Steven Frank

Who Is Responsible For Civilian Deaths in Gaza?

On October 7, a bulldozer from Gaza breaks through the Israeli-built security fence between Gaza and Israel. [Reuters/Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa]
Now that the war in Gaza has resumed, there are constant calls for Israel “to exercise restraint” and avoid civilian casualties. This is often nothing more than code for Israel to declare a unilateral cease fire and abandon its goal of destroying the terrorist group Hamas. It is, however, also often a sincere reaction to horrific images emerging from the war.

In either case, the appropriate question to ask is a simple one:

who started this war in the first place?

Although there are many differences of opinion regarding the ongoing conflict between Arabs and Jews, the answer to this factual question is undisputed:

the latest round of fighting began on October 7 when, without any provocation from the Israeli side, Hamas-led terrorists launched thousands of rockets into Israel, invaded Israel proper, massacred over 1,400 non-combat civilians, raped and mutilated countless women, burned children alive, and kidnaped approximately two-hundred forty men, women, and children, many elderly and sick.

Although many denounced the worst attack upon Jews since the Holocaust, others refused to do so (including the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations). Some even praised the terrorist organization’s mass massacre (including University professors and students and attendees at pro-Palestinian rallies). However, the overwhelming criticism of the current war has not been directed at the perpetrator of the war, Hamas, but at its victim, Israel and Israeli civilians.

Even the Pope proclaimed that it is “forbidden to respond to terror with terror,” underscoring the abhorrent moral equivalency between Hamas’s criminal massacre and Israel’s legitimate defense, an inexcusable comparison which many unfortunately share.

The world must pause a moment to consider the question raised above: “who started this war?” Not just this particular battle between Gaza and Israel (which, as demonstrated above, undoubtedly the Palestinians initiated), but the larger war between Arabs and Jews which is now in its second century.

The answer to this question is too long for purposes of this piece but briefly, there were the 1929 and 1939 riots of Arabs against Jews (even before there was a State of Israel or any “occupied” territory); the invasion of Israel by all its neighboring Arab states when it declared its independence in May, 1948; the hijacking of airliners; suicide bombers; mass shootings of children at schools; stabbings; car rammings; the first and second intifadas which murdered masses of Israelis (1987 & 2000); and, constantly, the kidnapping of IDF soldiers which Hamas has declared “is at the heart of Palestinian culture.” Instances of Palestinian-initiated violence against Jews is too voluminous to record here, but see Wikipedia for endless examples.

In short, in addressing Israel’s response to the October 7 mass murder of its people, one must consider who started this particular war and who started the general war against the Jews in the Middle East. In this context, one can only come to the conclusion that there would be no civilian causalities in the present conflict but for Hamas’ gruesome attack upon innocent unarmed civilians on October 7. In fact, there would have been no deaths at all between Palestinians and Israelis in the past seventy five years if only the Palestinians had accepted the 1947 United Nations’ partition plan which would have provided Palestinians their own independent state next to the State of Israel (or any of the subsequent offers of sovereignty proposed to and rejected by the Palestinians over the years).

In spite of history, many today choose to focus on Israel’s legitimate defense of its citizens rather than Palestinian acts of appalling violence which necessitated Israel’s defensive actions in the first place. Without such attacks there would be no retaliation for the attacks and no civilian casualties. Instead of obsessing whether Israel’s defense of its people is “excessive” why not consider whether Hamas’ unprovoked violence is the mother of the so-called “cycle of violence” and act accordingly? (And, of course, if the October 7 massacre had occurred in the cities of those now protesting Israel’s reaction and taken members of their family hostage, they surely wouldn’t be protesting that their government’s defense was “excessive”).

And, of course, it is settled that Hamas purposefully places its rocket launchers in the midst of its civilian population using them as “human shields.” On the other hand, Israel recently published an online map of Gaza warning civilians (and Hamas) of areas that are safe and those to be avoided. U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated “There’s not a whole lot of modern militaries that would do that.” Yet Vice-President Harris said Israel could do more….See Times of Israel article here.

Those who obsess about Israel’s reaction to terrorism have forgotten the Biblical canon that “you reap what you sow.” As applied to the Palestinians, the King James Version of the Bible pronounces: “they sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.”

In any event, regardless of whom one blames for the recurrent outbreaks of violence in the Middle East, I trust the Israelis to adhere to the advice of their former Prime Minister Golda Meir: “if we have to choose between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image.”

About the Author
Steve Frank is retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News Syndicate and Moment magazine.