Sound bites are usually meant to obfuscate as much as clarify. Rarely is one so incisive as the line uttered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the other day about the difference between Israel and Hamas: “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”
This is the ground truth of the latest Gaza War that gets obscured by the relentlessly repeated stark disparity in casualties between the Gazans, hundreds of whom have died in the conflict, and the Israelis.
Each civilian death in Gaza is a tragedy, but who is ultimately responsible? The moral calculus here is simple. Hamas precipitated the war and persisted in waging it even when Israel was willing to accept an Egyptian offer of a cease-fire. Hamas hides its rockets in schools and places its command bunkers under hospitals. It wants war, and it wants civilian casualties.
Josef Stalin infamously said that one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. Hamas is happy with either a tragedy (the four kids killed on the beach by Israeli shells last week) or a statistic (the climbing civilian toll), so long as it is death and so long as it can be used in the propaganda war against Israel.
This isn’t hard to understand. Yet even supporters of Israel give in to the twisted logic that the Gaza conflict is somehow an indictment of the Jewish state. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on CNN “that this is hurting Israel’s moral authority.” Which is exactly the conclusion Hamas wants “the international community” to draw from its depraved indifference to the safety of Gazans.
Jon Stewart did a controversial bit last week about how Israel has all the advantages in the conflict, what with its warnings via app to its civilians about incoming rockets and its ability to neutralize those rockets with its missile defenses.
Yes, how unfair. Israel invested in systems entirely devoted to protecting its civilian population from unprovoked attack. What dastardliness is the Zionist entity capable of next?
Of course there is an asymmetry between Hamas and Israel. There will always be a technological gap between a ramshackle terror force with medieval religious views and a dynamic, liberal society. On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida had box cutters. We had B-52s. Did that make us the unsympathetic Goliath to al-Qaida’s David?
Israel might well undertake an indiscriminate, scorched-earth campaign in Gaza — if it were run by, say, the Assad regime in Syria, with its taste for chemical weapons and barrel bombs. Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out in The Atlantic that 700 people were killed in Syria last weekend alone, outpacing the total death toll in Gaza so far, but the deaths received almost no media coverage.
Whatever its failings, the American news media are paragons of balance and context compared with their international counterparts. Still, Italian-Palestinian Rula Jebreal complained on MSNBC that the media, including MSNBC itself, are “disgustingly biased” in favor of Israel. Chris Hayes had her on his MSNBC show and explained the difficulty in giving representatives of Israel and Hamas equal time. It turns out that it’s hard to book spokesmen from the terror group.
None of this is to deny the very real suffering of Gazans. No rational person interested in their welfare would govern the way Hamas does. Its technical proficiency is smuggling. Its infrastructure program consists of building tunnels for acts of murder and kidnapping. Its civil-defense system is to admonish endangered civilians not to heed Israeli warnings to flee buildings about to be hit. Its peace plan is annihilation of the Jewish state.
It can’t achieve that by force of arms. Its objective is, with support from fellow travelers and useful idiots the world over, to make Israel the new South Africa, toward the goal of its ultimate destruction. If it takes countless dead Palestinians to do it, so be it.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.