Is the Israeli government blameless for Palestinian civilians deaths in Gaza?

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Sometimes the twisting of logic from people is so massive that I to think “You don’t actually believe yourself, right?” Sometimes the cognitive dissonance is so great that you’re left with saying, “What?”

This is in reference to the Israel-Gaza conflict. From all of the information I’ve seen, I cannot “side” with either the Israeli government (IDF) or Hamas. While I sympathize with the Palestinians wanting the Israeli government out of the lives, Hamas appears to be a terrorist organization.   Likewise, the Israeli government is also acting like terrorists as they are killing numerous Palestinian civilians, many of whom are children. I think both sides are messed up. The death and destruction they cause is not isolated to the combatants engaged in the warring—it carries over to innocent civilians. Even when lives aren’t taken by bullets and bombs, the economic damage is devastating.

Despite the very lopsided casualties affecting the Palestinians, many people still flock to the defense of the tactics used by the IDF. J.E. Dyer from Liberty Unyielding wrote in a July 30th piece:

On Wednesday morning, Hamas launched mortar fire at IDF assets from the Abu Hussein school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza.  The school was being used by UNRWA, the UN aid agency, to house Gazans who had fled their homes in recent days because of the fighting.

The IDF reported that it responded by firing several tank shells at the Hamas firing position.

Tragically, the damage done by the IDF counterfire appears to have included at least 20 people killed and 90 wounded in the school building.  The New York Times describes the impacts from four rounds on the school site:

One hit the street in front of the entrance, according to several witnesses. Two others hit classrooms where people were sleeping, and a fourth struck a house behind the school.

The war crime here is that Hamas set up a firing position in a facility that was housing civilian refugees. (See Article 8.2 (b) of the Rome Statute.)

The Hamas war crime is only compounded by the fact that UNRWA says it notified the IDF 17 times that it was using the school to shelter refugees.

According to Dyer, this event was “tragic” in terms of the IDF’s actions. I will not defend Hamas if they are in fact using schools and hospitals as shields for launching attacks, but to call the IDF’s actions in response “tragic” when they knowingly fired into the school is absolutely ridiculous. Dare I say that it is outright evil? She takes cover for her opinion by using the fact that Hamas did, by definition of the legal term, commit a “war crime” by using those locations as firing positions.

What makes Dyer’s view even more troublesome is that instead of expressing even a little bit of umbrage that the IDF returned fire to the location despite being warned by UNRWA seventeen times that the building was being used by refugees, she directs any blame for the deaths to Hamas. Does Dyer think that because Hamas committed the first wrong, the IDF should bear no blame for any criminal behavior used in response?

Imagine that you get a phone call from your child’s school that he had been in a fight that day. You are told that another child pushed your child in the classroom. In response, your child picked up a stapler and smashed it across his classmate’s jaw. Would your response to this be: “Thank you for letting me know about this. Given that my child has done nothing wrong, how do you plan to punish the other child?” Clearly, the child who pushed yours was wrong and retaliation should not be unexpected. Many times in cases of defense, retaliation is warranted. To escalate it to the point that your child did, however, is indefensible.

To make the situation even worse, the IDF response included killing innocent people. Imagine that your child knew that pushing back would cause some of his other classmates to get hurt as well but did so anyway. Is your child blameless for the injuries incurred by his classmates? Again, the answer for a reasonable person is no.

The point of all of this is that each side in both the classroom example and the Israel-Gaza conflict is wrong.

Should the IDF do nothing in response to rocket attacks from Hamas? Admittedly, this is not the easiest question to answer because I do feel for the innocent Israelis who are made to suffer from those attacks. But if you allow yourself to take a different perspective on the situation, it may make you change your mind from “The IDF is doing the right thing” to “Well, wait a minute, they should reconsider the gravity of their actions.”

First of all, if you were the one to make the call to retaliate knowing that innocent people would die, would you do it? It’s psychologically easier for us to be okay with killing people who are different from us and to which we have no connections of any sort (even if the connection is simply “countryman”). It’s quite natural for us to be emotionally affected more by our neighbor dying from a heart attack than hearing about someone dying from one 1000 miles away, but this does not make either death objectively worse than the other. With this in mind, imagine making the call to retaliate knowing that the innocent people likely to die are your friends and family. Chances are you’re not going to give the go ahead to send the bombs. You would probably also express serious resentment to someone who did call for the strike if the victims were people close to you.

Because of this, even if the IDF thinks they are doing the “right” thing, there is plenty of evidence that shows their actions predictably lead to civilian deaths. The Palestinians, whose family, friends, and countrymen are being killed by Israeli weapons, understandably harbor feelings of hatred and disgust. This only makes Hamas’ recruitment easier and makes more people sympathetic to their actions. The same goes for the Israeli people who see rocket attacks launched against people they perceive to be part of their own. This creates a nasty spiral of violence that escalates and escalates and escalates until it goes flying out of control.

Is there a good solution? Unfortunately, I do not see any governments coming up with any. The best way this crisis will be resolved is if the combatants on both sides see what is truly going on, drop their weapons, and choose peace and brotherhood over war and violence. Even though one may be an Israeli and the other an Arab, there are both human beings.