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“Unacceptable?” Israel Must Press On

Today the White House raised the pressure on Israel to stop fighting in Gaza by terming the shooting at a United Nations school yesterday as “totally unacceptable.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest’s joining the international media pile-on is another demonstration of the administration’s determination to box in the Israeli government.

The criticism may have played a role in Israel’s decision to accept a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire scheduled to begin tomorrow. But it’s not clear whether Hamas will hold its fire. Nor is there any assurance they won’t resume shooting rockets or using the tunnels that remain in their control when it suits their purpose. When they do, Prime Minister Netanyahu should not be deterred from continuing the campaign.

Earnest’s condemnation was intended to raise the heat on Israel to agree to an immediate humanitarian cease-fire even though it has been Hamas that has been the one vetoing cease-fires and continuing to fire rockets at the Jewish state since the start of the fighting. But in doing so he was echoing most of the talking heads on television and liberal pundits who keep telling us that the Israeli counter-attacks against the Islamist terror movement are “disproportionate” or pointless. Stories such as those that highlight Palestinian casualties are becoming the leads of every news program with talking heads constantly asking what Israel could be accomplishing.

But even though the attacks on Israel are becoming more vituperative, sentiment in Israel is still solidly behind Netanyahu’s policies. Today, Isaac Herzog, the opposition leader in the Knesset restated his support for the ongoing military offensive against Hamas rocket launching and terrorist tunnels:

“The decisions that were taken so far were responsible and focused,” Herzog said during a conference call with reporters. “I hope they will bring an end to the fighting.” …

“There is a national consensus in Israel as to the justification of this operation for a few reasons,” he said. First, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acted with restraint, seeking to avoid conflagration. “We tried to contain [the conflict]. And Hamas, for its own strategic reasons, decided to flare it up.”

Israelis understand that criticism of their tactics is a distortion of reality. Hamas fires on Israelis from the proximity of homes, schools, mosques, and areas where civilians are taking shelter. The notion that the use of these human shields should require Israeli troops to hold their fire when terrorists are shooting at them or launching rockets is unsupportable. Nor is it a standard that the White House or the Pentagon would impose on U.S. troops in action in Afghanistan or anywhere else. Despite the calls from the White House for Israel to live up to higher standards, the Israeli army’s rules of engagement are every bit as stringent as those of the U.S. Armed Forces.

But in spite of the opprobrium Israel should push on specifically because the assertion that its efforts are accomplishing nothing is false.

Even Israel’s critics claim that it has the right to defend itself. But the notion that it should stop fighting before all the terror tunnels that Hamas has dug are discovered and destroyed or while the Islamists are still in possession of an arsenal of thousands of rockets gives the lie to the lip service being paid to that right.

It’s not clear whether Netanyahu will push on and seek to demilitarize Gaza even though that is the only way this issue will ever be resolved. But for Israel to pull back now simply because Western critics think too many Palestinians are being killed is to grant Hamas an undeserved victory. Israelis rightly think that the only reason the Palestinian casualty toll is so high is because Hamas has done everything it can to sacrifice their compatriots.

By focusing almost exclusively on Palestinian casualties rather than the tactics of Hamas, the West is granting impunity to terrorists. The death toll, like the blockade the international community has imposed on Gaza since the 2007 Hamas coup, is solely the fault of the Islamist movement. The shooting, like the isolation, can be ended as soon as Hamas surrenders in the same way that any war ends. Stopping before that moment comes won’t bring peace. Indeed, it will retard efforts to create a two-state solution since the only lesson from such an outcome will be to convince Israel than any more territorial withdrawals will create more such Hamasistans.

As difficult as it may be to watch the pictures coming out of Gaza, the suffering there will only end once and for all once Hamas lays down its arms. To the extent that the U.S. and the international community place obstacles in the way of that outcome with pressure on Israel, the more blood will be shed in the long run.

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