In the wake of Operation Protective Edge, leaders of “the international community” have become obsessed with purported war crimes committed by Israel. In a despicable form of moral myopia, a magnifying glass is taken to the actions of Israel, while Hamas’s cynical manipulation of international law and its purposeful and systematic endangering of Palestinian civilians are conveniently ignored.
For instance, on Sunday, Israel carried out an air strike near a UN-operated school in Rafah that left 10 people dead. A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN, was quick to jump to conclusions. He described the attack as “a moral outrage and a criminal act.” He went on to say “This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable.”
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, also was quick to indict Israel. She described the bombing as “disgraceful,” adding, “We once again stress that Israel has to do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”
But closer examination of the case paints a more complex picture. An IAF fighter plane fired on three Islamic Jihad terrorists riding motorcycles. They were hit near the entrance to the UN school in Rafah. According to the IDF, it is not immediately clear whether the deaths of seven civilians killed along with the three Islamic Jihad terrorists was a result of the rocket Israel fired or whether it was caused by explosions resulting from bombs carried by the terrorists. The fact that this was a moving target further complicates the matter. But what is absolutely clear is that the school was not targeted.
Israel is also being accused of killing a disproportionate number of civilians. Many numbers are being bandied about regarding the ratio of civilians to combatants.
The UN claims that civilians make up 72 percent of the Palestinian deaths. Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, an NGO that refers to the IDF as the “Israeli occupations forces,” claims that 82% were civilians.
The IDF, based on reports by soldiers’ identity confirmations before attacks and declarations by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, says that 900 terrorists were killed.
A New York Times analysis, based on 1,431 Palestinian names, showed that the population most likely to be terrorists, men aged 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll. They are 9% of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34% of those killed.
Still, determining the precise number of combatants is notoriously difficult for a number of reasons. First, the very of definition of combatant is contested. Absurdly, if a Hamas terrorist fires a rocket and then returns to his civilian life, he ceases to be a combatant, according to a Q and A provided by Human Rights Watch on its website: “Civilians lose their immunity from attack when and only for such times as they are directly participating in hostilities,” says HRW.
Another major problem is the unreliability of the data.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations are doing their utmost to conceal the number of combatants who were killed. They do this by lying about names when providing data to the media.
And of course the most egregious violation is Hamas’s active attempts to get as many civilians killed as possible.
While Hamas’s leadership goes underground, the civilian population is not only deprived of bomb shelters, it is purposely exposed to the fighting. Rocket launchings as staged from crowded civilians areas (as documented by India’s brave NDTV news crew). Hamas and Islamic Jihad purposely use hospitals, schools and mosques to store arms. There have even been cases where Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists have forcibly prevented civilians from leaving areas slated for an IDF air strike.
At the very least, the tremendous complexities of the fighting in Gaza should engender a bit more reticence on the part of world leaders such as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who called for the suspension of UK-arms export licenses to Israel, and Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who accused Israel of perpetrating war crimes.
One wonders what motivates them to be so quick to indict Israel. Whatever it is, it has little to do with morality or the pursuit of justice.