in the proposed team any military or counterterrorism experts who could have assessed the terrorist threat Israel faced from Jenin. One delegate appointed to the UN team previously compared a Star of David with a swastika.38a

The hypocrisy of the UN and others concerned about Jenin is evident from the fact that they never condemn or investigate the repeated massacres by Palestinian homicide bombers.

MYTH

“Israel prevents Palestinian ambulances from taking sick and injured Palestinians to hospitals.”

FACT

One of the unfortunate results of the violence during the "al-Aksa intifada" has been the allegations of Israeli abuse against Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances. Various human rights groups, and politicians throughout the Arab world, have accused Israel of gratuitously delaying ambulances attempting to cross from the West Bank into Israel proper, resulting in inconveniences, medical complications, and even death to the sick passengers on board. These accounts tend to portray the delays as wanton acts of cruelty on the part of Israeli soldiers against Palestinians in need of medical attention.

These allegations are correct in one regard: ambulances are indeed stopped and searched at Israeli checkpoints. They fail, however, to put the facts into a broader context. The reason that ambulances have been held and searched at checkpoints is due to the very real threat that they pose to Israel and its citizens. Ambulances have frequently been used as a means to transport terrorist bombs, and many of the militants who have triggered suicide bombings in Israel gained access by driving or riding in Red Crescent ambulances. For example:

  • In October 2001, Nidal Nazal, a Hamas operative in Kalkilya, was arrested by the IDF. He was an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent, and information indicates that he exploited the unrestricted travel to serve as a messenger between the Hamas headquarters in several West Bank towns.39a

  • In January, 2002, Wafa Idris blew herself up on the crowded Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, becoming one of the first female suicide bombers. She was an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent, as was Mohammed Hababa, the Tanzim operative who sent her on her mission. She left the West Bank by way of an ambulance.40a

  • On May 17, 2002, an explosive belt was found in a Red Crescent ambulance at a checkpoint near Ramallah. The bomb, the same type generally used in suicide bombings, was hidden under a gurney on which a sick child was lying. The driver, Islam Jibril, was already wanted by the IDF, and admitted that this was not the first time that an ambulance had been used to transport explosives or terrorists. According to Jibril, he was given the bomb by Mahmoud Titi, a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which the U.S. State Department has listed as a terrorist organization, and which is affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.

    The bomb was removed from the ambulance and detonated in the presence of a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In a statement issued the same day, the ICRC said that it “understands the security concerns of the Israeli authorities, and has always acknowledged their right to check ambulances, provided it does not unduly delay medical evacuations.” The sick passengers in the ambulance were escorted by soldiers to a nearby hospital.41a


  • On June 30, 2002, Israeli troops found 10 suspected Palestinian terrorists hiding in two ambulances in Ramallah. They were caught when soldiers stopped the vehicles for routine checks.42a

The accusations leveled against Israel by its critics have frequently been based on statements of international law, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is true that the Geneva Convention does place particular emphasis on the immunity and neutrality of ambulances and emergency medical personnel. But the conclusion that Israel must ignore a clear and present danger to its citizens, or else violate international law, is a distortion. It is in fact the Palestinian terrorists, who are using ambulances to smuggle explosives into Israel, that are compromising the Red Crescent’s immunity and neutrality.

Notes

1aJerusalem Post, (March 4, 2001)
2aQuoted in Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee First Statement of the Government of Israel, Israeli Foreign Ministry, December 28, 2000).
3aIbid.
3b"An Engineered Tragedy: Statistical Analysis of Casualties in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, September 2000-June 2002," International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, (June 2002).
4aIsrael Defense Forces.
5aJerusalem Post, (February 22, 2001).
6aHa'aretz, (March 1, 2001).
7aNear East Report, (March 5, 2001).
8aJerusalem Report, (February 25, 2002)
9aJTA, (October 8, 2001).
10aJerusalem Report, (May 21, 2001).
11aCNN, IDF, Jerusalem Post, (November 28, 2000); JTA, (March 21, 2002).
12aQuoted in the Jerusalem Post, (April 1, 2001).
13aWashington Post, (June 17, 2001)
14aLetter from George Mitchell and Warren Rudman to ADL Director Abraham Foxman, (May 11, 2001).
15aBriefing by Major General Giora Eiland, Head of the IDF Operation Branch, to the Foreign Press Association, Jerusalem, (May 20, 2001).
16aState Department Briefing, (April 17, 2001)
17aTime, (April 19, 2001)
18aCollin Powell, My American Journey, (NY: Random House, 1995), p. 434.
19aWashington Post, (June 28, 1993).
19bCNN, (July 16, 2002). 20aHa'aretz, (February 11, 2001).
20bAl-Watan [Kuwait], (June 7, 2002).
20cJerusalem Post, (July 21, 2002).
20dJewish Telegraphic Agency, (June 11, 2002).
21aForeign Report, (July 26, 2001).
22aWashington Post, (August 15, 2001).
23aJerusalem Post, (August 2, 2001).
24aReuters, (August 9, 2001).
25aFox News, (August 3, 2001).
26aRonaldReagan.com, Washington Post and other news sources.
27aJTA, (August 30, 2001).
28aJerusalem Post, (August 10, 2001).
28bJewish Telegraphic Agency, (November 30, 2001).
29aNews Conference, (September 12, 2001).
30aJerusalem Post, (September 10, 2001).
31aWashington Post, (September 14 and 18, 2001).
32aWashington Post, (September 7, 2001).
33aJerusalem Post, (August 24, 2001).
34aJerusalem Post, (April 25, 2002).
35aJerusalem Post, (April 28, 2002).
36aNew York Post, (May 3, 2002).
37aNew York Times, (April 20, 2002).
38aWashington Post, (April 26, 2002).
39aIsraeli Foreign Ministry
40aWashington Post, (January 31, 2002).
41a“Bomb found in Red Crescent Ambulance,” Ha’aretz, (June 12, 2002).
42aJewish Telegraphic Agency, (June 30, 2002).


See also: Jerusalem
Israel
Peace Process
Judaism
Ancient Jewish History
Modern Jewish History

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