Palestinian Misery in Perspective

The media usually focuses on the latest casualty and quickly forgets those who died even a few days before. The American media in particular has a Dracula-like predilection for warm bodies, and no interest in cases where blood has already dried. Unfortunately this ahistoric focus on the last victim hides the scale of mass crimes and the responsibility of various perpetrators. Whether in Iraq, Palestine, Colombia, or Haiti, it is necessary to locate human rights abuses in a wider context to appreciate the scale of what is occurring on the ground.

In the case of Palestinian casualties, it is all too evident that CNN, BBC, and most other major media are mostly interested in today’s casualties: they seem to studiously ignore precedents, and above all, they will not refer to the pattern of killings as systematic in nature. Of course, admitting that such killings are systematic would imply that Israel is committing “crimes against humanity”, a precursor to genocide. When the media seeks to whitewash “friendly” mass crimes, there is a tendency to fixate on specific instances to the exclusion of broad patterns. Even when a pattern of killings and other abuses is chronic and systematic, the BBC/CNN will tend to focus on specific cases without reference to broader trends. When referring to Palestinian conditions, what we find is that reports of casualties, house demolitions, and dispossession in these media outlets pertain to specific cases and not to general patterns [1]. Incidentally, the opposite is true when there is an incident of Palestinian violence; here lists and charts are available to highlight their context.

The chosen context can be used to obfuscate the reality on the ground. The tools at the media’s disposal can be likened to an instrument of variable magnification ranging from a wide-angle lens to a telescope. Informative journalism requires using the most appropriate level of magnification for the story under investigation. On the other hand, propaganda requires contextual blurring and the use of inappropriate tools. Thus, it is best to use a telescope to view the stars, and clearly, a wide-angle lens is the wrong tool. In the case of Palestinian casualties, it is evident that the mainstream media are intent on presenting news using a telescope (preferably out of focus), when a wide-angle lens should be used.

The tables and graphs below put the Palestinian casualty toll into perspective over the course of the second intifada. These graphs speak for themselves, revealing a pattern that is all too evident. These graphs are meant to fill a gap in the available data pertaining to the casualty toll during the second intifada.

Average death tolls and an interpretation

During the course of the second intifada, the average number of Palestinians killed stands at 2.26 per day. The total killed between September 29, 2000 and May 31, 2004 is 3,023. To interpret these numbers one must scale these figures to make them comparable to understand what they would mean in the context of our own countries. This is the purpose of the table below.

Average and total Palestinian fatalities during intifada II, Sep. 29, 2000 — May 31, 2004. Actual and population scaled number


PAUL de ROOIJ is a writer living in London. He can be reached at (NB: all emails with attachments will be automatically deleted.)