I can understand why many people, including good friends of Israel, publicly condemned what they thought had happened on Monday in Gaza. They took at face value the media coverage without realising that in large part the broadcast media was regurgitating the Hamas line that the IDF had indiscriminately shot unarmed civilian protesters.
My job as Director of We Believe in Israel requires me to wait and be more sure of the facts before commenting and also means that, being part of the team at BICOM, I have access to the facts and the smartest analysis in the business.
I have visited the Gaza border half a dozen times as part of the delegations of local councillors that I take to Israel. During these visits I have both met the civilian communities living with the threat of Hamas rocket attacks and terror tunnels, and been briefed by IDF soldiers there, including snipers. I therefore have some knowledge of their terms of engagement which made me sceptical they would shoot anyone who didn’t present a threat. The whole point of deploying snipers is that their fire is precisely targeted and the opposite of indiscriminate.
We now know, from an interview with Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil, that 50 of the 60 dead were Hamas members. Islamic Jihad claim a further 3. Another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, gave a TV interview the day before the bloodshed saying Hamas was “deceiving the public” when it used the phrase ““peaceful resistance” as it was “bolstered by a military force and by security agencies”.
Details are emerging of ten groups that tried to blow holes in the border fence with IEDs, of another group of eight terrorists that were in a gun and grenade battle with Israeli commandos. Gazan Facebook pages urged participants in the protests to “Bring a knife, dagger, or handgun”. Al-Bardawil described Monday not as a protest or even a riot but a “battle”.
The clashes could have led to mass casualties if the border had been breached and terrorists had reached the kibbutzim I’ve visited in recent years, one of which is just 400 metres beyond the border.
This wasn’t the indiscriminate massacre of civilians presented to the world on Monday. This was a case of highly trained IDF soldiers, with very clear rules of engagement, with use of live fire as the very last resort, stopping terrorists from using the chaos and confusion of a huge demonstration and smaller outbreaks of rioting as cover to infiltrate Israel with the intention of killing civilians.
All the deaths on Monday are tragic, whether the minority who may have been civilians or the majority who it now appears were Hamas or Islamic Jihad combatants. I want those young Gazans to be the doctors, engineers and teachers Gaza needs in a free and democratic Palestinian state living at peace alongside Israel, not to be dead terrorists.
But the rush to demonize Israel and assume the worst intentions and actions without waiting to find out what really happened or to feel any empathy about the extreme dilemmas Israel’s terrorist foes place on its leaders and military provides Hamas with exactly the propaganda win they dreamed of when they carefully planned this operation.