The United States has been dropping bombs, mostly using unmanned drones, on terrorist cells along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border for years now. These are incredibly remote and sparsely populated areas, we are using the most accurate guidance systems in the world, and we don’t drop all that many of them. And yet, even so, those bombs sometimes hit the wrong targets–instead of assassinating terrorist leaders, we kill innocent children. It happens often enough that there is increasing pressure on the Obama Administration from liberal groups to cease these attacks altogether.
The Gaza Strip is home to about 1.7 million people. It has roughly the same population density as Washington, DC and is about twice as large. The Israeli rockets and bombs are not as accurate or technologically advanced as what we are dropping in Pakistan, and dozens of warheads are landing on Gaza every day. Over 100 Palestinians have died in less than a week, including 24 women and 10 children–and those number will surely climb daily as long as Israel keeps dropping bombs on Gaza.
First of all, Hamas clearly started the current engagement. I will make no excuses for their behavior–firing rockets into Israel was certainly an act of evil, and they have certainly killed civilians as well. Last I checked, the Israeli death toll stood at three, and those were surely innocents. I understand completely why Israel would want to respond to such an attack. But Israel’s response has been completely disproportional–to such an extent that it will prove to be self-defeating.
Israel claims that Hamas is using “human shields”; for instance, by placing their offices in populated office buildings. First of all, even if that were true, that doesn’t justify killing civilians. ”Shoot the hostage” may have been a good line in Speed, but in the real world police officers and soldiers are taught to find other ways to accomplish their objectives. Secondly, remember that Hamas is the elected government in Gaza, and that Gaza is a populated and urban environment. Hamas doesn’t have to hide out in Gaza; they are free to rent office space in buildings just like everyone else does. Hamas friendly media outlets have their offices in the same buildings that every other news organization in Gaza uses, because those are the buildings with the appropriate infrastructure. That’s not called “hiding”; that’s called living out in the open in a densely populated urban environment. Israel’s arguments don’t pass the laugh test.
These civilian deaths are not just tragic and largely unnecessary. They also completely undermine Israel’s position. Israel’s friendly relationships (particularly with the United States and Germany) are vitally important to their long-term security and economic prosperity. Every time that Israel kills civilians it risks undermining those relationships. Citizens in the United States and Germany don’t like hearing about how our ally drop bombs on a family that was just sitting down for dinner–and as much as Israel claims that those are mistakes, when you drop bombs on cities civilians will die.
Hamas may be a threat to individual Israelis–but they are not a threat to the State of Israel. Hamas doesn’t have nearly enough firepower or support. The bigger threat to the State of Israel is when the Israeli’s decide that the proper response is to kill Palestinian families.
So yes, Israel certainly has the right to respond to attacks against it’s citizenry. But it needs to find a better way. Israel’s current response isn’t just tragic. It’s stupidly short-sighted.