Truth, Prophetic Truth, and Statistics

Heavily armed Israeli soldiers face Palestinian youth after a demonstration near Kalandia checkpoint. Critics decrying a lack of "balance" in presentations on Palestine and Israel often obscure the lopsided power dynamic between occupier and occupied.

Heavily armed Israeli soldiers face Palestinian youth after a demonstration near Kalandia checkpoint. Critics decrying a lack of “balance” in presentations on Palestine and Israel often obscure the lopsided power dynamic between occupier and occupied.


I don’t know how much more strongly I can endorse this powerful, personal, and prophetic message by Munther Isaac, Vice Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College and director of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference. It was all I could do in my MCC Palestine Update blog post summary not to quote his entire speech. Now I don’t have to, thanks to filmmaker Porter Speakman Jr. (maker of the excellent With God on Our Side), who has posted this video. This is a must-watch—something I don’t often say.

While you’re waiting for that to buffer, I’ll tell you that one of Munther’s major themes is the the issue of “balance”. Regarding that concept, see the screenshot below from Israel’s Channel 10 news. Ami Kauffman, an Israeli blogger who posted this image at +972, complains that “the Israeli media makes the body count a central issue. What’s the score? How many did we kill, how many of our guys died? Cold and calculated statistics. Kind of like a baseball game.”

Channel 10’s military correspondent Alon Ben David showing the score: “Death toll: Israel: 0, Gaza: 25″ (photo:

I can see Kauffman’s point, but I’ve often made a point in my writing of emphasizing the “scoreboard” because it, more than most other indicators, shows just how unbalanced this conflict is. For example, (courtesy of the Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem):

  • Gaza bombardment, a.k.a. “Operation Cast Lead” (Dec.-Jan. 2008-2009):
    • 1,400 Palestinians killed by Israelis.
    • 9 Israelis killed by Palestinians.
  • From beginning of Second Intifada to before Cast Lead (Sept. 2000- Dec. 2008):
    • 4,904 Palestinians killed by Israelis.
    • 1,063 Israelis killed by Palestinians.
  • From beginning of First Intifada to before Second Intifada (1987- Sept. 2000):
    • 1,551 Palestinians killed by Israelis.
    • 361 Israelis killed by Palestinians.

It’s not a symmetrical cycle of tit-for-tat violence between two roughly equivalent sides as media portrayals so often suggest. It is an occupation by an overwhelmingly superior military force that consistently kills more civilians than combatants, versus an oppressed indigenous people with an extremist minority that has used armed resistance—often with reprehensible tactics that intentionally target civilians.

Of course, rockets fired from Gaza at civilian Israelis are not any more moral because they usually miss. Each Israeli death is no less tragic simply because there are fewer of them. But I agree with Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf that the rabbi who recently claimed that Israel’s extra-judicial killings of Palestinians are part of  the tikkun olam—the Jewish mandate to “repair the world”—“demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of Jewish thinking on Israel.” The mortal sins of state terror and insurgent terror may differ in their precise nature and degree, but both are mortal sins.

Read any reputable history of Israel’s 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars, and you will learn that despite the greater geographic size of Israel’s neighbors, Israel had significant military superiority in all of its conflicts. Israel may be tiny geographically, but it is the third-largest weapons exporter in the world. Not to mention the unequivocal support of the United States for most of its history. It is not a miraculous David that has defeated many Goliaths. A more appropriate metaphor fails me.

But I agree with Kauffman that scoreboard statistics obscure the humanity of those numbered among the dead. Each of these thousands had a face, a name, and a family. And each of them was a member of our human family, created in the image of God. In that sense, and only in that sense, are they all equal—whether civilian, soldier, or insurgent.

And it’s that last point I need to struggle with especially. The Christ at the Checkpoint conference seriously challenged me to take more personally Christ’s command to love my enemies—to move it from an intellectual assent to a humble and heart-felt posture. The reality represented by lopsided scoreboards makes this hard. But a recent open letter by Palestinian activists encouraged me that standing up for the dignity of all peoples needs to be part of any liberation struggle:

We reaffirm that there is no room in this historic and foundational analysis of our struggle for any attacks on our Jewish allies, Jews, or Judaism; nor denying the Holocaust; nor allying in any way shape or form with any conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities. Challenging Zionism, including the illegitimate power of institutions that support the oppression of Palestinians, and the illegitimate use of Jewish identities to protect and legitimize oppression, must never become an attack on Jewish identities, nor the demeaning and denial of Jewish histories in all their diversity.