Casualties of the al-Aqsa intifada

Who is responsible for the civilian casualties during the intifada?

Aftermath of Terrorist Bomb Blast in Coffee Shop

Since its start on September 29, 2000, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have been engaged in an ongoing violent confrontation, a sequel to the first intifada that lasted from approximately 1988 to 1992.

The Palestinian Arab leadership, in a classic case of bad faith, accuses Israel of committing human rights violations for civilian fatalities among the Palestinian Arabs, especially children, while evading its own responsibility for orchestrating the conflict and inflicting massive, intentionally targeted civilian casualties on the Israelis. This constitutes a cynical exploitation of human rights concerns while deflecting attention from the murderous conduct of the Palestinian terrorists. Unfortunately, with media complicity, this propaganda has found a sympathetic audience around the world.

There is often concern about the greater number of Palestinian Arabs killed as opposed to Israelis lost to terrorism. This disparity is used to “justify” additional terrorism against Israel — the refrain goes: “The brutal Israelis are killing so many of our people, what do you expect when our desperate youth become suicide bombers?” This line of thinking is ignorant of the facts. The Israelis killed by terrorists, especially the suicide bombers, are almost all innocent civilians in public places, on the bus, or involved in religious services. The Palestinians killed are armed fighters, killed in the terrorist act itself or killed as they fire their guns at Israeli forces coming to arrest them. There are innocent Palestinian Arabs killed, an unfortunate truth, but they must be counted among the victims of Palestinian Arab terrorism too. The “collateral damage” of defensive military or police operations by Israel is the responsibility of the terrorist instigators, not with those who strive to eliminate the terror.

Furthermore, the “desperate youth” who decides to become a suicide bomber, is armed, trained, and dispatched by cold-blooded, experienced terrorist teams. These acts are not the spontaneous outbursts of individuals, who would have no access to the sophisticated explosives and triggering devices, but are part of a military campaign orchestrated from the top.

Use of Children

Media reports often highlight instances in which Palestinian children have been killed or injured by Israeli troops or policemen and these reports have generated much criticism of Israeli policies. But, the appearance of Palestinian children in riots or other dangerous situations, is not accidental. The Palestinian Authority has intentionally mobilized Palestinian children to man the front line as a tool in its struggle against Israel, frequently using them as shields to protect Palestinian gunmen. This mobilization of Palestinian youth has been facilitated by the long-term impact of Palestinian Authority curricula, government-controlled media, and summer camp programs, which indoctrinate the youth for armed confrontation with Israel.

The media visuals of a bleeding Palestinian child surrounded by screaming relatives are too powerful to permit most people to pause to consider why and how the child was in harm’s way. One of the best known examples was the tragic death of Mohammed Al-Dura, the twelve-year-old from Gaza who was shot dead in his father’s arms while cameramen filmed it. This ghastly event mobilized sentiment around the world to condemn Israel for using excessive force, even though there are many questions about how the child came to be in that place, how the media happened to be ready to film the event, and who fired the fatal shots.

The standard tactic is to use children as bait, burning tires and shooting slingshots, to attract the television cameras and distract the IDF. At the same time, well-armed Palestinian gunmen in ambush positions are ready to shoot at Israeli targets. Since the Palestinian public knows that Israeli soldiers are ordered not to shoot live ammunition at children, the children act as shields to protect Palestinian snipers who shoot to kill any exposed members of the IDF. When the youths rush forward throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, Palestinian snipers on rooftops and in alleys take aim at the IDF. On some occasions Palestinian Arabs have shot children from behind, a fact that seldom makes it into media reports of the incidents. According to IDF sources, Palestinian gunmen have also fired shots from within a rioting crowd of civilians.

Use of Red Crescent Ambulances

Arab Red Crescent ambulances that wait to pick up the injured often serve a secondary role, a role that is illegal under international law. They have been photographed as they transport gunmen, Molotov cocktails, and rocks to confrontation locations, secure in the knowledge that Israel will not fire on these “medical vehicles.” Such use is a clear violation of one of the fundamental precepts of humanitarian law and places at risk the immunity generally granted to medical services. When Israel’s IDF or police are forced to act against one of these disguised military vehicles, the usual “world opinion” reaction is to condemn firing on an ambulance, giving misguided license to the Palestinian Arabs to continue the practice.

An example of the problem is this excerpt, from an IDF action report on July 13, 2001:

  • During the exchange of fire, IDF forces identified two Red Crescent ambulances that arrived at the spot. Two armed gunmen emerged from the ambulance and proceeded to also open fire toward the IDF and Border Police forces.

IDF Discipline Regarding Civilian Casualties

When civilian casualties result from Israeli military action, the IDF has a procedure to investigate, make a determination of facts, and then to discipline soldiers and officers who are found to have violated rules of engagement. For example:

  • The findings of the inquiry of the event in which a Palestinian boy was killed on the balcony of his home in the village of Nazlat Zid in Samaria, on October 4, 2002, were presented to the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon.


  • According to the inquiry, an IDF force entered the village that day in order to enforce the curfew imposed on the village. Stone throwing and disturbances by village residents accompanied the entry. The IDF force acted to restore order, during which a Palestinian boy was wounded while standing on the balcony of his home. The boy later died of his wounds.
  • The findings of the inquiry show that the deputy battalion commander was dismissed from his post following his actions, and will not be reinstated to a command post for at least three years, and then only if approved by the IDF Chief of Staff. [IDF Spokesperson’s office, November 6, 2002]


Although anti-Israel commentators will claim that Israel and the IDF are brutal and “don’t care about Palestinian deaths” in fact any breach of military discipline or occurance of civilian casualties in the course of military operations is taken very seriously, will trigger a formal investigation, and can result in imprisonment of those involved. Even looting, without injuries, is considered very serious:

  • During IDF activity in Jenin, an IDF soldier stole a sum of money from the local residents. Once the commanders of the soldier became aware of this, the money was immediately returned to its owners. The soldier was tried and sentenced to 28 days imprisonment at the end of which he will be expelled from the unit in which he serves. [IDF Spokesperson’s office, November 4, 2002]

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