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The power of numbers

"Malki will never become just another number," we vowed, days after our daughter was murdered in the August 2001 terror attack on Jerusalem's Sbarro pizzeria. We never imagined that she could ever fade into less than "just a number."

Yet that is what has happened to her in the mindset of Israel's spokesmen...

Like Malki, the scores of Israeli children murdered since October 2000 have been forgotten. Their precise number has never been tallied by our government, let alone publicized in the international media.

Deflated statistics of Israeli children murdered by Palestinians in this millennium have been widely disseminated on Palestinian Web sites. There they are cited in comparison with the far greater numbers of Palestinian children killed in this conflict.

The refrain "numbers speak louder than words" is now being brandished obsessively in columns and reports about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the number of Gazan civilians killed in Operation Cast Lead, the number of Gazan houses destroyed, the number of Gazan women and children injured. Their impact on world opinion is immeasurable.

Here is what Prof. Rashid Khalidi wrote about numbers in an op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times this past January, while the Gaza campaign was underway: "But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers."

There is no doubt that Palestinian numbers have won many hearts and minds. The recent resurgence of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism - January and February saw a sharp rise worldwide - is, in many instances, testimony to that.

The numbers cited by the Palestinians dodge issues and trump logic. They obviate the need to explain how Israel is supposed to react to attacks on its civilians without incurring the ire of "human rights" defenders. Those numbers ignore the dilemma Israel faces when its enemy hides in hospitals and in apartment buildings filled with women and children and other noncombatants.

But the numbers "game" is not played for fun and we can no longer afford to ignore it. Israel's security depends to a large extent on how it scores in this unsavory game. Unfortunately, our spokesmen have been derelict in their duty by failing to arm themselves with fighting numbers.

The murders of 144 innocent Israeli children, targeted while they played, ate, studied, hiked or rode buses to and from school over the past eight years, are a potent verbal weapon. Not one of those children was armed, not one was caught in soldiers' crossfire, not one was used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers.

These 144 children provide a context for much of the IDF's activities since terrorism became a major threat in October 2000. This number explains the checkpoints, the security fence, the arrests, and even Operation Cast Lead - all of which have ignited venomous vilification of Israel. Against the backdrop of our murdered children, Israel's conduct can fairly be viewed as not only justified, but unavoidable.

Our phone calls and written inquiries to the appropriate government bodies failed to yield publication of the forgotten number. The tally was reached, rather, by reading the complete list of terror victims posted on the Web site of Israel's Foreign Ministry and counting the children one by one.

Why our diplomats have chosen to conceal the children bombed, shot and stabbed to death by Palestinians remains a conundrum. But it is not too late to rectify the error.

In numbers, at times, there can be strength.

Frimet Roth is a freelance writer in Jerusalem. Her daughter Malki was murdered at the age of 15 in the Sbarro restaurant bombing (2001). She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation, which provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.

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