One of the editors at Haaretz, we’ll call him R., always advises me not to go overboard with numbers. Usually I listen to him, omit a certain breakdown of data or round off some number. The attempt to explain the meaning of occupation to the occupier is like climbing a slippery wall, with few protrusions. The climber is doomed to fall.
It behooves the profession and the soul to redouble the effort to climb, and an editor’s advice is sometimes another protuberance or rope to hold onto. Explaining the meaning of oppression to the oppressor is not done for the purpose of empathy, charity or tikkun olam (repairing the world): It’s an intelligence activity in its own right, conducted in order to enlighten anyone who thinks that the Palestinian people can be broken.
Statistics are one of the means of showing the forest and not just the trees. They are an effective tool for anyone interested in conceptualization – for someone who wants to know, for example, the number of antisemitic incidents in the world, how many Jews are among Nobel Prize laureates, and what percentage of children in the Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip suffer from post-trauma due to red-alert sirens and the firing of Qassam rockets (40 percent).
Precise data is an obstacle for anyone who doesn’t want to know something. Therefore, I hesitate to write that between January and October 2020, 17,864 occupation-related incidents were documented in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Instead, I’m rounding off the number: “From January to October 2020, an average of 1,800 occupation-related incidents were documented each month,” in the hope that this illustrates to some extent our violent, armed, arrogant presence on a daily basis.
For those who are interested I will note that occupation-related incidents include killing and wounding of Palestinians by Israeli fire; military raids on homes, villages and urban neighborhoods; demolition of buildings and confiscation of personal possessions; mobile checkpoints; arrests and detentions; attacks by settlers; the uprooting of trees and crops for ostensible military purposes; and construction in the settlements. These incidents do not include the incarceration of two million Palestinian in Gaza or humiliation at Israeli checkpoints.
Documentation of all of the above is included in the daily and monthly reports published by the Palestine Liberation Organization negotiations department. Their reports also include “attacks by Palestinians” – mainly firing rockets from Gaza. Their proportion among all the incidents cited is miniscule (a summary of the last two months of 2020 has yet to be published).
Another source of similar information is the reports of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Let’s take a close look just at the number of Palestinians who were wounded by Israel by any means, from January 1 to December 21, 2020 (the latest UN statistics to date), which was affected by the coronavirus pandemic: The number is lower than in previous years. Moreover, during that same period, as opposed to the preceding two years, the number of those wounded by Israeli fire in Gaza was lower than in the West Bank: 55 versus 2,613.
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The UN’s humanitarian affairs office – and I, in its footsteps – also count those treated for inhaling tear gas, who account for the largest proportion of wounded Palestinians. I know Jewish Israelis don’t consider that being “wounded.” It’s clear why: The vast majority of Israelis have never experienced the harsh searing in their eyes and throat, the blurred vision, the suffocation, the lungs crying out for air long after the attack, the helplessness, the humiliation or the fear of such an attack. (Incidentally, in 2019, 1,881 Palestinian were injured by the tear-gas grenade itself – and believe me, that’s a very painful and life-threatening experience).
In 2019 the number of Palestinians injured by Israeli forces of all kinds was almost 15,500, of them about 3,600 in the West Bank. The number of those injured by rubber-coated metal bullets was 2,468; by live fire: 4,449 (excuse me, R., for not rounding those figures off). In 2018, the peak year for “right of return” demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, the number of Palestinians wounded there was about 31,000 – among them, 6,784 by live fire and 1,998 by metal bullets coated with something. In the West Bank the number injured by Israeli fire was somewhat over 6,000, slightly more than double the total in 2020.
I won’t go into detail about how many of the shooting victims were shot by Israeli soldiers in the head, or in the kneecap, or in the back. I will only say that the vast majority of injuries are incurred in demonstrations against the occupation and in clashes that take place in response to Israeli army raids on homes, villages and urban neighborhoods.
I will leave it to you to calculate the number of Israeli soldiers and police officers who fired shots and caused injuries, and the number of Palestinians that each of them injured from up close, almost touching distance – during a nighttime invasion of a home, with tear gas, with a stun grenade, with sponge- and rubber-coated bullets and with “live” ammunition that blows up one’s innards, bones, muscles and arteries.
The UN office explains that its data does not include Palestinians treated for psychological harm they suffered as a result of Israeli violence. I will venture further and say: Not everyone who suffers from post-trauma is treated. Thus, the figures in question also do not include the millions of individuals living their entire lives with the excruciating sense of humiliation, fear, insult and anger because armed Israelis, aged 19 or 30, destroyed their lives by means of live fire, home demolitions and expulsion, keeping them away from their dear ones. Or people whose lives were disrupted by Israeli forces due to long delays at checkpoints, invasion of homes or arrogant behavior.
The ability of Palestinians to go on with their life, to study, work, laugh, dance, sing, maintain a social life, initiate, create, build and voice criticism – despite the broad and definite scope of the psychological harm – only attests to the strength and resilience of them as individuals and as a nation.