death in gaza 88.
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As international condemnation has rolled in for Israel over the dreadful deaths of Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beach on Friday night - before the IDF has even conclusively determined whether they were killed by errant Israeli or Palestinian fire - it is worth stressing a few simple truths that tend to get obscured at such fevered moments.
Firstly, Israel, while confronting an enemy publicly committed to maximizing civilian fatalities, seeks relentlessly to minimize such casualties even as it defends itself. Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists deliberately aim to kill and maim civilians, both in disputed and purportedly non-disputed Israeli-controlled territory, and show little concern for any "collateral" damage such attacks may inflict on their own people. Israel, in absolute contrast, acts concertedly to thwart the terrorists, not to attack the civilians from whose residential areas the terror cells despicably operate.
Secondly, in times of war and conflict, accidents happen. Israel is properly investigating Friday's incident; it genuinely wants to understand what happened to ensure that, if the IDF was responsible, lessons are learned and appropriate preventative steps taken.
Thirdly, and of crucial importance in understanding our often bloody reality, it is a simple and undeniable fact, and one that should go without saying but evidently must be repeated, that Israel would have no interest in, nor any need to be firing artillery shells or any other weaponry into the Gaza Strip were sovereign Israeli territory not coming under incessant attack from Gaza.
In a traumatic, initiated action last summer, Israel withdrew its civilian residents and its military forces from the Gaza Strip. It stakes no claim to territory there. It wants only quiet on that border. Its ongoing connection to Gaza encompasses such aspects as supplying water and electricity to the Palestinians, as well as seeking to control air, sea and land borders, as much as is possible, to try to prevent the smuggling of arms. It would willingly lift such efforts at border control if only it could be confident that the Palestinian Authority was led by a government that would take the responsibility upon itself for preventing arms smuggling and for preventing the use of arms against Israel.
The bitter truth, however, is that, far from such a government, the Palestinians chose earlier this year to place their fate in the hands of a PA dominated by the Islamic extremists of Hamas. The leadership of Hamas purports to want to serve the interests of the Palestinian people, but in resolutely delegitimizing Israel, encouraging terror and preaching an ideology at utter odds to reconciliation, it actually serves the reverse purpose: It is perpetuating a conflict that can only bring harm and despair.
Hamas's very reaction to Friday's deaths underlines the bankruptcy of its approach. A leadership that genuinely sought to act in the interest of its people would call for, and determinedly act to achieve a halt in the unceasing fire of Kassam rockets and intermittent other anti-Israeli assaults from Gaza into Israel. Self-evidently, after all, a halt to such rocket fire would obviate the need for any Israeli response and thus ensure the well-being of ordinary Palestinians.
Instead, Hamas has itself now openly rejoined the ranks of those terror groups firing Kassams across the border, in turn requiring further Israeli action to try to thwart the fire. For all the efforts Israel has made and will make to try to reduce civilian casualties in such terror-thwarting responses, Hamas, in urging the Kassam crews on to greater violence, is deliberately putting its own people in potential harm's way.
OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen Yoav Gallant spelled this out in a briefing for military correspondents on Friday. "I suggest that the Palestinians not attack us again, as we will have to respond," he said. "If terror organizations continue to fire at our civilian population, we will have to respond severely. We are under attack, and will use any means necessary while taking the utmost precautions. Sadly accidents do happen. This is a bad incident and if it was in fact caused by a mishap, we will see how we fix it."
Those who would condemn Israel for attempting to protect itself are not, in fact, serving the interests of the innocents for whom they claim to be concerned. The way to avoid bloodshed is to demand and ensure a halt to the original acts of aggression, not to blame a nation under attack on those occasions, of which Friday may or may not turn out to be a rare example, when its efforts at self-defense misfire.