The images depicting the destruction in Gaza resulting from Israeli bombardments are undoubtedly distressing for many viewers. These visuals, combined with the high number of civilian casualties, naturally give rise to numerous questions. Why has such extensive destruction occurred? Is it truly necessary? Is it driven by desire for retaliation or revenge? Is it a disproportionate response? These are legitimate concerns. Consequently, there is a growing perception that Israel’s actions may be morally questionable, placing them in a category alongside the damage caused by Hamas.
A picture may be at times worth a thousand words, but at other times it can convey a distorted impression, as is the case here. If someone chooses to react with shock and dismay to what they see, it is their prerogative. Nonetheless, pausing to delve into the context and the chronological sequence of events is likely to unveil a notably contrasting perspective.
When observing events from the safety of our homes, free from repeated bombings, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are discussing a war, one initiated by Hamas. War, by definition, involves armed conflict and is typically characterized by widespread destruction. To put the Gaza war into historical perspective let us look at a World War II example: In July 1943, the Allies conducted a sustained bombing campaign on Hamburg, resulting in the deaths of 37,000 Germans, primarily civilians, with 180,000 wounded and 60% of the city’s houses destroyed. The deliberate targeting of civilian sites was aimed to undermine Nazi morale. To evaluate the bombing of Gaza in the appropriate context, even though it may be unpleasant, one should compare it to other war situations.
The chronology of the Gaza-Israeli war is as follows: On October 7, Hamas launched an unprovoked attack on civilian communities bordering the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of 1,400 people, the majority of whom were civilians. Atrocities, as documented by Hamas themselves, were even committed on some of the bodies of the murdered. Additionally, not only were an estimated 240 individuals, mostly civilians, captured, in violation of the Geneva Convention, but have been denied access by the Red Crescent or Red Cross which is even a more severe infraction.
There is an ongoing asymmetry between the demands of the Western and Arab countries, along with many pro-Palestinian supporters between demands on Israel to exhibit moral probity versus ignoring Hamas’ unscrupulous inhumanity. Hamas, unlike Israel, in addition to butchering civilians and taking hostages, deliberately uses lies, deception, and lack of accountability as standard practice.
One should note, that in contrast to pro Hamas supporters around the world, within Israel, many Israeli Arabs and Arab leaders have openly conveyed their repugnance at Hamas barbarism. This should not come as a surprise because Israeli Arabs are more familiar with what Hamas is really like and are terrified of Hamas overwhelming Israel. To make it perfectly clear, Israel is a democratic country, and Israeli Arabs are not compelled in any manner to declare support for the Israeli side.
The daily bombing of Israel by Hamas and non-release of the hostages proves that Hamas is still actively at war with Israel. Despite Israel’s substantial response, the continued rocket attacks on Israeli cities demonstrate that the Israeli reaction is not an overreaction and, regrettably, has not yet been effective in halting Hamas’s aggression or securing release of the hostages. The concept of proportionality is misleading and irrelevant in war. As the victim of Hamas aggression, Israel has the right to use as much legitimate force as is necessary to stop Hamas. Furthermore, it is clear that Hamas is aware that by ceasing the bombings and releasing the hostages, humanitarian corridors will promptly be established to aid their civilian population. So far, they have chosen not to. They bear responsibility for that decision.
The relentless determination of Hamas to wreak havoc on Israel, fully knowing the destructive consequences on their own population, is consistent with its mandate of calling for Israel’s destruction at the expense of supporting Palestinian welfare. Hamas has never supported peace negotiations. It virulently opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, one consideration for the timing of their attack has to do with progress made on the Abraham Accords which are leading to more cooperation between Israel and some of the Arab Middle East countries. Just as Hamas oppose peace negotiations with Israel, so too they oppose any reconciliation by any country with Israel. Well-intentioned third-party participants who first advocate for cessation of Israel’s response and then urge negotiations, often overlook this crucial fact. Before pursuing such a demand on Israel, wouldn’t it make better sense that interested parties should first prioritize securing Hamas’s consent to engage in peace talks or compromise-directed negotiations?
Nevertheless, why so much civilian destruction? There are two chief reasons both Hamas related, not Israel. Firstly, the Hamas resources and arsenals are enormous. To date at least 10,000 Hamas militants have been killed, an enormous number of enemy fighters to be sitting on your border. Over 8,000 rockets have been launched against Israeli cities since October 7. If you live in New York for example, I doubt that you would agree to be targeted with an average of 300 rockets a day by an enemy out to destroy you. Furthermore, it is unclear how many more thousands of Hamas militants are still in battle and how many tens of thousands of rockets are available for firing. It is not for lack of trying by Israel, that the barrage against Israel still continues. Just since the Gaza land entry, over 2,500 military sites have been targeted. The Israeli response is neither retaliation nor revenge, but rather an in-progress bone fide military response to a well-supplied and relentless enemy.
Secondly, the Hamas military and civilian infrastructures are deliberately enmeshed and intertwined with one another. Therefore, Israel cannot cause damage to Hamas without causing extensive collateral damage to the civilian infrastructure. Extensively documented evidence shows missiles being stored in Gaza houses, schools, and mosques. A recent correspondent was shown a Gaza house. When the living room rug was raised, an entrance to a tunnel with widespread connections underground was exposed. While some Gaza residents are not connected with the conflict, one notes that there are no protests against Hamas in Gaza. It is clear that many Gaza residents are complicit with Hamas. This was also observed on October 7 when many non-Hamas residents were shown to also participate in committing the barbaric atrocities against Israeli civilians. Nevertheless, in order to minimize civilian casualties, Gaza citizens have been urged by Israel to move south to safe sites, so as not to be caught up in the warfare.
In addition, Hamas is cynically exploiting health and humanitarian flexibility for their benefit. Knowing full well that unlike themselves, Israel will abide to the Geneva convention, there is documented proof that the Hamas command center is under the Shifa hospital. Fuel earmarked for UNWRA was usurped by Hamas. Another example: one third of the people on a convoy authorized to transfer only injured non-military Gaza citizens to Egypt, were found to be Hamas militants. A recent ambulance hit by Israel was not carrying injured citizens but rather transferring Hamas militants from point to point along with oxygen concentrators used in their military tunnels. Unfortunately, and pathetically, but typical of the UN, UN Secretary General Guterres has only criticized Israel for firing on the ambulance and has not called upon Hamas to stop using humanitarian and UN resources for its militant benefit. This reflects an asymmetrical critical approach adopted by many pundits: they tend to place high moral demands and exhibit significant criticism towards Israel while avoiding a similar approach towards Hamas.
Regarding perspective and practical considerations, individuals who support the Palestinian cause should distinguish between advocating for negotiations to promote Palestinian self-rule, which is a constructive approach, versus endorsing Hamas policies, which takes a destructive counterproductive stance. Furthermore, wholehearted support for Hamas weakens the Palestinian cause. Those who oppose Israeli policies should also differentiate between legitimate opposition to these policies and antisemitism. For instance, the Israeli press, which unlike Gaza is free, can and does criticize Israeli government’s policies and are not tagged as being antisemitic. In contrast, when pro-Hamas and some pro-Palestinians call for the rhyming, seemingly innocuous phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they are essentially calling for the destruction of Israel whether out of ignorance or deliberately understanding its implications. Their claim is typically that the land is Arab, and the Jews colonizers. However, to put this matter in perspective, aside from Jewish presence in the land of Israel stretching back to biblical times, one notes that history is replete with population transfer. By only insisting that the Jews of Israel return to their forefather’s countries of origin without, for example, equally demanding that Whites and Blacks in the US return to their forefather’s countries of origin, and return US territory to the indigenous population, proponents of Israel’s destruction are singling out Jews which is synonymous with being antisemitic.
Israel has a legitimate right to live. Most past peace negotiations with the Palestinians have been stymied by the Palestinian side. Hamas, both by declaration, and war action is only bent on destroying Israel. By enmeshing their military and civilian infrastructure and continuing their war effort, they leave Israel no choice but to cause extensive civilian damage despite Israel’s policy of selectively targeting military sites. The most expedient way to get humanitarian corridors open is for Hamas to stop their bombing and release the Israeli hostages.