The latest conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis is once again resulting in terrible suffering, horrific injuries and casualties on both sides. In previous conflicts, opinion has reflexively and, in my view, unjustifiably tended to favor the Palestinians. This time around, in spite of the usual mob protests in Europe and some of the clichéd images and taglines being shared in social media, it would seem that Hamas has so far miscalculated. Many global leaders and those in the media who would usually support their cause have failed to do so this time.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks that bombing children is OK. And in this cycle of violence, it seems more people are realizing that Hamas is happy to target civilians, including children, as it indiscriminately sends thousands of rockets into Israel. We also know that Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties. In addition to phone calls, texts and dropping leaflets to warn people to leave areas they’re targeting, the IDF has also developed the remarkable technique of “roof knocking” as explained and demonstrated here.
That some children in Gaza are dying has much less to do with Israel being indiscriminate and more to do with Hamas instructing families to not evacuate areas and even forcing children to huddle near rockets – see video of this ghastly act here.
It’s hard to make the case that Israel should allow launchers actively firing rockets into Israel to continue unabated and risk Israeli casualties just because madmen are surrounding them with their own civilians. If Canada was firing missiles at Seattle on a daily basis or infiltrating Washington State through a vast network of tunnels, what would we expect our leaders to do?
As a result, papers like the Washington Post are headlining editorials “Hamas is playing a dangerous game with Gazan lives”. It has rightly assessed that:
The Islamic movement calculates that it can win the concessions it has yet to obtain from Israel and Egypt not by striking Israel but by perpetuating the killing of its own people in Israeli counterattacks. More than 200 people, including a number of children, have already died in Gaza; Hamas probably calculates that more deaths will prompt Western governments to pressure Israel to grant Hamas’s demands.
Charles Krauthammer has written a great piece headlined “Moral clarity in Gaza”, which one friend shared on Facebook with the note “I can’t believe I’m in agreement with Krauthammer…. but I am.” It recaps some of the recent history of this long conflict. Krauthammer writes:
Apologists for Hamas attribute the blood lust to the Israeli occupation and blockade. Occupation? Does no one remember anything? It was less than 10 years ago that worldwide television showed the Israeli army pulling die-hard settlers off synagogue roofs in Gaza as Israel uprooted its settlements, expelled its citizens, withdrew its military and turned every inch of Gaza over to the Palestinians. There was not a soldier, not a settler, not a single Israeli left in Gaza.
And there was no blockade. On the contrary. Israel wanted this new Palestinian state to succeed. To help the Gaza economy, Israel gave the Palestinians its 3,000 greenhouses that had produced fruit and flowers for export. It opened border crossings and encouraged commerce.
In discussing the current situation he writes:
To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.
Presumably the title to Krauthammer’s op-ed alludes to the fact that prior to this recent outbreak in violence we often heard arguments that suggested that the Israeli and Palestinian situations were moral equivalents. They never were and perhaps this recent conflict has highlighted this like no other. When three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped then murdered, we witnessed Palestinian celebrations. When a Palestinian was murdered in a revenge killing, this resulted in a great deal of soul searching in Israel and the culprits were rounded up within days.
Pulitzer prize winning writer Brett Stephens recently touched on this in a column entitled “The Palestinian Blessing” (subscription may be required), in which he discussed how the Israelis are in many ways fortunate that the Palestinian strategy of rocket attacks against a far superior military force is doomed to fail. He went on to explain Israel’s Achilles’ heel, which a smarter Palestine led by a Gandhi or Vaclav Havel would be more likely to take advantage of to get the statehood it desires:
The real weakness is a certain kind of vanity that confuses stainlessness with virtue, favors moral self-regard over normal self-interest, and believes in politics as an exercise not in power but in self-examination. People, and nations, with such attitudes cannot be beaten militarily. But they can easily—too easily—be shamed. Witness the outpouring of national self-reproach following this month’s murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish assailants.
It may someday be that Palestinians will wise up; that the next intifada, should it come, will be Gandhian in its methods and philosophy; that the next Palestinian leader will be in the mold of Vaclav Havel, not Fidel Castro. In the face of that kind of movement, Israeli resistance to a Palestinian state would crumble.
Unfortunately, although Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah and leader of the West Bank has rightly asked Hamas leaders “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets? We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics”, he is no Palestinian Gandhi.
Thane Rosenbaum discussed the asymmetric nature of this conflict including the moral divide between Israel and the Palestinians in the Wall Street Journal:
On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.
It also calls your parenting skills into serious question. In the U.S. if a parent is found to have locked his or her child in a parked car on a summer day with the windows closed, a social worker takes the children away from the demonstrably unfit parent. In Gaza, parents who place their children in the direct line of fire are rewarded with an interview on MSNBC where they can call Israel a genocidal murderer.
Bret Stephens also wrote a recent column touching on the subject of Palestinian parenting entitled “Where are the Palestinian Mothers?” (subscription may be required). In it he quotes multiple proud mothers of Palestinians responsible for terrorist attacks against Israelis. He explains that he’s not ignoring the suffering of Palestinian women whose innocent children have died at Israeli hands:
To kill innocent people deliberately is odious, to kill them accidentally or “collaterally” is, at a minimum, tragic. I just have yet to meet the Israeli mother who wants to raise her boys to become kidnappers and murderers—and who isn’t afraid of saying as much to visiting journalists.
Those who are critical of Israel for undertaking the actions it is engaged in to defend herself need to offer more than calls for restraint, which would only result in increased Israeli casualties. It would seem to me that it is left with few options to defend against Hamas’s attacks and strategies. It’s inevitable that Israel will make mistakes in the course of the operations in which it is engaged. But when it does, as it has done before, it will engage in a lengthy cycle of investigations and soul searching. If only the Palestinians would do the same.