The Death Toll: Brutality or Self-Protection?

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Tuesday, 11.30 a.m., EST

Some 130 people have died in the current violence, all but eight of them Arab or Palestinian. This imbalance is leading to accusations that Israel is responding with disproportionate force. What are the Israelis saying?

"Well, as the head of the Israeli Defense Force told us in an interview, 'You ain't seen nothing yet.' Israel believes it is showing restraint and using only the minimum of necessary force. Of course that's debatable, and the TV images show that violence has stepped up. And as it gets closer to the tender center of Israel, particularly around Jerusalem, things are certainly heating up. Over the last couple of nights, Israel has responded with tank shells to Palestinians firing on the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem from the Palestinian town of Beit Jalla.

"Of course the people of Beit Jalla don't want to go on TV and say they're angry at the Palestinian Authority that these fellows are being allowed to come in amongst their buildings and firing at Jerusalem, knowing that the Israelis will fire back into a populated area. This was a technique used by Hezbollah in South Lebanon. They believed it would limit the Israeli response, and if it didn't and civilians were killed, that too would work to the advantage of Israel's enemies. There's certainly a lot of open ground from which to attack the Israelis, but they're not using it.

"Diplomats are concerned that this will quickly escalate. Right now it's confined to Gilo, but if there's an increase in attacks from Palestinians on adjacent Israeli neighborhoods, the Israeli response will be even heavier, because they would believe they were under attack at their very core."

Does the Israeli military believe they can tamp down the violence by making Palestinians pay a high price for attacking their outposts?

"No, this is simply their idea of a proportionate response to a person coming to kill them with rocks. Many Israeli soldiers are holed up in fortifications surrounded by Palestinians who want to kill them, whether with guns, stones or even their bare hands. So they're under great stress and have little room for maneuver. If they retreat from those outposts, the next stop is the settlements, and they'd have to shoot the Palestinians there if they kept on attacking. But it looks bad for Israel because it's constantly creating images of Israeli soldiers using military force against people who aren't soldiers.

"Looking back, it may be said that the high death toll early on certainly inflamed things. If Israel had shown more restraint early on, things might not have reached the point they have. The five deaths on the Temple Mount that first Friday after Sharon's visit enraged Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. That spurred the Israeli Arabs to come out and protest, and a number of them were killed, which was a real shock to the Israeli system. And things escalated dramatically that weekend."

"Although it's better for the Israeli troops than during the intifada, when the Israelis were patrolling every Palestinian town, there are still major friction points at the edge of those towns. And the use of weapons by the Palestinians has made the conflict a lot more deadly. And of course it's made even harder when one side believes in martyrdom while the better-armed and -trained people on the other side are primarily concerned with staying alive."