You’ve no doubt already seen plenty of coverage of the ongoing rocket attacks in Israel and Gaza, both here and pretty much anywhere else you get your news. To say that the majority of the cable news coverage has been more “sympathetic” to Hamas would be a gross understatement, but I was particularly curious about one piece that was put out this week by the Associated Press. They describe the article as one of their “explainers” for readers who want to get up to speed quickly on a complicated topic. And I won’t deny that the situation in the Middle East certainly is complicated. But the angle they are taking revolves around the question of whether or not Isreal (or Hamas) is committing war crimes in Gaza. To be fair to the AP, they do include some atrocities committed by the Palestinian terrorists of Hamas, but they also try to paint the situation as a zero-sum game, where both sides can be seen as being equally culpable.
Who’s right? It’s hard to say, especially in the fog of battle.
The firing of hundreds of imprecise rockets into Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian groups is fairly clear-cut. International law prohibits targeting civilians or using indiscriminate force in civilian areas. Rockets slamming into Tel Aviv apartment blocks is a clear violation.
But in Gaza, where 2 million people are packed into a narrow coastal strip, the situation is far murkier. Both sides operate in dense, urban terrain because that’s pretty much all there is. Because of the tight space and intense bombardments, there are few safe places for Gazans to go. A blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized power in 2007 makes it virtually impossible to leave.
The benefit of the doubt being given to Hamas is fairly remarkable, particularly when the AP admits that they have been positioning rocket launching sites and tunnels “in close proximity to schools, mosques and homes.” But they then turn around and say that in order to prove this is a war crime you would need to show that Hamas “deliberately placed military assets near civilians to benefit from protections afforded to non-combatants during war.” Excuse me, but… why else would they do that? Cheaper real estate, perhaps?
The big argument the AP makes in the article revolves around proportionality. They argue that the poor Palestinians are “armed with little beyond long-range rockets, the majority of which are intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile defenses.” They also note the death toll which is “dramatically lopsided.” The argument here seems to be that Israel’s technological advantages in military hardware mean that it’s “unfair” for them to kill more Hamas militants than the number of Israelis killed by the rockets that do manage to make it through the Iron Dome.
The AP is arguing that it’s “hard to say” if either side is more culpable or engaging in war crimes. I would argue that it’s really not hard to say at all. After a sustained period of relative peace (or as close as you come to peace when talking about Hamas) rockets began raining down on Israeli apartment complexes again this year. Israel fired back. They provide plenty of information to international observers about the intelligence they’ve gathered and the targets they are going after. Yes, mistakes can happen. Rockets can go off course and the fact that Hamas is absolutely using Palestinian schools and hospitals as human shields meant that there was always going to be collateral damage.
But does that mean that Israel doesn’t have the right to fight back? As someone smarter than me recently said on social media, if Hamas would disarm there would be no war. If Isreal disarms, there will be no Israel. It’s really just as simple as that.