A friend in Israel bemoaned the fact this week that the world loses its moral bearings when it comes to Israel. Tragically, examples abound. One wonders whether it will make any difference to critics of the Jewish state that Hamas refused to abide by the proposed cease-fire that Israel had accepted on Tuesday. No doubt the media focus will continue to be on the damage inflicted by Israel, as it seeks to eradicate the rocket launchers and munitions factories in Gaza, rather than on the fact that Israeli citizens have been under ongoing attack for years — a situation no country would tolerate.
Further, Israel seeks to warn civilians in Gaza to abandon their homes in advance of bomb attacks intended for active combatants; Hamas, though, instructs people to stay put, insisting Israel is lying.
This Hamas tactic makes perfect sense if one understands that the terror group’s most effective — and morally repugnant — strategy is to increase the number of dead Gazan civilians, preferably women and children.
The practice is based on the fact that though Hamas rockets are errant and ineffective, the group knows that the world reacts emotionally to images of its own civilians suffering or fleeing their burned-out neighborhoods. And who with a heart would not?
Perhaps only Hamas leaders, because by embedding themselves, their rocket launchers and munitions factories in civilian neighborhoods and providing no bomb shelters, they ensure heavy casualties when Israel retaliates for Hamas rocket attacks. And it seems to work.
As the death toll in Gaza rose this week, Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees, said he was “deeply alarmed and affected by the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and the devastating human and physical toll it is taking on civilians, including Palestine refugees.” He called on the Israeli army to “put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians and civilian infrastructure which are contrary to international humanitarian law.”
He also called for Hamas to stop rocket fire aimed at Israel, which the UN calls “indiscriminate.” (Perhaps those who call for a “proportional response” from Israel would be satisfied if the IDF fired rockets indiscriminately into Gaza, without warning, to parallel Hamas actions.)
Among the ways that the mainstream media misapplies standards of fair journalism when it comes to the Israel-Arab conflict is in widely and prominently displaying images of suffering Gazans, just as Hamas wishes, far more than Israelis under duress. In journalistic parlance, “if it bleeds, it leads.” (Note that the death toll in Syria surpassed a staggering 170,000 this week, though we see relatively little of the horror; in part because media access is so limited and in part because so few care.) In addition, the media focuses on the number of causalities suffered rather than focusing on who is the aggressor and the intentions of the combatants.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, noted in a telephone press conference the other day that it is wrong to compare “body counts on both sides as a barometer of justice.”
The fact is that an estimated 180 Gazans have been killed by Israel while no Israelis have died in the exchange of rocket fire. Does this imply that Israel is somehow at fault for protecting its citizens through a sophisticated civil defense system, bomb shelters and, most remarkably, the Iron Dome system that wards off deadly attacks on heavily populated areas? Some have suggested that the Iron Dome’s very effectiveness has limited the IDF’s options to hit back at Gaza, out of concern over the resulting imbalance in each side’s casualties.
The world needs to remember that Hamas, internationally labeled a terror organization, has been the aggressive party since its founding, with a charter pledged to destroy Israel and Jews. Israel is not interested in conquering land, but rather in living in peace, and being accepted in the region as a legitimate state. How telling it is that when Israel uprooted all of its citizens and army presence from Gaza in 2005, the greenhouses left behind were destroyed and the Palestinian response was not the launching of a civil society but rather of rocket attacks on Israel’s southern communities. Which have never stopped.
Even during this week of battle, as Hamas fired more than 1,000 rockets, Jerusalem has continued to supply Gaza with food and fuel and other humanitarian aid as well as treat wounded Gazans in Israeli hospitals.
It would be a comfort for the media and international community to recognize these and other facts that underscore Israel’s moral high ground in this tragic round of combat. But Jerusalem has a higher priority — to do what it must to protect its citizens.