The media’s true failure in Gaza

David Brog Executive Director, Christians United for Israel
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Earlier this week, the United Nations confirmed that the tragic death of 11-month-old Omar al-Mishrawi, previously blamed on Israel, was actually the result of a Hamas missile. The missile, it seems, fell short of its target. Instead of hitting the innocent Israeli civilians it was aimed at, it landed in Gaza and killed innocent Palestinian civilians.

Most of the media outlets which rushed to blame this death on Israel have been far more cautious about their retractions. And some have shunned retractions altogether. Here’s how the Washington Post’s Max Fisher explained away his rush to implicate Israel in this death:

It’s difficult to see how knowing whose rocket or missile killed Mishrawi would resolve the larger questions for which that debate is a proxy. … These are notoriously thorny debates. As with so many protracted geopolitical conflicts, neither side comes out looking as angelic or demonic as its partisans might wish.

Fisher is wrong. The conflict between Hamas and Israel is not a “thorny debate.” Hamas is a terrorist organization, and is recognized as such by both the United States and the European Union. Just as responsible journalists reject a moral equivalence between the United States and the al Qaeda terrorists who seek to kill Americans, they should likewise shun such equivalence between Israel and the Hamas terrorists determined to kill Israelis.

Mr. Fisher and his colleagues would do well to remember that Hamas isn’t interested in a two-state solution. In fact when Israel and the Palestinian Authority were close to reaching peace, Hamas began blowing up Israeli buses, restaurants and cafes in a desperate effort to derail the peace process. Nor does Hamas simply want the Israelis out of Gaza. The Israelis — all of them — left Gaza in 2005. Hamas wants to destroy Israel and kill Jews. They say so in their charter. And they say so with their intentional mass murders.

Here’s what Hamas does to protect innocent human lives: nothing. They are terrorists. Their goal is to kill civilians, not to protect them. Hamas aims its missiles at Israeli civilians. And it fires these missiles from behind Palestinian civilians. Hamas wins if they kill Israelis — because they are able to terrorize the Israeli population. And Hamas wins if the Israelis kill Palestinians in their effort to stop the missiles — because they know that Israel alone will be blamed for these deaths. Hamas even wins if they kill Palestinians — because Israel will so often get blamed for these deaths as well.

Here’s what Israel does to protect innocent human lives. First, it waits. Israel does not respond to Hamas rocket fire after one or even one hundred missiles have hit her southern cities. Israel responds after thousands of such missiles have been fired. No other democracy waits so long to perform its fundamental duty to protect its citizens.

When Israel finally chooses to defend itself, it does so with supreme caution. Before fighting in a given neighborhood, the Israelis drop leaflets hours in advance warning the residents of the impending battle. They call the cell phones of the local residents to let them know they are coming. And they text message warnings to the same phones. Hamas terrorists know that if they hear the sound of an Israeli drone overhead, all they need to do to save their lives is enter a crowd of civilians. Israel will — and always does — hold its fire or divert its missiles.

The Israelis wait so long — and enter so cautiously — because they know that no army is perfect. They understand that when targeting terrorists who hide behind civilians it is inevitable that civilians will be harmed. This is a fact also recognized by international law. The laws of war do not require that no innocent civilians die. These laws require instead that armies do not target civilians, and that any collateral harm caused to civilians be proportional to the direct military advantage anticipated by the attack. Israel adheres to these standards. Hamas does not.

If international law is not blind to the difference between the terrorists who target civilians and an army seeking to defend itself from such attacks, why should journalists be? Objectivity does not mean moral abdication. No serious journalist fails to make moral distinctions between the western democracies and al Qaeda. Why does such moral clarity end at Israel’s borders?

Hamas will stop firing its missiles at Israeli civilians the day that the media stops rewarding Hamas for doing so. The missiles will stop the day Max Fisher and others like him recognize the difference between objectivity and moral blindness. The missiles will stop the day that Hamas is held accountable for its intentional violations of international law. And when Hamas stops firing its missiles, no innocents — Israeli or Palestinian — will be killed by them.

David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel, is the author of In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity (Encounter, 2010).