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Topic: civilian casualties

World Yawns as Hamas Admits War Crimes

Perhaps it’s because the world is currently transfixed by the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and isn’t paying much attention to the events in Gaza that generated such outrage from human rights groups determined to indict Israel for war crimes before any investigations are even conducted. But perhaps some of those who pooh-poohed Israel’s claims that Hamas was firing rockets at Israeli cities from civilian areas and thereby using the people of Gaza as human shields will pay a smidgeon of attention to the news that, as the Associated Press reported today, Hamas operatives admit that they did exactly what the Israelis said they did.

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Perhaps it’s because the world is currently transfixed by the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and isn’t paying much attention to the events in Gaza that generated such outrage from human rights groups determined to indict Israel for war crimes before any investigations are even conducted. But perhaps some of those who pooh-poohed Israel’s claims that Hamas was firing rockets at Israeli cities from civilian areas and thereby using the people of Gaza as human shields will pay a smidgeon of attention to the news that, as the Associated Press reported today, Hamas operatives admit that they did exactly what the Israelis said they did.

According to the AP, contrary to the claims of its defenders, Hamas operatives have admitted firing rockets from civilian areas in Gaza. But they say they did so at a distance from actual buildings. As the AP report noted, videos from surveillance conducted by the Israeli Air Force has produced evidence of rockets flying from residential neighborhoods, hospitals, cemeteries, mosque courtyards and other civilian areas. But Hamas officials quoted by the news service now say that when they did fire from such places, the rocket launchers were always at a “safe distance” from such structures or that the nearby buildings were deliberately kept vacant.

Given the evidence of civilian casualties from Israeli fire directed at such launchings, this is a transparent lie. More to the point, if human rights groups and the international press accept this excuse they will not only be validating an almost certainly false story but also moving the goalposts to accommodate the terrorists propaganda needs.

Let’s remember that the international press that flooded into Gaza during the war did a conspicuously poor job of covering Hamas activities in Gaza. No pictures were shot of Hamas fighters or of the thousands of missile launches during the 50 days of conflict. Instead they either knuckled under to Hamas intimidation or were actively complicit in publicizing the narrative the Islamists preferred that focused solely on Palestinian suffering instead of Hamas terror.

Hamas figures quoted by the AP contend that it was impossible for them to fire missiles without being in the vicinity of civilians because the strip is so congested. There are two answers to this argument.

One is to point out that, despite the contentions about Gaza being the most congested place on earth, that there are, plenty of vacant areas in the strip. Parts of Gaza are crowded but it is not one continuous urban jungle. If Hamas really wanted to avoid Israeli fire being brought down on areas where civilians lived they could have used such places. But, firing from beaches or open fields doesn’t provide the cover that hospitals, mosques or school courtyards give the terrorists.

More to the point, if the only places they shoot missiles that are deliberately aimed to cause the maximum civilian casualties for the Israelis are an urban area, and then a group that was not a pack of bloodthirsty terrorists would have held its fire. Hamas did not.

These admissions prove again, as if much more proof was needed, that what Hamas did during this war was a double war crime. They were intent on slaughtering as many Jews as possible with their rockets and tunnels and also hopeful of causing Palestinian deaths as well to increase international sympathy for their cause.

Giving Hamas a pass because they fired near civilians but not on top of them is to grade them on a curve whose purpose is to justify their war on Israel. While individual Israeli strikes might have been made in error as always happens in the fog of war, Palestinian casualties were completely the responsibility of the group that launched this war for no good reason, kept it going when cease fires would have ended it before more were killed and did everything in their power to maximize the pain to their own people.

We can expect human rights groups, the United Nations to pay little attention to these admissions as they continue to seek to bash Israel for having the temerity to defend itself. But if anyone wants the truth, Hamas has just laid it out for the world to see. Too bad, much of the press and those participating in anti-Israel demonstrations where anti-Semitism is rampant, aren’t interested in it.

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The Truth About Palestinian Casualties

Even after Hamas brazenly flouted the latest attempts to end the fighting in Gaza, demonstrators marched around the globe to protest what they and the Palestinians claim are Israeli war crimes. The crux of their critique is that the Israel Defense Forces engaged in indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. But, as even some of the mainstream media is beginning to acknowledge, a deep dive into the statistics that are cited to damn Israel tell a different story.

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Even after Hamas brazenly flouted the latest attempts to end the fighting in Gaza, demonstrators marched around the globe to protest what they and the Palestinians claim are Israeli war crimes. The crux of their critique is that the Israel Defense Forces engaged in indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. But, as even some of the mainstream media is beginning to acknowledge, a deep dive into the statistics that are cited to damn Israel tell a different story.

As the Times of Israel notes the analyses of both the BBC and the New York Times of United Nations casualty figures show that those Palestinians killed in the fighting are disproportionately male as well as having a massive overrepresentation of men in the 20-29 age group that is most likely to be members of terrorist armed cadres.

These facts do not gainsay the fact that Palestinians of all age groups and both sexes have been killed in the fighting in the past month. The people of Gaza have suffered cruelly from this war of choice launched by Hamas.

But the point of the breakdown of the casualty figures is that when you stop obsessing about heartrending pictures of dead and wounded children that have been running in a video loop on all the news channels and start asking serious questions about the age and gender of most of the casualties, the libels about Israeli “war crimes” don’t stand up to scrutiny. The talk about “indiscriminate killing” that is casually tossed about at demonstrations, on op-ed pages, and in the debates between television’s talking heads (including some who falsely claim to be friends of Israel) is often taken as a given. But the facts tell us a very different story that vindicates Israel’s claims that rather than firing into civilian areas without concern for the consequences, their targets are the fighters from Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have been holding Gaza hostage since 2007.

Like the subsequent debunking of similar charges about Israeli cruelty during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, it may well be that the lies told by Hamas and its enablers among the staff of the United Nations in Gaza are too good a story to be undone by careful analysis. After that round of fighting, subsequent analyses of the casualties proved that Israel’s claims that the bulk of those killed in Gaza were, in fact, Hamas personnel. But that didn’t stop the global lynch mob of Israel-haters from repeating false accusations that Israel had engaged in war crimes reminiscent of the Nazis. Those who march against Israel or blast it in the media claim they aren’t supporting Hamas but merely reacting to the slaughter of civilians even though they are mum about far worse examples of wartime killings in places like Syria or Iraq.

But the point here is that if those listed as civilian casualties are not a random sample of the Palestinian population but, instead, a group that is disproportionately young and male—i.e. the age group that is most likely to be part of Hamas’s so-called “military wing” or members of the Islamic Jihad cadres in Gaza—then it is more than obvious that claims of indiscriminate Israeli attacks are lies. When the dust settles this time—something that may not happen for a while given Hamas’s appetite for continuing the fighting so as to continue to inflate the number of Palestinian casualties—it is now obvious that we will find that the proportion of combatants to actual civilians among those killed by Israel’s strikes will be even more lopsided than is now acknowledged. As the Times reported, once you add in those that the Palestinians do admit to be fighters, the numbers are even more compelling.

That this is now becoming clear is even more striking because the only sources cited by most news outlets about Gaza casualties have been from the Hamas government of the strip or the UN which seems just as likely to inflate their numbers and to downplay any possibility that those hurt were legitimate targets.

Those venting indignation about the situation in Gaza have sought to depict Israel’s actions as the act of a heartless oppressor of Palestinians rather than those of one side in a war of aggression launched by their opponents. It is not just that, thanks to Iron Dome, Israelis aren’t dying in the sort of numbers that would generate sympathy from the international community. It’s that its counter-attack on Hamas rocket launchers and terror tunnels is being portrayed as a war on civilians. It’s time for those lecturing the Israelis about their tactics to pipe down and accept the truth about Gaza. As bad as the situation there is, the Israelis have done their best to limit their fire to those shooting at them. As is the case with all wars, including those fought by the United States, sometimes mistakes happen and civilians sometimes do get caught in the crossfire created by terrorists eager to turn their neighbors into “martyrs.”

Anyone who truly cares about Gaza’s civilian population will draw the appropriate conclusions and concentrate their criticisms on the terrorist group whose genocidal ideology impels it to continue their war against Israel’s existence as long as there are Palestinians left to be sacrificed.

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Putting Compassion for Palestinians in Perspective

While much of the international media as well as the Obama administration are lambasting Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, friends of the Jewish state are also under attack this week. The charge is insufficient sympathy for Palestinians who are being killed and wounded in the conflict. But while all persons of good will should view the pictures of those suffering with horror, the rush to indict the pro-Israel community on the charge of callous indifference is unjustified.

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While much of the international media as well as the Obama administration are lambasting Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, friends of the Jewish state are also under attack this week. The charge is insufficient sympathy for Palestinians who are being killed and wounded in the conflict. But while all persons of good will should view the pictures of those suffering with horror, the rush to indict the pro-Israel community on the charge of callous indifference is unjustified.

Some of the discussion on this topic is easy to dismiss. In the case of Northeastern University’s Dov Waxman, who writes in the Forward to lament the lack of Jewish empathy for Palestinian casualties, it’s hard not to see his piece as a display of moral preening that tells us little about the situation or even what is motivating the discussion among pro-Israel activists. Of course, we should care about Palestinians. But other than demanding that friends of Israel gnash their teeth about the situation, it’s difficult to understand what he’d like them to do about it especially since he acknowledges that the fault for their plight largely belongs to Hamas. If, as Cynthia Ozick once aptly noted, “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews,” all Waxman here seems to be saying is that it’s necessary for Jews to do more conspicuous wailing about the Palestinians without in any way diminishing their support for Israel’s justified defensive war. Far from being callous, pro-Israel activists are concentrating their efforts on pointing out what the media has failed to about Hamas responsibility for the war and those who have been hurt by it.

More serious are Ramesh Ponnuru’s comments in his Bloomberg column on Friday. Ponnuru acknowledges that Israel is in the right in this contest and that Hamas and its apologists—especially those who falsely accuse Israel of “genocide”—are in the wrong. But he’s worried about those who go a step further in defense of the Jewish state and claim that there are no “true” civilians in Gaza.

Ponnuru takes particular aim at New York University Law School’s Thane Rosenbaum for writing in the Wall Street Journal that those in Gaza who give not only vocal support to Hamas but actively assist its fighters cannot claim to be mere civilians when they come under Israeli counter-fire. Ponnuru also thinks ill of historian Benny Morris who recently wrote that Israel needed to demonstrate a willingness to “exact a heavy price in blood from Palestinian civilians.”

According to Ponnuru, this is more than callousness. Rather it is, he says, a violation of the rules of war that call upon combatants to attempt at all times to make distinctions between enemy soldiers and civilians in their midst. Rosenbaum asserts that sympathy for Gazans who are active Hamas supporters who place their children in the path of violence in order to further group’s causes is misplaced. Ponnuru derides this as not merely unfeeling but a “disgusting sentiment.”

To the extent that these comments reflect a lack of sympathy for any child caught in the crossfire of even a justified war, he’s right. Children don’t choose to be part of a war any more than they choose their parents. Anyone who can view the suffering of Palestinians as they regard those who have been wounded and maimed and mourn their dead with indifference is wrong. Those who have lost the capacity to realize the common humanity even with an enemy have lost their moral compass.

But the discussion about the wave of empathy for Palestinians as their casualty toll mounts and the accompanying anger at Israel is not as simple as that. Rosenbaum may have overstepped his mark, as did Morris, whose main point was to correctly assert that Hamas could not be left standing if there was to be any hope for peace. But to merely assert, as Ponnuru does, that Palestinians civilians “aren’t the bad guys” in this drama is just as unhelpful.

Strip away some of the overheated rhetoric and what Rosenbaum has written is not merely true but inarguable. Palestinians who voted for Hamas, support their charter that calls for Israel’s eradication and the genocide of its Jewish population, cheer the deaths of Jewish civilians, and provide all possible aid to terrorists are not exactly innocent bystanders in this war.

Ponnuru is correct that American civilians can’t be legally targeted for acts of war conducted by their government overseas even if they happened to vote for that government. In that sense, the mere act of voting for Hamas or cheering their terrorist exploits does not make anyone in Gaza a legitimate target. But the distinction that Rosenbaum is attempting to make here is not one that would legitimize the wholesale slaughter of Hamas voters. Nor is Morris, when taken in context, advocating that. Rather, the point here is that those who actively assist Hamas “military” actions are not mere civilians.

But there is a broader point here that touches on just war theories.

As Ponnuru rightly notes, just war theory demands that we always distinguish between soldiers and civilians. But what we should understand is that as much as compassion should be extended to every human being in difficult situations no matter what their beliefs, the attempt to falsely brand Israel as behaving brutally must also be put in the context of a conflict that is happening specifically because Hamas believes killing more Jews will increase its popularity. One need not forfeit sympathy for injured Palestinian children to realize that if their society honors terrorism and incites hatred for Israel, the ensuing violence will take a terrible toll on its people. Those who point out that many of those decrying Israeli strikes on Gaza are themselves advocates of genocide against Israelis are not being callous. They are merely calling Palestinians to account for the culture of violence they have embraced at a time when much of the world is prepared to give them a pass. The suffering of their people will not abate until they reject that culture. To say so is not immoral. It is merely the truth.

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Why Gaza Doesn’t Have Bomb Shelters

One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow none of the talking heads on TV ever ask why there are no bomb shelters in Gaza.

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One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow none of the talking heads on TV ever ask why there are no bomb shelters in Gaza.

There’s no question that Hamas is outgunned by Israel. The Islamist terror group that still rules over Gaza has thousands of rockets, but Palestinians eager to cheer news of Israeli casualties have been disappointed as the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has knocked down most of the rockets shot over the border from Gaza at Israeli cities in the hope that carnage will result. But even though Israel has gone to unprecedented lengths to avoid killing Palestinian civilians as it attacks the missile launch sites and Hamas command centers and ammunition storage areas that are embedded in packed neighborhood and especially in or around schools, mosques, and clinics, some civilians have died. Given that the Israelis have pounded the Islamists with nearly a thousand strikes this week, the approximately 150 Palestinian fatalities is actually pretty low. But still, fewer Palestinians would have died had there been places for them to seek refuge during the fighting.

The assumption is that the Hamas-run strip is too poor to afford building shelters and safe rooms for its civilians, a point that adds to the impression that the Palestinians are helpless victims who deserve the sympathy if not the help of the world in fending off Israel’s assault on Hamas’s arsenal.

But the assumption is utterly false. Gaza’s tyrants have plenty of money and material to build shelters. And they have built plenty of them. They’re just not for the people of Gaza.

As is well known, Gaza is honeycombed with underground structures from one end of the strip to the other. This doesn’t only refer to the more than 1,400 tunnels that have connected Gaza to Egypt through which all sorts of things—including rockets, ammunition, building materials as well as consumer goods–came into the strip until the military government in Cairo stopped the traffic. The chief problem facing the Israel Defense Forces in this campaign is the same one they faced in 2008 and 2012 when they previously tried to temporarily silence the rocket fire. Hamas’s leaders and fighters are kept safe in a warren of shelters build deep underneath Gaza. There is also plenty of room there for its supply of thousands of rockets and other armaments. Moreover, they are also connected by tunnels that crisscross the length of that independent Palestinian state in all but name ruled by Hamas. Indeed, when you consider the vast square footage devoted to these structures, there may well be far more shelter space per square mile in Gaza than anyplace in Israel.

If these structures were opened up to the civilians of Gaza, there is little doubt that would lower the casualty figures. Indeed, if the leaders of Gaza and their armed cadres emerged from their safe havens under the ground and let the civilians take cover there they could then show some real courage. But lowering casualties isn’t part of Hamas’s action plan that is predicated on sacrificing as many of their own people as possible in order to generate foreign sympathy. Instead, they cower behind the civilians, shooting missiles next to schools, storing ammunition in mosques (as today’s explosion in Gaza illustrated) and, as I previously noted, are actually urging civilians to act as human shields against Israeli fire on Hamas strongholds. Indeed, they have enlisted the people of Gaza as part of their misinformation campaign in which they attempt to conceal the presence of missile launching or masked, armed Hamas fighters in civilian neighborhoods.

But I have a question for the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders. What if, instead of devoting all of their resources and cash to an effort to turn Gaza into an armed fortress, bristling with thousands of rockets and honeycombed with tunnels and shelters where only Hamas members and their dangerous toys are allowed, the people of Gaza had leaders who had devoted their efforts to improving the lot of the Palestinian people since they took over the strip after Israel’s complete withdrawal in 2005? What if instead of importing missiles and other arms from Iran, Hamas had decided to try to turn their tiny principality into a haven of free enterprise instead of an Islamist tyranny built on hate and which survives on the charity of Israel (yes, Israel, which every day—including when there is fighting going on—sends trucks laden with food and medicine into Gaza to prevent the humanitarian crisis that the Palestinians claim has been happening there from occurring) and the West?

Hamas has sown the wind with its cynical decision to start a war against Israel and the people of Gaza are reaping the whirlwind. Gaza doesn’t have bomb shelters. What it does have is a ruling terrorist movement that uses civilians as human shields. By tolerating such a government and by cheering when their Islamist rulers provoke Israeli counter-attacks by shooting rockets at Israeli civilians, the people of Gaza cannot entirely blame the Jewish state or the world for their fate. But whatever we may think about their decision to accept this situation, the lack of bomb shelters in Gaza should not argue against Israel defending its people.

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