I am writing this column on Monday night. I am sick to my stomach after seeing a network TV newscast of a young Palestinian girl lying paralyzed in a hospital in Gaza, the victim of Israeli bombs. I see other children in the hospital. My eyes are tearful. I feel pain in my chest. I finally have to turn away from watching.
I have long believed in the rights of Palestinians to have their own independent, sovereign state, ever since I was a young boy. My father and I stopped discussing the subject because he was so adamant in distrusting the Palestinians and could not imagine they would honor any peace agreement.
I mention this so that what I am about to write is not put through the prism of those who assume that all pro-Israel Jewish Americans are insensitive to the plight of the Palestinians and the suffering of the children during this terrible tragedy of the Gaza crisis.
But there is no escaping the stubborn, indisputable fact that one cannot equate an intentional act of aiming rockets at civilians (Hamas) and with innocent people getting killed in the course of self-defense (Israel). One simply cannot.
There is no disputing that it is Hamas’s intent — it is Hamas’s policy — to destroy the state of Israel and to use terrorism to achieve that goal. That is a fact. It is also a fact that Hamas houses the rockets set to be launched into Israel within civilian facilities such as hospitals, schools, and residential complexes, and reportedly blocks many of those civilians from fleeing. That is a double war crime.
Then Hamas intentionally aims its rockets at Israeli civilian populations. That is a third war crime. And Hamas intentionally blocked its civilians, injured and needing medical assistance, from accessing an Israeli emergency hospital set up at the border. That is inhumane and cruel.
As former President Bill Clinton said recently, Hamas “has a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own [Palestinian] civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them.”
In contrast, it is a fact that Israel does everything it can, in the course of defending itself from Hamas rockets, to avoid civilian deaths. What army sends texts and phone calls to warn civilians of its intentions to attack and implores them to leave before the attack? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked a relevant question on the same network news program Monday night: If this were the U.S. being attacked by terrorists just across the border, aiming its rockets at U.S. cities, with the rocket launchers hiding among civilians, what would the U.S. do?
But in watching U.S. and international media coverage of the Gaza intervention, there is no question that this distinction is not fairly reflected. Nor is there equal coverage of the fright and horror of Israeli families and children living daily, hourly, under the threat of rockets falling from the sky, aimed at killing them.
I know that anti-Israel advocates argue that the country is committing war crimes when it targets civilian areas to destroy rocket launchers and tunnels.
But the double standard is clear. Since American soldiers, planes and drones killed insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and unintentionally killed civilians and children in the process, do Americans accept the characterization that our armed forces are committing war crimes?
The media coverage of this tragedy has facilitated and enabled Hamas’s strategy of intentionally putting its civilians and children in the way of incoming Israeli strikes as human shields. These cynical tactics are only meant to encourage media coverage of the horror of their deaths. As former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren wrote recently, journalists must not “allow themselves to act as accessories to Hamas’s murderous strategy that delegitimizes Israel and prolongs the Palestinians’ suffering.”
At the very least, every time journalists report on the horror of civilian injuries and deaths in Gaza, I believe they are ethically required also to report the fact that Israel tries to avoid such civilian suffering, while it is Hamas’s policy and intent to kill civilians — Israelis as well as Palestinians.
Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster).