As a peace advocate, I am forever confronted by Israeli and/or American Jews (and the occasional gentile) who take one look at any exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants and say: “Yes, sure, all civilian deaths are terrible—but for Israelis, they’re unintentional. The Palestinians actually target civilians.”
And as one of those civilians who used to be targeted on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I have no problem saying that intentionally targeting civilians is wrong—is, in fact, a war crime. I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again, but I have no love for Hamas or the other extremist Palestinian militant groups. None.
But I weary of the desperate clinging to the word “unintentional” on my side of this decades-long war.
From the end of September 2000 through the end of September 2012, Israel was responsible for the deaths of 3,034 Palestinian noncombatants, of whom well more than a third were minors: 1,338. And that’s not counting the noncombatants and children (including several toddlers and at least one pregnant woman) killed in the last week alone.
Whether these corpses can be considered collateral damage, accidents, the unintended outcome of well-targeted efforts—simply no longer matters to me. When your state has piled up more than 3000 dead bodies, more than 1,300 of them the bodies of children, it simply no longer matters.
If we accept at face value the idea that Israel takes every possible precaution to preclude civilian deaths (a notion I cannot help but question when I read reports like this, and this, and this), then we are left with only one possible explanation: Rank, criminal incompetence.
If we reject the idea of incompetence (though I have yet to meet a human being incapable of serious error), then we are left with only one other possible explanation: Rank, criminal indifference.
I can already hear the protests that Hamas and other militants hide among civilians, that they are really to blame for these deaths, that it’s not Israel’s fault—and I do not deny that Palestinian extremists share the blame.
But is it really “hiding among civilians” to go to your own house? Is it really “hiding among civilians” to drive down a residential street?
And what if the shoe were on the other foot? Are we willing to say that Israeli soldiers are “hiding among civilians” when they ride city buses, or that Israel’s Defense Ministry is “hiding among civilians” because it’s located in the very heart of Tel Aviv? Yes, Hamas are terrorists and the IDF is a state’s army—but are military targets in civilian locales legitimate, or not?
I can no longer keep track of all the Israeli and American Jews who have contacted me in recent days to tell me (as if I might not have yet heard) that Hamas intentionally targets civilians, and Israel does not.
But when I look at those numbers, when I see the pictures of tiny, broken bodies pulled from utter destruction, when I see the wailing of fathers and mothers, their dead children wrapped in white shrouds, never to feel their parents’ arms around them again—I no longer care.
Incompetence or indifference, neither can be an excuse anymore. And in the meantime, more children die.