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From the field

Explanation of statistics on fatalities

B’Tselem’s database contains information about all individuals – Palestinians, Israelis and foreign nationals – killed in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians since the Second Intifada broke out in September 2000. The database is brought up to date with the latest information B’Tselem receives.

The information on Palestinian fatalities is based on B’Tselem’s investigation of each case. B’Tselem examines the circumstances of each death, including taking down eyewitness accounts wherever possible and gathering official documents (copies of identification documents, death certificates and medical records), photographs and video footage. B’Tselem crosschecks these details with information published by Palestinian and international human rights organizations, and with IDF Spokesperson statements, announcements by Palestinian armed groups, and media reports.

Immediately after the Second Intifada broke out, Israel declared the situation in the Occupied Territories to be one of “armed conflict.” Under international humanitarian law (IHL), which applies in such circumstances, B’Tselem notes whether or not each fatality had “participated in hostilities” (where the information B’Tselem has is insufficient to make a determination, the list states it is unknown whether the individual had participated in the hostilities). B’Tselem has applied this classification to all Palestinians killed in Gaza since September 2000. In the West Bank, however, B’Tselem ceased to apply this classification to fatalities as of January 2009 (when Operation Cast Lead ended), as the situation in the West Bank could no longer reasonably be considered one of “armed conflict.” Consequently, the names of all Palestinians killed in the West Bank since Operation Cast Lead are provided only with a short description of the facts of the incident.

Applying the principles of IHL, in the early years of the Second Intifada, B’Tselem based its determination of whether or not a person had participated in hostilities on his/her actions when killed. Individuals who took direct part in hostilities at the time they were killed, were classified as “participated in hostilities” and those who were engaged in other activities at the time they were killed were classified as “did not take part in hostilities.”

In 2008, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) developed a new approach to the question, ascribing “participation in hostilities” not only to persons engaged in such activities at the time they were killed, but also to persons fulfilling a continuous combat function. This category includes persons who are trained to order or execute combative actions or operations. Such persons remain in this category even if they are not participating directly in such actions and even if they were not engaged in hostilities at the time of death. B’Tselem has applied the ICRC’s approach in classifying fatalities since Operation Cast Lead.

Please note that classification under these categories, both before and after 2008, should not be taken to imply any stand as to the legal or moral legitimacy of the use of lethal force against the person killed. This question hinges only on the specifics of each and every case, not on theoretical legal definitions.