Norman L. Cantor
Okay, I’ve had it! I’ve had my fill of the pontifications of people who sit comfortably in their secure digs in New York or London or Paris and ignore Middle East reality while telling Israel, “for its own good,” how to act. I had grown accustomed to the BBC’s egregious moral myopia; after all, for years they’ve unabashedly served as the propaganda wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This weekend, though, Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times and Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post wheeled out all the tired clichés of Israel’s alarmed “supporters.” I can’t take it anymore! Here are my favorite shibboleths, with short dissections of each.
Israel is Entitled to Defend Its People, but It Has Responded Disproportionately
Both Times writers point out that only 20 Israeli civilians have been killed by Hamas rockets over the years. All this Gaza violence over 20 deaths!!
Well, how about the 200,000 civilian residents of Southern Israel targeted and traumatized by 8,000 rockets and missiles over those years? (Make that 800,000 residents with the recent addition of Ashdod and Be’er Sheva to missile range). It’s not that Hamas hasn’t been trying to kill and maim Israeli children; to Hamas’ eternal frustration, the numerous shattered classrooms were vacant. The targeted, traumatized children have been huddling in shelters and internal stairwells or have been uprooted and shipped to more distant locales.
Consider some other “disproportionate” Israeli defense measures. The Israelis destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor before he had a chance to develop a single atomic warhead. The world howled in moral outrage. Likewise with Hafaz Assad’s unfinished atomic installation in Syria in 2008. In 1967, Israel attacked Egypt in a (gasp!) preventive war just because Egyptian forces were massing with the declared object of destroying Israel. And the Israelis went and destroyed the entire Egyptian air force, not just those planes that were being armed for sorties into Israel. Excessive force?
Israel’s Violent Action Entrenches Arab Hatred
Well, no question that Arab rage is being triggered. The mosques in Arab states are bubbling with bitter condemnations of the Jews – the “monkeys and pigs” responsible for the deaths of prophets and for most evil in the world. I would be pretty enraged, too, if all I saw were Al Jazeera’s images of dead and bleeding civilians (without any coverage of the years of Hamas’ attacks on civilians and without any images of the hundreds of missiles raining down throughout southern Israel).
Somehow, though, I can’t attribute all this hatred to Israel’s conduct in Gaza. Since 1948, Israel has been treated by the bulk of the Arab world as a hated cancer to be destroyed by any means. The Egyptian fedayeen started terrorism against Israel in the 1950’s by infiltrating (from Gaza) and attacking kibbutzim. The PLO charter vowing to destroy Israel dated to 1964, before a single Israeli set foot in either Gaza or the West Bank. For all 60 years of Israel’s existence, the Middle East mosques have been ringing with fierce tirades and threats against the Jews. Palestinian schoolbooks have for decades demonized the Jews as sub-humans fit only to be killed. Hamas’ suicide bombers had blown 400 Israelis to bits long before Hamas got angry about the current Gaza operation. Ahmadinejad didn’t need any invasion of Gaza to pronounce Iran’s hate and intention to liquidate Israel. So pardon me if I’m not any more alarmed now about Arab hatred than I was before the Gaza operation began.
Military Force Cannot Solve Israel’s Probems, Only Bolster Hamas and Hezbollah
Israel’s sanctimonious well-wishers say that only a negotiated settlement can end the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Every image of Palestinian casualties, they say, just brings more shaheeds to the suicide bomber recruiting offices.
Duh!! Israel understands the long-range need for a political resolution. But when terrorist Hezbollah was shooting rockets from Lebanon into Kiryat Shmona in the north, there was zero chance of a political solution. After a painful campaign, Israel pushed Hezbollah away from Northern Israel and got international observers into the area. For some period at least, Israel’s northern residents will be not be daily missile targets. In Gaza, Hamas had zero interest in a negotiated end to its terrorist missile attacks on civilians. On December 21, 2007, despite desperate warnings from Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, and despite express Israeli willingness to keep passages to Gaza open, Hamas rejected a continuation of the so-called cease fire and increased its launches to 50 to 80 per day. Israel was left with no choice but to protect its Southern residents. And Israel today has no way to protect those citizens other than by ensuring that Hamas cannot be resupplied with Iranian missiles. Without prevention of missile smuggling into Gaza, the Gaza violence will only recur and escalate – with Iranian-supplied rocketry soon to reach Tel Aviv and a theater near me. So pardon me again if I see the daily terrorist rocket launchings as a more immediate concern than the possibility of Hamas gaining more fanatical converts.
The Israeli Army Cruelly Ignores Civilian Interests
Use self-defense, our morally upset well-wishers urge, but the bodies of 200 Palestinian children speak for themselves. They testify to utter Israeli disregard for innocent human life.
Yes, and no. Intentional targeting of civilians is indeed atrocious; that’s what Hamas has been doing for decades. Yes, the Israeli bombing of the U.N. school was a reckless, and deplorable act that needlessly killed civilians. That action deserves condemnation. Though it is true that a Hamas mortar squad had just fired from the façade of the U.N. school building, the ensuing destruction of the populated building was unwarranted. Hamas’ intentional illegal use of civilian shields notwithstanding, the Israeli conduct in that instance seems unjustifiable.
No, the Israeli army is not indifferent to civilian lives. American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan confirms that even a highly moral army striving to minimize civilian casualties cannot avoid them. The Israeli army does strive to avoid civilian casualties. Intelligence data about every potential aerial target is screened and targets disqualified when risk to civilians is excessive. Palestinian-generated casualty figures do not accurately distinguish between civilians and Hamas fighters. Hamas’ 16,000 soldiers have long discarded their black uniforms in an effort to blend in with civilians. The assertions about Gaza are reminiscent of the reported “carnage” in Jenin in the West Bank during the 2d Intifada in 2002. Palestinians and international sources screamed that Israeli troops were sweeping through the Palestinian camp just mowing down civilians. They proclaimed that the death toll was between 500 and 3,000 Palestinians. The truth, as later confirmed by a Time Magazine investigation, was that Israeli forces had advanced house to house in order to avoid civilian casualties and at a cost of a number of Israeli soldiers’ lives. The actual number of Palestinian deaths in Jenin was 56.
The Jenin phenomenon of gross distortion of fact is surely taking place in Gaza now. On Thursday, an Arab truck driver in a humanitarian relief convoy was shot as the empty truck approached the Erez crossing leaving Israel. U.N. aid officials in Gaza promptly blamed Israeli tank fire and suspended the humanitarian shipments. It now appears that the malefactors were Hamas snipers.
An instinctive reaction to the bombing of mosques is horror and upset. What a gross violation of civilian interests! Except that the mosques hit in Gaza all had weapons storehouses and/or tunnel networks. The photos show the secondary explosions of the arms caches. Even Hamas does not have the chutzpah to deny the military employment of these “houses of worship.”
My Bottom Line
Israel has made plenty of errors over the years deserving of criticism. (Don’t start me on the settlements in Hevron and some other parts of the West Bank! Or on ill-considered treatment of Israeli Arabs!) Just spare me the sanctimonious, morally myopic, reality-distorting preaching of our “friends” and “well-wishers” who think they know and care more about Israeli security than those under fire.