"The Israeli forces are happy to kill children."
There was no question mark at the end of the sentence. It was a statement, delivered with steely-eyed insistence by BBC News presenter Anjana Gadgil as she interviewed former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett about the week’s events in Jenin on Wednesday.
Bennett seemed momentarily stunned, as though he couldn’t quite believe that an anchor with Britain’s national broadcaster was regurgitating an antisemitic blood libel dating back to the Middle Ages on live television.
The interview had been hostile from the very start.
“The Israeli military is calling this a ‘military operation,’ but we now know that young people are being killed, four of them under 18,” Gadgil launched at Bennett after thanking him for joining the broadcast. “Is that really what the military set out to do? To kill people between the ages of 16 and 18?”
First, the facts: according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 12 Palestinians were killed during Israel’s counterterrorism operation in Jenin. According to open-source intelligence reports, every single one of them was a combatant and all were affiliated with Palestinian terrorist groups and armed factions: seven with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, three with the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, one with Hamas, and one with Fatah.
According to international law, a combatant actively engaged in warfare – as all of the Palestinian terror operatives killed in Jenin were – is a combatant no matter his or her age and there is ample legal literature to that effect.
Bennett, to his credit, calmly explained the context of the operation, including the dozens of Israelis who have been murdered in terror attacks emanating largely from Jenin over the past year. He then went on to note that all of the Palestinians killed in Jenin were, in fact, terrorists.
“Terrorists, but children,” retorted Gadgil. “The Israeli forces are happy to kill children.”
“You know, it’s quite remarkable that you’d say that, because they’re killing us,” Bennett responded. “Now, if there’s a 17-year-old Palestinian that’s shooting at your family, Anjana, what is he?”
Gadgil looked momentarily taken aback before slowly responding, “Under your definition, you are calling them terrorists. The UN are calling them…”
Bennett interjected. “No, no, I’m actually asking you,” he said. “What would you call a 17-year-old person with a rifle shooting at your family and murdering your own family? How would you define that person?”
And then Gadgil uttered the most telling line of the exchange.
“We’re not talking about that,” she snapped.
Of course not.
THE EVENTS of the past week were painfully straightforward. Jenin has been a hub of terror activity for decades; in the early 2000’s the city was called the “suicide bomber capital” of the West Bank. After several years of economic growth and relative calm, over the past year or so that terror activity has increased, claiming dozens of Israeli lives, and the terrorist groups responsible for it have entrenched themselves in the city. Today, roughly one out of every four residents of the city is affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad – a group funded and directed by Iran – and one out of every five is associated with Hamas. The Palestinian Authority, which has full control over the city, has been unable or unwilling to rein in the groups, despite repeated Israeli demands that it do so.
After several deadly terrorist attacks in recent weeks, the Israeli government realized it had no choice but to step in and do the job itself. On Monday, the IDF and other Israeli security forces entered the city in a pinpoint operation aimed at uprooting the terror infrastructure there and particularly in the Jenin refugee camp. Rather than using the massive firepower at its disposal, Israel opted to send infantry troops into the city in order to keep Palestinian casualties to a minimum. That effort was successful. As noted, 12 Palestinian terrorists were killed in battle. One Israeli soldier, 23-year-old Sergeant-Major David Yehuda Yitzhak of Beit El, was also killed; the IDF is investigating whether his death was due to friendly fire. No uninvolved civilians lost their lives in Jenin.
None of that, of course, matters to those to whom facts are irrelevant.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) decried the “Jenin massacre.” Professional propagandist Mohammed El-Kurd tweeted about the “massacre in Jenin.” WAFA, the official Palestinian Authority news agency, referred to “Israel’s latest massacre in Jenin.” Jenin’s mayor, Nidal Obeidi, said the Israeli operation was “a real massacre and an attempt to wipe out all aspects of life inside the city and the [refugee] camp.”
TO THOSE whose memories extend back a few years, this all sounds eerily familiar.
In April 2002, after a wave of deadly Palestinian suicide bombings – culminating in the mass murder of 30 Israelis at a Passover seder in Netanya’s Park Hotel – Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield across the West Bank. The monthlong operation targeted terrorists and terrorist infrastructure in several Palestinian cities but some of the most intense combat took place in Jenin and its refugee camp.
Eschewing airstrikes and heavy artillery fire in order to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties, Israeli soldiers went house to house in the camp, searching for terrorists. Many of the homes had been boobytrapped and the soldiers walked into several ambushes involving close-range gunfire and at least one suicide bomber. 23 Israeli soldiers were killed – including 14 in a single day – and 52 were wounded. Some 53 Palestinians, including 48 terrorists, were also killed in the operation.
One senior Islamic Jihad terrorist who had been taken alive later told CNN how shocked the terrorists were when they realized the IDF was putting its own soldiers at risk in order to protect Palestinian civilian lives.
“It was like hunting, like being given a prize. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the soldiers,” Tabaat Mardawi said from an Israeli prison several days after the operation ended. “The Israelis knew that any soldier who went into the camp like that was going to get killed.”
“I’ve been waiting for a moment like that for years,” he said.
NEVERTHELESS, then, as now, Palestinians and others started circulating claims about a “massacre” in Jenin. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) rushed to call for an independent investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in the city. In a stroke of unintended irony, Amnesty’s Professor Derrick Pounder accused Israel of committing a massacre based not on the evidence but on a lack thereof, charging that Israeli authorities had buried the proof of their soldiers’ supposed crimes.
“What was striking was what was absent,” he said after visiting Jenin. “There were very few bodies in the hospital. There were also none who were seriously injured, only the walking wounded. Thus we have to ask: Where are the bodies and where are the seriously injured?”
Never did it occur to the esteemed professor that the reason he couldn’t find evidence of war crimes was that none had, in fact, occurred.
Several weeks later, his own organization said there was no evidence of an Israeli massacre in Jenin. “There was no massacre,” Amnesty and HRW each concluded in their respective reports from the city. A UN report said that the Palestinian claim of a massacre “has not been substantiated in the light of evidence that has emerged.” Even the BBC accused the Palestinians of making “unsubstantiated claims of a wide-scale massacre.”
Mark Twain is credited with having uttered that famous witticism, “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.” If he actually did say it, it would have been well over a century ago (there is evidence that the quote long preceded him). Today we find ourselves in an era in which the truth can hardly reach for its boots before the lie has done its damage. Whether it’s a newscaster accusing Israel of happily murdering children or a member of Congress inventing a fake Israeli massacre, there are some who will stop at nothing – no matter how outrageous, and no matter the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – to demonize and defame the Jewish state.
We must always stand against them, uncovering the truth and bringing it to light. And so we will.