Since its birth in 1948, Israel has not known a day of real peace with its neighbors. Israel’s wars have been wars of necessity, in which the Jewish state has been forced to defend itself from attacks by its neighbors.
In Israel’s first decades, the attacks typically came from armies, the fighting took place on battlefields, and most of the casualties were soldiers. Since Israel was not forced to fight in civilian areas, there were very few Arab civilian casualties.
But in recent decades, the attacks have come from terrorist groups – Hezbollah and Hamas – which fire their missiles from civilian areas. Any military response to an attack launched from a civilian area must take place in that same civilian area. Thus the terrorists – not Israel – are the ones putting these civilians in harm’s way.
Yet the fact that Israel must fight in civilian areas does not mean that Israel has the right to fight recklessly. Israel must target the terrorists and their weapons while striving to protect any non-combatants that may be nearby. And Israel goes to impressive lengths to do just that.
For starters, Israel is slow to react to provocation. Israel often absorbs hundreds of missiles fired at its cities and towns before launching any kind of sustained response. But if the missile fire continues, even Israel will eventually do what most other countries would have done far sooner: defend her citizens.
Once at war, Israel issues a series of warnings to civilians. Before operating in any neighborhood, Israel blankets the neighborhood with leaflets that set forth both the time operations will commence and the safe routes by which civilians can flee in advance. Those who heed these warnings can and do escape to safety.
Then, before striking any particular building, Israel issues more focused warnings. These typically involve calls and text messages to the cell phones of every inhabitant of a targeted building. Once again, those who heed the warnings can and do escape to safety.
Sadly, Hamas and Hezbollah do everything in its power to place and keep civilians in harm’s way. Their efforts to spike the civilian death toll include the following, documented techniques:
- Storing missiles in civilian areas (including apartments, mosques and schools) 14;
- Firing missiles from civilian areas; 15 and
- Forcing civilians to ignore Israeli warnings and remain in targeted areas. 16
The terrorists have a cynical strategy. They seek to bring Israeli rocket fire down upon civilians. Then they exploit these civilian deaths to generate international condemnation of Israel.
If these tactics don’t produce enough civilian casualties for their purposes, the terrorists will just make stuff up. They have used photos of civilian dead from other wars 17 and even from movies 18 to generate the outrage they seek.
When people condemn Israel for these civilian deaths, they are not protecting civilians. They are only rewarding the cynical tactics of Hamas and Hezbollah. Blaming Israel without holding these terrorist organizations responsible for their aggression is not only immoral, it’s dangerous.
14. UNWRA, “UNRWA Condemns Placement of Rockets, For a Second Time, in One of its Schools,” July 22, 2014 (http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/press-releases/unrwa-condemns-placement-rockets-second-time-one-its-schools) and Terrence McCoy, “Why Hamas stores its weapons inside hospitals, mosques and schools,” The Washington Post, July 31, 2014
15. Hamza Hendawi and Joseph Federman, “Evidence growing that Hamas used residential areas,” The Associated Press, September 12, 2014 and Adam Chandler, “Hamas Quietly Admits it Fired Rockets from Civilian Ares,” The Wire, September 12, 2014.
16. Adam Kredo, “Hamas orders civilians to die in Israeli airstrikes,” The Washington Free Beacon, July 10, 2014 and “Hamas tells Palestinian civilians to stay in homes in face of Israeli warnings,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 13, 2014.
17. For example see Adam Chandler, “Hamas Recycles Pictures of Syrian Dead,” Tablet Magazine, November 15, 2012.
18. For example, see Joshua Levitt, “Hamas Uses Horror Movie Still of Headless Girl in Miniskirt to Depict Gaza Casualties on Social Media, The Algemeiner, July 15, 2014.