It is no coincidence that the greatest number of people who support Israel reside in the United States and Canada. After all, the governments of those two nations are Israel’s most ardent backers and the mainstream media in North America has consistently distorted the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In stark contrast, most of the rest of the world’s population openly sympathizes with the plight of the Palestinians. While the history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, this article seeks to use numbers to present the historical reality in an accessible manner and to highlight the distortions and inaccuracies prevalent in the rhetoric from Washington and Ottawa as well as the propaganda promulgated by the mainstream media.
What the historical reality makes evident is the hugely disproportionate number of Palestinians who have been killed or forcibly displaced in comparison to Israelis as well as the enormous loss of land they have experienced. It is the distortion and/or omission of this reality that allows Israelis to be portrayed as the victims by politicians and the media in North America. Not surprisingly, these distortions have dominated the coverage of the current Israeli invasion of Gaza. Therefore, the following numbers are drawn from UN sources and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem in order to place the conflict in context:
94% — Percentage of Palestine inhabited by Palestinians in 1946.
15% — Percentage of Palestine inhabited by Palestinians today.
5 million — Number of Palestinians currently living in refugee camps.
8,701 — Number of Palestinians killed by Israelis since 2000.
1,138 — Number of Israelis killed by Palestinians since 2000.
8:1 — Ratio of Palestinian-Israeli deaths since 2000.
1,772 — Number of Palestinian children killed by Israelis since 2000.
93 — Number of Israeli children killed by Palestinians since 2000.
19:1 — Ratio of Palestinian-Israeli child deaths since 2000.
$3 billion — Average annual US aid to Israel over the past 20 years.
25% — Percentage of the entire annual US foreign aid budget that goes to Israel.
Here is a brief and accessible timeline that relies on statistics to summarize the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
5th Century: Jews constituted 10-15 percent of the population of Palestine.
1850: Jews constituted 4 percent of the population of Palestine.
1917: At the end of World War One, Palestine was among several former Ottoman Arab territories occupied by Britain. Jews constituted 11 percent of the population of Palestine with almost all of the Jewish population arriving during the previous 40 years as part of the European Zionist movement that sought to establish a Jewish state. British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour issued a declaration stating, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”
1922: Palestine was officially placed under the administration of Britain according to a mandate issued by the League of Nations. Under the British Mandate, the Jewish population in Palestine increased from 11 percent to 32 percent in 1948.
1939-1947: Armed Jewish groups carried out a violent insurgency against the British in an effort to pressure the ruling authority to fulfill the Balfour Declaration and establish a Jewish state.
1947: The Palestine question was turned over to the newly-formed United Nations which, in the shadow of the Holocaust, passed the Partition Plan for Palestine. The UN Partition Plan called for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. It proposed that the Palestinian state consist of 43 percent of the territory while the Jewish state of Israel would account for 56 percent (in order to accommodate the expected increased migration of European Jews). The City of Jerusalem would become an international territory. The Jewish population largely supported the Partition Plan while the Palestinians and other Arabs overwhelmingly rejected it.
1947-1948: Following the UN approval of the Partition Plan, fighting broke out between Jewish and Palestinian Arab militia groups. With funding support from sympathizers in the United States, the Jewish insurgency became even better armed. By the end of March 1948, some 400 Jews and 1,500 Palestinians had been killed while more than 100,000 Palestinians had been forced to flee their lands, constituting the first wave of refugees. The Partition Plan was not implemented.
May 14, 1948: Israel unilaterally declared itself an independent nation and claimed the 56 percent of territory allocated to it under the Partition Plan. The surrounding Arab nations attacked the self-declared state of Israel but by the end of the brief war Israel laid claim to 78 percent of Palestine and most of Jerusalem. Only the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem remained under Arab control.
1948: By the end of the year, some 700,000 Palestinians, which amounted to more than half the Palestinian population, had either fled or been forcibly expelled from the newly-established Israeli state, although they expected to return to their lands shortly. But since 1948, most of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants have endured a harsh existence in refugee camps in neighboring Arab nations where they continue to demand their right to return to the lands their families had owned for generations. Meanwhile, in the three years following the 1948 war, about 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, thereby establishing a Jewish majority in the country. Palestinians and other Arabs constituted 20 percent of the Israeli population and while they were considered Israeli citizens they lived under martial law for the first 18 years of the country’s existence. Since then a series of Citizenship and Entry Laws have severely restricted the ability of Palestinians to enter Israel in order to preserve the “Jewish character” of the country.
1964: The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed to achieve the liberation of Palestine through armed struggle. It also demanded the “right to return” and “self-determination” for the Palestinian people.
1967: In June, Israel responded to an Egyptian troop build-up on its border by attacking Egypt. By the end of the Six-Day War Israel controlled all of Palestine after seizing Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) as well as other non-Palestinian territories. It did not incorporate the West Bank and Gaza into the Israeli state but its military ruled over them and they became known as the “Occupied Territories.” The war resulted in the second exodus of Palestinians as another half a million fled to refugee camps in neighboring Arab nations. Following the war, UN Security Council resolution 242 (1967) called on Israel to withdraw from the territories it had occupied in the 1967 conflict. Israel ignored the resolution and the United States vetoed all future attempts by the UN Security Council to compel Israel to abide by it. During the ensuing decades Washington would provide Israel with approximately $3 billion annually in aid (60 percent military and 40 percent economic), which resulted in a single country receiving one-quarter of all US foreign aid. This aid has helped the Israeli military become one of the strongest in the world and has significantly boosted Israel’s economy.
1970s: Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza led the PLO to increasingly resort to acts of terrorism both in Israel and against Israeli targets overseas. At this time, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, the PLO was based in Lebanon.
1980s: During the 1980s, the Israeli government encouraged its Jewish citizens to move into settlements in the Occupied Territories in violation of international law. It provided many economic incentives to Jews willing to live in the settlements, most of which were established on the best agricultural lands and protected by the Israeli military. In 2010, Jewish settlements covered 42 percent of the territory of the West Bank and were populated by more than half a million settlers.
1982: In June, Israel invaded Lebanon with the declared objective of eliminating the PLO. The Israeli military captured the Lebanese capital Beirut, which forced the PLO to relocate its headquarters to Libya. The Israeli military colluded with local Christian militias in large-scale massacres of Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Shatila. As many as 3,000 Palestinian refugees were massacred in what the United Nations General Assembly declared an act of genocide. Israel’s military withdrew to southern Lebanon in 1985 and occupied that part of the country until 2000.
1985: The Islamic organization Hezbollah was formed in southern Lebanon following the Israeli invasion. Hezbollah’s initial objective was to end the Israeli military occupation of southern Lebanon. It received support from Iran and was the first Islamic militant group to carry out suicide bombings against Israeli targets.
1987: The First Intifada, or “Uprising,” began in the Occupied Territories in response to the expanding Jewish settlements and lasted until 1991. The Intifada involved civil disobedience in the form of an economic boycott of Israeli goods, a refusal to work in Israeli settlements, a refusal to pay taxes, and the throwing of rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops. During the uprising, the Israeli military killed more than 1,200 Palestinians with children constituting a disproportionate percentage of the victims while 160 Israelis were killed by Palestinians. The Islamic organization Hamas was formed during the First Intifada with the objective of liberating Palestine from Israeli occupation and establishing an Islamic state. Hamas was particularly influential in Gaza where, in addition to waging an insurgency against Israel, it also provided much-needed social services to the impoverished population.
1993: The Oslo Accords resulted in the establishment of a Palestinian government known as the Palestinian Authority, which was initially dominated by the moderate PLO party Fatah. Israel permitted limited self-rule by the Palestinian Authority in Palestinian-populated regions of the Occupied Territories. However, the Israeli military continued its occupation and its defense of the constantly-expanding Jewish settlements.
2000: Israel ends its military occupation of southern Lebanon. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories launch the Second Intifada, or “Uprising,” which lasts until 2005. During this period, some 1,000 Israelis are killed, many by suicide bombers, while approximately 3,000 Palestinians died. During the Second Intifada, Israel begins the practice of bulldozing the homes of relatives of suicide bombers and other militants, displacing entire families and turning them into refugees.
2005: Israel ends its occupation of Gaza when it withdraws its military. The withdrawal is seen as a victory for the hardline Islamic militants of Hamas.
2006: Tired of the corruption and ineptitude of the moderate ruling Fatah party, and buoyed by the military success of Hamas in Gaza, Palestinians elected the hardline Islamic group to power in the 2006 parliamentary elections. However, the new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government was immediately targeted with harsh sanctions by Israel, the United States, Canada and many Western European nations who viewed Hamas as a terrorist organization.
2007: Following the “Battle of Gaza,” fought between Fatah and Hamas, governance of the Occupied Territories became divided. Fatah governed the West Bank while Hamas ruled Gaza. With the re-emergence of the more moderate Fatah as the governing power in the West Bank, economic sanctions were lifted. However, Israel initiated its land, air and sea blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, restricting the flow of goods and people into the territory and causing severe economic hardship in one of the most densely-populated areas of the world. Some have claimed that Israel’s military blockade of Gaza has turned the territory into the world’s largest concentration camp.
2008: Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead” when it’s military invaded Gaza with the stated objective of stopping rockets from being launched against Israel. Hamas and other militants had been launching notoriously inaccurate rockets at Israeli communities but they rarely hit their target, partly due to Israel’s air defense system. For its part, the Israeli military regularly targeted Palestinians along the Israel-Gaza border. During the three-week Operation Cast Lead, Israeli forces killed 1,398 Palestinians while nine Israelis died. The ratio of deaths—155 Palestinians killed for each Israeli—resulted in the operation becoming known in the Arab world as the “Gaza Massacre.” According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, from the launching of the Second Intifada in 2000 to the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009 more than 6,300 Palestinians were killed compared to 1,050 Israeli fatalities in both Israel and the Occupied Territories. In other words, in the first decade of the 21st century, six Palestinians were killed for every one Israeli death.
2014: Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” in July when its military invaded Gaza in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers, which it blamed on Hamas. The United States and Canada again repeated their previous position that Israel has a right to defend itself against Palestinian militants. However, there was no mention by US and Canadian government officials of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves when two Palestinian youths were killed by the Israeli military one week before the Israeli teens went missing. Not surprisingly, the killing of the Israeli youths received widespread media coverage while the deaths of Palestinian youths rarely appear in the mainstream media. In fact, between the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000 and the launching of the latest Israeli invasion of Gaza, an average of one Palestinian youth was killed every three days by the Israeli military—a total of 1,380 deaths. During the same period, 93 Israeli youths were killed by Palestinians. At the time of writing, according to the United Nations, Israel’s month-long and ongoing invasion of Gaza has killed 1,849 Palestinians with women and children constituting 30 percent of the victims. Additionally, more than half a million Palestinians (30 percent of the Gaza population) have been displaced from their homes. In contrast, 64 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians have died. Continuing the historic trend of disproportionate death ratios, 28 Palestinians have been killed in the current operation for each Israeli fatality.
Today: Israel still controls 98 percent of Palestine (everything except Gaza) and continues to expand its Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, according to the United Nations, there are now more than five million Palestinian refugees living in camps who hope to someday return to their land.
Conclusion: We are repeatedly told that the Palestinians are terrorists while Israel is simply defending itself despite the reality that the overwhelming majority of those killed and displaced are Palestinians. Consequently, we never hear US and Canadian political leaders or the mainstream media accuse Israel of perpetrating state terrorism. It was not until after Israel illegally occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 that the Palestinians, unable to engage in traditional combat with the powerful US-backed Israeli military, began to regularly utilize terrorist tactics in an attempt to liberate themselves from a brutal occupation. Furthermore, the decades-long occupation and military actions by Israel have only fuelled the rise of extremist groups such as Hamas at the expense of the more moderate Palestinian factions that dominated prior to the 1990s. And yet, despite the military and humanitarian reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our political leaders and the mainstream media repeatedly portray Israelis as the victims.