Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Putting Things Into Perspective

My week-long debate with Chardal over transfer has yet to reach an impasse, but it led me to think about putting the rocket fire in Sderot and the Intifada in perspective. Chardal argues for transfer partly because he believes it will lead to less overall suffering than what will occur without transfer. I argued that transfer will create tremendous amounts of suffering, including for Israelis. Chardal responded,

"What the heck do you think is happening now??? at least then there will be an end in sight and not this impossible situation."

I've encountered this attitude elsewhere, and I while I sympathize, it is wrongheaded.

Let's take a look at how many Israeli civilians have died since 2000. Israel's foreign ministry has a chart that goes until 2006. 1146 Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists between 2000 and 2007. That's a total of around 164 Israelis a year. That's an unfortunate number, but let's be realistic.

The U.S. Department of Justice keeps homicide statistics for all the large cities in the US. Anyone who has ever lived in New York City knows that it used to have a much higher murder rate than it does today. Now it is considered one of the safest big cities in the US. So let's compare NYC and Israel.

According to the Foreign Ministry's chart, the worst year of the Intifada was 2002. That year 451 Israelis were killed by Palestinian terror. Since it is simplistic to account for only terrorism and not regular homocide, let's add up the two to determine the total number of Israeli civilians killed illicitly by others in 2002. This chart lists the total murders in Israel over time, but it does not have the numbers for 2002. Since in 03 the number was 206, let's assume 199 people were murdered in 02. That makes the total number of murders from terrorism and regular homocide 650. Moreover, 328 Israeli soldiers were killed in battle with Palestinian terrorists from 2000-05. Since I don't have more exact numbers, we can apportion roughly based on how many Israeli civilians were killed each year. So let's assume 150 soldiers were killed in 2002, 100 in 2003, and the rest in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Israel's population in 2006 was 7,116,700 but let's only use the Jewish population for this study, which is 5,394,400. Since I can't find more exact numbers for all the years, we'll use that number from the year 2000 and on.

If we use these numbers, the total number of deaths from terrorism, homicide and war per 100,000 people in Israel in 2002 was 14.8. Let's take NY in the same year. Population: 8,008,288, homicides: 587 for a homicide rate per 100,000 of 7.3. So Israel was definitely less safe than NY at the same time.

But what about other years? Let's take NYC during the Guiliani era. In 1995, a year when I took the subways from YU through Harlem and Washington Heights all the time, NYC's population was 7,332,564 and 1177 people were killed. The rate was 16.1 murdered per 100,000. So one had a greater chance of being murdered in NYC in 1995 than one did in Israel during its single worse year since Oslo.

2003 was also a bad year in Israel. About 516 people were murdered, including 210 in terror attacks, which is 9.6 per 100,000. NY had 597 murders. which is 7.5 per 100,000. So one was more likely to be murdered in Israel during the height of the Intifada than in NYC. By 2004, however, NYC was a more dangerous place, with 7.1 murders per 100,000 to 6.1 in Israel (if we assume 40 soldiers were killed that year). The numbers in Israel have gone down substantially since 04, with only 30 people killed in Palestinian terror attack in 2006. If we overestimate the number of homicides at 200, that means 230 were murdered for a rate of 4.3 per 100,000. That is substantially less than the rate in NYC right now.

Even if we take into account the second Lebanon War, and presume 200 homicides occurred in Israel in 2006, Israel's death per 100,000 is only 7.3, which is actually lower than the rate in NY in 2002 (7.32) and 2003 (7.5) and only slightly higher than NY in 2004 (7.1).

My point is not that Israelis have a great life. Surely Sderot is a horrible situation, but it is important to point out that less than 10 people have been killed by rockets there since Hamas started firing rockets at Israel in 2005. That is less than the number of people murdered in NYC in a little more than week in 2007, and less than the number of New Yorkers murdered in two days in 1990.

Israel has an obligation to stop the rockets, it is shortsighted to claim that Israel's situation is untenable. The Yom Kippur War lasted for 21 days, and 2700 soldiers lost their lives. Real wars wreak much more havoc on Israel than anything we've seen since the first Lebanon War. Ideas like transfer might decrease the number killed in terrorist attacks but they increase the chances of actual war. Let's try to remember that before calling for radical "solutions."

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