Who is a terrorist?

The following statement was released on November 2 by Israel’s leading human rights group, B’Tselem:

On October 30, Israel ‘s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly told the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs Committee that in the past three months, the Israeli military has killed 300 “terrorists” in the Gaza Strip in its war against terror groups.

According to B’Tselem’s investigation, the IDF did indeed kill 294 Palestinians in Gaza since the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 26 and until October 27. However, over half of those killed – 155 people, including 61 children – did not participate in the fighting when they were killed. This in addition to the 137 who were killed while taking part in hostilities, and another two who were the targets of a targeted killing.

In a letter sent today to the Prime Minister, B’Tselem’s Executive Director, Jessica Montell wrote that the information provided to the Committee indicates that the government of Israel considers all those who were killed to be terrorists who deserved to die. Such a claim sends a dangerous message to soldiers and officers, according to which unarmed Palestinian civilians are a legitimate target. The statement contains within it a twisted logic whereby the fact that someone was killed by the military proves that he or she is a terrorist.

Treating all casualties as terrorists constitutes a blatant violation of the principle of distinction, one of the foundations of international humanitarian law. The principle requires all sides in an armed conflict to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians who are not taking part in the hostilities. The deliberate killing of civilians is a war crime. Even if the other side breaches the principle of distinction, as Palestinian organizations do when they attack Israeli civilians, international law does not allow Israel to respond in a way that violates the said principle.

B’Tselem sent the entire list of casualties to the Prime Minister and called on him to instruct the defense establishment to strictly comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law, and in particular the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians.… 

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