Bernie Sanders: “Blood Libel”? The Facts and Context

A Palestinian returns to his home destroyed in an Israeli offensive east of Gaza City. 27 August 2014. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

In a recent interview with the New York Daily News, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was asked about the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and whether he would support any Palestinian attempt to prosecute Israel for war crimes. Sanders said “No,” but he did characterize Israel’s attacks in the most recent war on Gaza (July-August 2014, code-named Operation Protective Edge, OPE) as “indiscriminate.” Sanders also offered the figure of 10,000 Palestinian civilian deaths. While this number is inaccurate, his depiction of the war’s devastation was all too accurate: “My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe, and I don’t think I’m alone in believing, that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”

Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, labeled the 10,000 figure a “blood libel” against Israel, but Sanders (who once volunteered on an Israeli kibbutz) is no enemy of Israel and his claim was likely an honest confusion: 10,626 is the number of Palestinians that were injured in OPE, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah while 1,486 Palestinian civilians, including 532 children, were killed, according to UNOCHA (the UN agency in charge of  humanitarian affairs). The figure on the Israeli side was 5 civilians, including one child.

Sanders was entirely right about Israel’s massive destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure. To quote the UN report again, “Some half a million people were displaced at the height of hostilities, and approximately 108,000 were made homeless. Around 13 per cent of the housing stock was damaged, including up to 20,000 homes totally destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.”

The 10,000 figure, as we shall document, is not off the mark when discussing the broader context in recent years. And what follows are some facts that the Sanders campaign can reference in the future.

Casualties:

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Between September 2000 and August 2015, 10,565 Palestinians, mainly civilians, were either directly killed by Israel or died as a result of Israel’s occupation (such as being denied access to medical care at a military checkpoint). In the same period, 1,216 Israelis were killed, of whom 551 were civilians. (428 were soldiers or other security personnel and 230 were settlers.) (Source: Journal of Palestine Studies.)

Between January 2000 and January 2016, Israeli forces killed 1,977 Palestinian children—that is an average of 2–3 Palestinian children per week, or over 130 per year, since 2000. (Source: Defense for Children International-Palestine.) The number of Israeli children killed at the hands of Palestinian militants from September 2000 to July 2014 is 131. (Source: Remember These Children.)

For more on Palestinian children killed by Israel and the routine lack of accountability for Israeli soldiers found to have killed children: “A Reckless and Negligent Act,” Israel’s Justice System.

Lastly, below we feature a concise essay from Columbia University Prof. Rashid Khalidi that served as his editor’s introduction to our quarterly journal’s Special Issue on Operation Protective Edge. As Khalidi argues, the devastation Israel wrought on Gaza’s civilian population during the summer 2014 war was the result of a deliberate policy to use disproportionate force, a policy first articulated by Israel’s Chief of General Staff, Gadi Eizenkot, as the so-called Dahiya Doctrine (in reference to the Dahiya suburb of Beirut which the Israel Defense Forces leveled using 2,000-pound bombs and other ordnance in July 2006).

In 2008, Eizenkot made clear what future Israeli wars would look like: “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. . . . We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. . . . This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.”

Sanders might call that “indiscriminate” warfare.

This overview provides summation and context documenting Israel’s actions that betray an utter disregard for Palestinian life. We invite Sanders, his campaign, and all interested parties to visit the Institute for Palestine Studies, the most comprehensive source on Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict, for more information.

By Khelil Bouarrouj.

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