It has been just over a week since Hamas attacked southern Israel. Ever since, I have been glued to the TV and my phone, watching and reading, searching for every scrap of new information that might help make sense of something which, until eight days ago, was unfathomable to me. My late grandmother had told me about the horrors of pogroms in Europe when she was a child, but if I have to be honest, I guess I always regarded these as distant and almost academic stories from another time. Certainly, I never expected to see a pogrom happen in my lifetime. And in Israel, no less.
I have also been inundated with emails and calls from friends around the world. Non-Jewish friends offering support and solidarity. Jewish friends calling to chat, to discuss, to try to understand. Israeli friends and family to update and share information. And many have asked me: “What’s your view? Why don’t you write something?”
But I haven’t thus far, because I just didn’t feel like I had anything useful to say. What could I possibly add to the discussion that hasn’t already been said a thousand times?
Then I woke up yesterday and a few thoughts began popping into my head, each of which seemed so obvious I was a bit surprised they hadn’t occurred to me before. Followed by a bit of internet scrolling, where I was even more surprised to find that the same thoughts that had suddenly occurred to me had largely not been mentioned in the literally thousands of hours of analysis and chat and endless debate from the past week.
So, for what it is worth, over the next little while I am going to issue a series of “mini-articles” offering up a few of my “original” thoughts. The first of which is in relation to the large number of civilian casualties in Gaza.
You see, even the most hardened anti-Israel folks seem to accept the proposition that Israel, in current circumstances, has a right, and even an obligation, to retaliate to the atrocities of October 7th. But they then immediately move on to say something to the effect of: “however, under the international law of war Israel has an obligation to try to minimize civilian deaths, and given the number of civilian deaths in Gaza they clearly aren’t doing this, and therefore Israel is committing a war crime.”
Yet if you look at the bare numbers, how can this possibly be true?
1,500 Hamas guys, on a flotilla of old motorbikes and paragliders and toting antique Soviet-era weapons, let loose for 24 hours in southern Israel. The result: they killed, at current count, about 1,400 Israeli civilians.
In response, Israel let loose with the full aerial arsenal of one of the most formidable air forces in the world. There has been more than a week of intense, relentless air strikes, with reports of entire areas of Gaza City being flattened. The result: according to official estimates coming from Gaza, at current count about 2,700 Palestinian civilians have been killed (sadly, by the time you read this, it will be more).
Surely these numbers – cold as they may be – serve as self-evident proof that Israel is not deliberately trying to kill innocent civilians. I mean if Hamas, who clearly were targeting civilians, managed to kill 1,400 people in less than a day, then shouldn’t the Israeli army, with all its might and power, have been able to kill far more than 2,700 civilians in a whole week of bombardment?
Think about it. If Israel’s true intent was to kill as many Palestinian civilians as possible, how do you explain the IDF dropping more than 6,000 bombs onto what everyone says is one of the most densely populated spots on earth, yet managing to kill ‘only’ 2,700 people. You’d have to conclude that the IDF is a pretty crap army, and as far as I can tell, no-one has ever suggested this is the case.
(For historical context, during the blitz on London, where the bombing was equally all-pervasive but using far less accurate weaponry and where many Londoners had the benefit of being able to take shelter in safe places, civilian casualty numbers were far, far higher).
Now please: I am not trying to be trite, or sound inhumane, or engage in “whataboutism”. And I am in no way trying to minimize the awful, tragic human toll being borne by ordinary, innocent Palestinians in Gaza. They don’t deserve this. Just like those at Be-eri kibbutz, who were rounded up and executed, death squad style, didn’t deserve it either.
All I am trying to say is that the next time you hear that Israel’s military is committing a “war crime” because it is “indiscriminately targeting and killing civilians,” ask yourself whether simple, observable numbers actually support this assertion.