Scott Kahn
Director of

The rush to think the worst of Israel… again

The world's eagerness to blame Israel for civilian deaths in the Rafah fire – facts be damned – is just par for the course
An IDF infographic provided on May 28, 2024, about a strike in Rafah two days earlier. (Israel Defense Forces)
(Photo: Pixabay)

On Sunday, Israeli bombs reportedly caused a horrific fire that tore through civilian tents in the city of Rafah in Gaza. Hamas claimed that at least 45 people were killed, and witnesses described scenes of people burned alive. While Israel insisted that the bombing involved precision munitions and was a result of specific intelligence about the presence of Hamas operatives, Prime Minister Netanyahu conceded that a “tragic mishap” had occurred and said that the incident would be investigated.

Israel, it was said, bombed civilians. Again.

Israel told civilians to evacuate and then, went the reports, apparently bombed the safe area designated for them.

Condemnation came quickly. French President Emmanuel Macron said that he was “outraged” and called “for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire.” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s  chief coordinator and representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, compared Israel to Hamas by saying that “both sides don’t respect the rules.” German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said that Israel’s attacks in Gaza are “incompatible with international law.” Even Piers Morgan, who has emerged as a generally even-handed voice regarding the war in Gaza, tweeted that “the scenes from Rafah overnight are horrific. I’ve defended Israel’s right to defend itself after Oct7, but slaughtering so many innocent people as they cower in a refugee camp is indefensible. Stop this now @netanyahu.”

It is like a broken record on an infinite loop, where the same story repeats again and again and again.

I’m not referring to the tragic deaths of civilians. I’m talking about the need to assume the worst about Israel — the worst actions, the worst motivations, the worst results.

Remember the hospital that Israel ostensibly bombed back in October? Remember how 500 innocents were supposedly killed by that supposedly Israeli missile? Remember the way that the media parroted Hamas’s claims even as Israel, a democracy with a meaningful code of ethics and a commitment to truth, remained silent until the situation could be evaluated? Remember how it soon became clear that nowhere near 500 people had been killed? Remember how it turned out that the errant munition had hit a parking lot rather than the hospital itself? Remember how the rocket was fired not by Israel, but by Palestinian Islamic Jihad? And most crucially, remember how, when the truth came out, it was far too late to convince the millions who had already had their worst assumptions about Israel confirmed again?

The Powers That Be did not learn any of the lessons: not that Hamas cannot be trusted; not that caution should be exercised when details are not yet available; not that Israel is a democratic country with unparalleled systems in place to avoid tragic accidents like this; and not that Israel should accordingly be given a reasonable benefit of the doubt.

Israel is never given the benefit of the doubt.

The Powers That Be again assumed that Sunday’s bombing was an intentional, malicious act. Exactly what they expect Israel to do. Exactly what they assumed Israel had done in October.

Except that, again, it was no such thing.

Based on the IDF’s initial investigation, the deadly fire was probably caused by Hamas munitions, hidden, as they so often are, in a civilian area, which blew up in a secondary explosion.

Moreover, contrary to initial reports, the IDF targeted a closed structure that was not, in fact, part of the civilian refugee area.

Of course, even if Israel had, in fact, bombed civilians, it would have been a terrible, tragic mistake – the kind of mistake that Israel vigilantly tries to avoid, and the kind of mistake which, when fighting an enemy intentionally embedded in dense population centers, will, alas, occasionally occur. The moral combatant must do everything possible to avoid it, but periodic failure is inevitable. War is hell — but that doesn’t make both sides equally culpable.

And like a broken record, we, the defenders of Israel, must continually state the facts aloud to anyone who will still listen:

  • That Israel has been more careful than any army in history in avoiding civilian casualties while conducting urban warfare — and that this is not wishful thinking, but a statistically proven reality.
  • That the IDF has an exhaustive process to avoid civilian casualties, and regularly cancels missions to eliminate terrorists because of the presence of civilians.
  • That because Hamas breaks international law by using homes, hospitals, schools, and mosques as military installations, Israel is sadly forced to attack some of these places — even as it uses almost extreme measures to warn innocents to evacuate — in order to prevent a Hamas victory and, consequently, even more murdered, raped, and kidnapped Israelis.
  • That the death of every innocent civilian is a moral tragedy that also hurts Israel’s interests — and, therefore, the belief that Israel kills civilians on purpose is predicated upon the absurd and antisemitic assumption that Israel is willing to damage its own interests in order to kill innocent Palestinians.

Israel is not perfect. Like every country at war, Israel inevitably makes mistakes. But the rush to assume that Israel is to blame and that its motivations are suspect before the facts are known — facilitated in part by Israel’s insistence on investigating the truth, in contrast to Hamas’s predilection for falsehood in the service of vilification, and by an inherently antisemitic assumption that Israel intentionally targets civilians, despite its being morally reprehensible and militarily counterproductive — is, in the words of Yogi Berra, deja vu all over again. It is yet another broken record.

It is utterly maddening to witness facts being willfully ignored: facts like Hamas’s use of falsehood, or like its embedding military infrastructure, weapons, and personnel deep inside civilian population centers, or like the IDF’s use of intensive protocols to avoid civilian casualties. It is equally infuriating to know that even when Israel’s protocols occasionally fail, leading to civilian deaths, most people nonetheless assume that this failure represents an intentionally vicious and murderous act, rather than the tragic and wholly unintentional mistake that it actually was.

They never learn. It would seem they don’t want to.

About the Author
Rabbi Scott Kahn is the CEO of Jewish Coffee House ( and the host of the Orthodox Conundrum Podcast and co-host of Intimate Judaism. You can see more of his writing at
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