Institute for the Study of Asymmetric Conflict

An Engineered Tragedy: Summary of Findings

Updated: May 21, 2003


Summary of Findings

Don Radlauer


An ongoing study by the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya provides an in-depth look at the fatalities on both sides of the current Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Based on thorough research using Palestinian and Israeli open sources, the study provides a breakdown of those killed by age, gender, and combatant status. The results lead to some surprising conclusions.

Combatants, Noncombatants, and Responsibility

Almost 1900 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the “al-Aqsa Intifada”, compared to almost 700 Israelis. Numbers like these are used to create an image of lopsided slaughter, with Israel cast as the villain. But such numbers distort the true picture: They lump combatants in with noncombatants, suicide bombers with innocent civilians, and report Palestinian “collaborators” murdered by their own compatriots as if they had been killed by Israel.

More meaningful figures show that Israel is responsible for some 733 Palestinian noncombatant deaths, while Palestinians have killed 546 Israeli noncombatants. Over 54 percent of the Palestinians killed were actively involved in fighting – and this does not include stone-throwers or “unknowns”. And Palestinians are directly responsible for the deaths of at least 253 of their own number – more than one out of every eight Palestinians killed.
On the Israeli side, 80 percent of those killed have been noncombatants. While Israelis account for about 27 percent of the total “Intifada” fatalities, they represent over 43 percent of the noncombatant victims.


Breakdown by Gender

Women and girls account for 31 percent of all Israelis killed in the conflict, and almost 40 percent of the Israeli noncombatants killed by Palestinians.

Palestinian fatalities, in contrast, have been consistently and overwhelmingly (over 95 percent) male; even when combatants (almost all of whom have been male) are removed from consideration, just 8 percent of Palestinians killed by Israel have been female.

In absolute terms, even though more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed overall, Israeli female fatalities have far outnumbered Palestinian female fatalities. If we include all reliable reports of women and girls killed in the conflict, the ratio is 219 Israeli females compared to 92 Palestinian females – a ratio of almost 2.5 to 1. If we restrict the comparison to noncombatant Israeli females killed by Palestinians and noncombatant Palestinian females killed by Israel, the difference is even more dramatic: 69 Palestinians compared to 214 Israelis, a ratio of three to one.


Breakdown by Age

Israeli combatant fatalities are concentrated in a narrow age range, as we would expect for soldiers in a uniformed army. Israeli noncombatants, in contrast, display a near-random age distribution. This is equally unsurprising, given that these fatalities are the result of terrorist attacks on accessible civilian targets.


Palestinian fatalities present a quite different picture. Palestinian combatant fatalities, like those on the Israeli side, are concentrated in a narrow age range – although this concentration is slightly less pronounced. (This is unsurprising, given that Palestinian combatants are mostly members of unofficial terrorist/guerilla organizations.) Palestinian noncombatant fatalities, however, show an age distribution completely unlike that on the Israeli side. Instead of a “sloppy” distribution over a broad range of ages, Palestinian noncombatant fatalities are heavily concentrated among teenagers and young adults.


“Mature” and Young Fatalities

A more specific focus on older and younger victims of the conflict further highlights the difference between Palestinian and Israeli noncombatant fatalities. When we compare the “mature” noncombatant Israelis killed by Palestinians to the “mature” Palestinian noncombatants killed by Israel, we see that the Israeli death toll far exceeds the Palestinian. In fact, Palestinians have killed at least 174 noncombatant Israelis aged 45 and over, while Israelis have killed 65 Palestinian noncombatants in the same age bracket. The ratio is 2.7 to 1.

When we look at children and teenaged noncombatants killed in the conflict, we see a rather strange pattern. Among both Palestinians and Israelis, the number of young children (under the age of ten years old) is comparatively small (although more young Israeli children were killed as a proportion of total fatalities). The number of Palestinian children killed begins to increase at about 10 years of age, and jumps up dramatically between the ages of 12 and 13. However, the increase consists entirely of boys – the number of Palestinian girls killed shows no age-trend, and is very low for all ages.


Young Israelis killed by Palestinians show a different profile: Both boys and girls show an increase starting at age 14 (perhaps a year earlier for boys), and just as many teenaged girls were killed as teenaged boys.


Another Look at Age and Gender

It is worth taking another look at the relationship between age and gender among the noncombatant victims of the conflict. If we look at Palestinian noncombatants killed by Israel, we see that the few female fatalities appear to be randomly distributed by age. The male fatalities, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly young (although, as noted above, relatively few are below the age of ten). To be more precise, at least 60 percent of all Palestinian noncombatants killed by Israel were boys and men between the ages of 12 and 29.

Israeli noncombatants killed by Palestinians show a much closer balance between the sexes – as mentioned above, three out of eight were women and girls. In fact, slightly more girls than boys were killed below the age of 20; and the ratio is about one-to-one for those aged 60 and over.

In contrast to the high percentage of male Palestinian noncombatants between 12 and 29 years of age, only 26 percent of Israeli noncombatants killed by Palestinians were males from 12 to 29 years old.


The Significance of the Statistical Patterns

The statistics show that Israeli noncombatants over the last 23 months have been killed essentially at random, as Palestinian terrorists have chosen to attack whichever civilian targets were accessible. Palestinian fatalities, however, have been strongly concentrated within a particular population segment – teenaged boys and young men.

Population segments like women or older people are not military targets; thus their higher prevalence among Israeli fatalities is an indication of the degree to which Palestinian terrorists have killed Israelis simply for the “crime” of being Israeli.

In contrast, Palestinian noncombatant fatalities have been overwhelmingly young (but over the age of 11) and male. This pattern of Palestinian deaths completely contradicts accusations that Israel has “indiscriminately targeted women and children.” It is clear that the vast majority of the Palestinians killed did not die as the result of random Israeli attacks on inhabited areas, or on mixed-sex crowds at roadblocks and the like. There appears to be only one reasonable explanation of this pattern: that Palestinian men and boys engaged in behavior that brought them into conflict with Israeli armed forces. Certainly, at least after the first few days of the conflict, these Palestinian men and boys (or, in the case of the younger ones, their parents and teachers) have to have been aware that they were placing themselves in harm’s way.

In fact, the highly specific pattern of Palestinian noncombatant fatalities suggests that many of these deaths have resulted from an active Palestinian indoctrination campaign glorifying “martyrdom” – effectively encouraging boys and young men to confront Israeli forces and risk death even when there was no real likelihood of causing material harm to Israelis.

For further details, see the Full Report: An Engineered Tragedy: Statistical Analysis of Casualties in the Palestinian - Israeli Conflict, September 2000 - August 2002

NEW! We now also offer an up-to-date Israeli/Palestinian Conflict Statistics page with the latest totals from our database, as well as a full database query function for viewing "Intifada" incidents and casualty data. You can access all these features through ICT's Arab-Israeli Conflict Page.