Who Benefits? Thoughts on the Civilian Death Toll in Gaza


    I would like to make just one point about the Israeli-Hamas conflict. It is difficult, I recognize, to isolate a single point, because people have such strong feelings on one side or the other that they tend to color judgments on all the relevant issues. But it’s worth a try.

    The single point I want to address is this: are we to believe that the Israelis are making a strenuous effort, given their military objectives, to minimize civilian deaths in Gaza? The Israelis claim that they are. Some others have called that into question.

    To me, the answer seems clear on the face of it once one asks the question: Who benefits? Who advances toward their goals as a result of the civilian casualties?

    Clearly, it is not the Israelis. Before the ground assault began, discussions of the potential costs to Israel focused on the international opprobrium and isolation that would likely punish Israel for the civilian deaths resulting from military operations in the densely-populated Gaza Strip. The carnage of civilians does nothing to achieve any Israeli purpose, while it does much to increase the political price of the military operation.

    On the other side, what is costly to Israel is correspondingly beneficial to Hamas. The greater the international pressure on and isolation of Israel – exacerbated by these civilian deaths – the stronger the position of Hamas vis-à-vis their Israeli foe. Hamas can hope for no military gains against the far mightier IDF, but it can hope for a stronger hand in negotiations now and in achieving its long-term goal of the elimination of Israel from the region.

    All of which is reflected in Hamas’ position in the cease-fire negotiations. Although Israel agreed to a proposed cease-fire, Hamas has rejected it. And it is Hamas, not Israel, that is insisting on political concessions as a condition of a cease-fire. The inference to be drawn, it seems, is that Hamas believes can gain something from the continuation of the current hostilities, with its mounting Palestinian death toll.

    So, regardless of whether one believes that Israel has a right to exist, or that any of the parties are interested in achieving the long-sought “two-state solution,” or that this military incursion is justified or wise, to this one question the answer seems clear. Israel has every reason – for purely self-interested motives, whether supplemented by compassionate humanitarian concerns or not – to minimize civilian casualties. And for Hamas, it is the civilian casualties, and the international response to them, that are the chief means by which it can gain from this latest episode in this long-running, sad story from the Middle East.

    • aznew

      The one part that doesn’t track for me is the sheer number of Palestinians getting killed. In a war zone, I could understand, even given the technology that Israel likely possesses, more than a few instances of errant missles, bad intelligence or other factors causing civilian deaths. I’m not defending the killing — just saying I understand it.

      But the sheer number of civilian deaths in Gaza, with the full knowledge on the part of Israel that each civilian death — particularly those of children — is detrimental to Israel’s case and plays into the hands of Hamas, suggests something else is at work here, and as a Jew and a supporter of Israel, it concerns me.

      My concern is that it speaks to an attitude on the part of Israel that tends to view Palestinians as somehow less than deserving of basic human rights. I have always believed in the past that Israel has gone to extraordinary efforts to avoid hurting civilians, even if such damage was ultimately inevitable. This time, I am not quite as sure.

      With Iron Dome, does Israel need to respond to each missle attack? Can’t Israel be more careful about hurling bombs into areas where civilians might be, even where they might be militarily justified? Can’t Israel continue to conduct its operations against the tunnels, which are on the border of Gaza, without bombing deep in Gaza city? Can’t Israel me more careful, not because it is worried about World opinion, but because, dammit, THERE ARE KIDS GETTING KILLED.

      I’m not under any illusions as to Hamas’ strategic objective here. Continue to goad Israel into bombing Gaza and inevitably killing more civilians and children in the hope that Israel will ultimately have to bow to international pressure and not only agree to a ceasefire, but agree to end the blockade of Gaza, which will allow Hamas to rearm and furhter build its military capability for further action against Israel nd its citizens.

      My problem with Isreal’s response is not so much with the fact that it plays into Hamas’ hands and is counterproductive, as I asume the Israelis know ehat they are doing strategically, but with the fact that to Israel the deaths of these chilren seem an acceptable price to pay, and I have a hard time seeing how that is the case.  

    • pontoon

      Israel certainly has a right to exist.  But they don’t, I believe, have the right to blockade basic necessities from 1.8 million people who live in a 141 square mile corridor.  

      Israel says they made phone calls, dropped leaflets, et cetera telling people to leave.  Where are they to go?  To the UN schools they were using as a sanctuary and Israel bombed them anyway?

      I know this is a complex issue and situation, but Israel  cannot consistently and continually deprive a people of basic human rights and expect them to sit idly by without repercussion.