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Although Winston Churchill (or Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli, depending on your source) once famously defined three types of falsehood as "lies, damn lies, and statistics," the latter do occasionally serve the purpose of illuminating the truth.
Take for example, the list below, provided by the IDF, of all fatalities caused by Kassam rocket fire since Palestinian terrorists in Gaza began utilizing them.
List of Deaths Caused by Kassam Rocket Fire Within Israel - Total Deaths: 8
* 28.06.04 - Afik Ohion Zehavi, aged 4, killed when a rocket landed in his nursery school in Sderot;
* 28.06.04 - Mordechai Yosephus, aged 49, killed when a rocket landed in a kindergarten in Sderot;
* 29.09.04 - Dorit Inso, aged 2, killed when two rockets hit her home;
* 29.09.04 - Yuval Abeva, aged 4, killed when two rockets hit his residence building;
* 15.01.05 - Ayala Haya Abukasis, aged 17, killed when a rocket landed in Sderot;
* 15.07.05 - Dana Glakowitz, aged 22, killed by a rocket that landed in a house in Netiv Ha'asara, while visiting a friend.
* September 2005 - the IDF completes its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
* 28.03.06 - Salam Ziadin and his 17-year-old son Khalid, killed when examining an unexploded rocket in the Nahal Oz area.
Israeli Communities in the Gaza Strip (including Mortar Shells) until August 2005 - Total Deaths: 7
* 24.11.01 - Sgt 1st Class Medmon Barak, aged 26, killed when several mortar shells landed in the Neveh Dekalim area;
* 24.08.04 - Tiferet Turner, killed when a mortar shell landed in the Neveh Dekalim area;
* 28.10.04 - Sgt. Michael Tsadik, killed when a mortar shell landed near an army base;
* 14.12.04 - Assa Tap Tachkilda, killed when a mortar shell landed in the Ganei Tal greenhouse perimeter;
* 02.01.05 - Nissim Arbiv, killed when a mortar shell landed in the Erez Industrial Zone;
* 07.06.05 - Salah Ameran, aged 55, killed when a mortar shell landed in the Ganei Tal greenhouse perimeter;
* 07.06.05 - Sue da Be, killed when a mortar shell landed in the Ganei Tal greenhouse perimeter.
WHAT DO these statistics tell us? A few things of great importance.
First off, Kassams kill. Despite their crude nature they are effective weapons, actually made even more so by a primitive design that makes it impossible to defend against using any existing anti-missile technology.
This is the answer to those who argue that Israel's current military operation in Gaza is "disproportionate." Would any nation not take serious action to stop a threat that has killed 15 of its residents and wounded dozens more?
The only way to stop a Kassam from killing is to prevent it from being launched, and the only way to do that is to stop the people who launch them. When Israel completely withdrew all its forces from Gaza last summer, along with all Israeli civilians, it lost the ability to routinely detain or arrest those responsible for the Kassam attacks.
Only the Palestinians have that ability now. Unfortunately, those who are launching Kassams are openly committed to Israel's total destruction, while those Palestinians who are willing to seek a negotiated settlement have, thus far, not demonstrated the will to take on these extremists and end the attacks, even though Gaza is now fully in the control of the Palestinian Authority.
So if the Palestinians are not going to stop the Kassams, Israel's only defensive options are either the targeted killings it carries out against those that encourage, plan or perpetrate the Kassam attacks, or a ground operation of the kind the IDF is currently carrying out in Gaza.
These are not permanent solutions to the Kassam problem; the only real answer may well be a Palestinian society with even minimal standards of law and order, a society in which terrorism is reviled, not celebrated. But Israel's military steps can at least impede the rate of Kassam attacks, and this goal by itself justifies the actions Israel is taking.
THERE IS another important fact to note from the list of Kassam fatalities. All of them - with the exception of two - occurred prior to Israel's pullout from Gaza last summer.
Why is that? The first reason is obvious: More than half of the fatalities on this list prior to the disengagement were residents of the Gaza settlement communities, which because of their location were by far those most vulnerable to terrorist attacks emanating from Gaza, including the Kassam strikes. By relocating this population, most of it admittedly against its will, the government succeeded in moving it either out of, or least a great deal further from, harm's way.
There is another reason why Kassam fatalities dropped dramatically this year - and, concurrently, why the attacks began to equally rise again in the past few months. The answer again lies in statistics, contained in the chart:
AS YOU CAN see, the rate of Kassam attacks dropped significantly in the first half of the year, following disengagement. One reason surely is that during this period the Palestinian Authority security forces made more of an effort to stop Kassam launches from taking place.
All that changed last February. Why? It's pretty easy to surmise; in this period the new Hamas government took power, and those terror groups launching the Kassams suddenly felt they had a freer hand to do so, despite Hamas's own claim at the time that it was continuing to observe its self-declared hudna or cease-fire.
It was this steady climb to some 100 Kassam attacks a month, combined with the Palestinian assault on the Kerem Shalom outpost and kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit on the Israeli side of the Gaza border that led to Israel's temporary military return to Gaza in Operation Summer Rain. It is a military action that is justified by events, and neither proves nor disproves the wisdom of last summer's disengagement plan.
Or at least, that's what the statistics tell us. What they cannot tell us, though, is what will - or should - happen next. Because while statistics can help us illuminate the past and clarify the present, they cannot help us predict the future.
Anyone who thinks otherwise is a liar - a damn liar, at that.
The writer is director of The Israel Project's Jerusalem Media Resource Center. www.theisraelproject.org
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