You hear constantly that Hamas is using "human shields" in Gaza - that they deliberately fight behind Palestinian civilians because they know that Israel, being too moral to kill civilians, will be reluctant to fire back at them. But then you see the TV footage of dead fathers, mothers and children being pulled from the rubble of Gazan apartment buildings. You see the corpses lined up for burial, you hear about entire families being wiped out. You see all that endless destruction and you say - wait a minute. With Israel killing and wounding so many civilians and leveling so many apartment blocks, why would any Hamas fighter think that hiding among Palestinian civilians would give him much protection from Israel in this war? Hamas fighters aren't using human shields. They're taking cover wherever they can and so are Palestinian civilians. Gaza is a tiny, impossibly overcrowded place and it's being bombed and shelled up one side and down the other by Israel, and no place there is safe, not for guerrillas or civilians. We congratulate ourselves for dropping leaflets on Gazan neighborhoods warning the people to flee for their safety before the bombing starts. Where are they supposed to go? We're bombing all over the place. Human shields? Look at all those corpses. Look at that devastation. The concept of the human shield doesn't seem to apply to Gaza these days. I'm not saying the IDF is deliberately targeting ordinary Palestinians. I take the IDF's word that it is being about as surgical as possible about hitting Hamas targets, and doing all it can not to hit homes, schools, shops and other sites that are not part of the Gazan regime. BUT THERE are two problems with this Israeli hasbara: 1) The IDF is engaging in such overkill, it's laying down such an incredible amount of firepower on such a small, intensely crowded country, that the proportion of civilian casualties is bound to be high, and 2) Israel has adopted a pretty broad definition of the term "civilian." Yesterday morning I opened a Web site and the breaking news "crawl" across the top of the screen read: "Israeli warplane fires missile, destroys Gaza court building (AP)." If I hadn't been preparing this column, the item probably would have gone right past me. After all, Israel's been destroying court buildings and government buildings and other public buildings in Gaza for nearly three weeks now. They're called "symbols of Hamas power," which, in the view of the Israeli government, makes them legitimate targets. Not in my view. Whatever can be said about Gazan justice under Hamas, a courthouse is a civilian building, and the people who work there and go in and out of there are civilians. A courthouse should not be destroyed, even in war. But we've seen this from the beginning. On day one of Operation Cast Lead, Israeli jets bombed Gaza's police headquarters, killing about 100 traffic policemen. In Israel's view, traffic policemen don't count as civilians, but as "Hamas operatives." Aside from traffic cops, I wonder how many other non-combatants who worked for the Gazan government are on the list of dead and wounded "Hamas operatives," and not on the list of dead and wounded "civilians." Weeks before Operation Cast Lead began, I wrote that between the siege we'd imposed on Gaza and the roughly 100-1 death ratio in the cross-border exchanges of fire, Israel's war with Gaza since disengagement was "the most one-sided war on earth." What should it be called today? "Disproportionate" doesn't describe it. I TRY to keep a perspective. By yesterday, there were about 1,000 Palestinian deaths in the war, but if Hamas had the power the IDF has, there wouldn't be 1,000 Israeli deaths, there would be - God only knows. It's impossible to imagine Israel being here if the balance of power between the IDF and Hamas were reversed. I compare Israel to other countries. Here we're wondering whether we killed 400 Gazan civilians, or 500, or 600. I doubt if anyone can estimate to the nearest 10,000 the number of Iraqi civilians killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Except for the fascist fringe, Israelis don't revel in the killing of civilians. We don't pass around candy. Without exception, we don't mutilate. We don't get out-and-out barbaric. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror organizations, along with their followers, are known to get barbaric. I'm ashamed of Israel in this war, and in this whole, long occupation. But when I compare our country's history to those of other countries, then I figure that on the whole, we have nothing to apologize for. And when I compare our record of "purity of arms" to that of the Palestinians, then I figure our society is morally superior to theirs. But this war has narrowed the gap considerably.