Monday, September 26, 2011

Adding Up The Death Toll

Over at Popular Resistance, Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh of Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities is supporting Mahmoud Abbas as he speaks in front of the UN to ask for a Palestinian state to be recognized. The professor is not as pleased with Netanyahu's speech, commenting that he was "just amazed at how many lies can be packed in one speech".

He then posts an extensive chart, meant to show the imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. I don't plan to cover all of this, or go into it too extensively (for example, under the precise term "Nature" we get Colonizer/Occuper vs. Occupied People, a lie too big to be unpacked in a blog post. This section, however, caught my eye:

All values show for Israel first, then the Palestinians
Casualties (63 years), 6000 killed/75,000 killed, 20,000 injured/300,000 injured
Homes demolished 0/50,000
Refugees created 0/>6 million people

And it occurs to me, looking at this, that it represents a number of the things that are wrong and false with the way that the conflict is discussed by those who hate Israel. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a professor at Birzeit University, but I was a history major, and I like to think, something of a critical thinker, and my alarm bells are going off as I look at this.

I think I'm going to need to break this down into three separate posts, so let's start today with the casualties. This chart does not indicate a divide between military, civilian, and paramilitary, but the Israeli numbers are rather interesting. Clearly that 6,000 cannot include military deaths, in which case we run well over that before getting to 1973, so presumably this covers civilian deaths. Assuming that this is an honest chart, we are then to presume that the appalling 75,000 figure applies to Palestinian civilians? It seems we have to presume that.

I spent a while trying to make this work. Now, admittedly, I did not use any sophisticated source material, this is all from popular sites on the Internet. However, I believe that the only way to make the numbers add up is to sit down and enter in all Palestinian loss of life in any conflict, since 1948, using both combatant and non-combatant deaths, and using the top numbers in any given conflict where it is disputed. So, for example, Black September is included in the count, and the number used must be the high one of 20,000, not the low count of 3,400.

Now, is this fair reckoning? By my estimation, there are two problems with it, one being that Israeli military deaths are being excluded, and Palestinian combatant deaths counted in, also that the Palestinian count include people killed by non-Israelis who were not acting for Israel in any way. Conceivably, those who died in Black September could be considered victims of the overall conflict, but that line of reasoning is going to get us into trouble down the road, when we start looking at that refugee claim more closely.

But by any reckoning, leaving Palestinian combatants in and Israeli combatants (and diplomatic personnel, and various others) out, which is the only way I can make sense of these numbers, is deeply dishonest, and serves an obvious agenda.

Next time: 0 Homes Destroyed? Or, "But What About Kfar Etzion?"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Examining One's Own Bigotry

A friend posts to her Facebook account: I've often wondered why people are so much more concerned w/ the Palestinian/Israeli conflict than this. After all Turkey doesn't exactly have a stellar history when it comes to how it treats others. Think: Armenians.

I added: There's a degree of--emotional involvement and assumption of malicious intent, I guess--that seems to go along with how people see Palestinian/Israeli tension. It does not get applied situations involving the Kurds and Turkey, or India and Pakistan in Kashmir. I have some theories about why, but none of them are especially nice.

And another poster adds: Two wrongs make a right? Sorry, but the "he did it, too" never worked when I was five and it doesn't work now.

This is, of course, meant to shut off any complaints about Israel being unfairly treated. "If you did something wrong, you're gonna get criticized," the line runs, "and don't try to get out of it by complaining about context."

Of course, as a teacher, I've given the 'we're not talking about him, we're talking about you' speech many times. But as a teacher, I have also been asked, throughout my career, to keep a close and watchful eye on whether I critize or punish behavior in a discriminatory manner. Do boys and girls alike get in trouble for the same behavior? Are African-American students, African-American boys in particular, often punished or removed from the classroom for behavior that would not get children of another race into trouble? We're asked to keep an eye on this, and be mindful about it, because research does in fact indicate that this happens in classrooms, that some children, usually on a gender or racial basis, are penalized for things that draw no criticism in a different child.

So, if a child says, "He did it too," you may tell him "We're not talking about him, we're talking about you."

But if your school counselor says, "Why is every child you send out of your room an African-American boy? You sent Bobby to me for chewing gum, but when Susie was chewing gum, you just made her spit it out," it's time to listen, because otherwise you are asserting that your right to be unconsciously racist is more important than your student's right to justice.

So, if your answer to "Why is Israel being criticized for X when Turkey has done worse?" is "Because we're talking about what Israel did," that may be reasonable.

But when the question is "Why doesn't Turkey ever seem to end up in the Indymedia equivalent of the principal's office? Why isn't Turkey the object of BDS campaigns? Why aren't ladies with signs standing every week all over Berkeley talking about Turkey? Why isn't the Turkish flag being burned at demonstrations?" and the answer is "Because we're talking about what Israel did" just might be a bigot fighting not to give up your privilege.