It is difficult not to be moved by the pictures from Gaza. Innocent civilians — in Gaza and elsewhere on the planet — are always caught in wars over which they have no control and, often, in which they have no interest. Most want simply to be left to get on with their lives.
Seeing Israel’s military hardware causing such damage in Gaza can seem hard to reconcile with the human need to protect civilians.
But reconcile it we must. Although there are few contentious issues in which the facts are black and white, there is one thing about this action on which we should be clear: Israel had no desire to launch military strikes. The aggressor is not Israel; ultimate responsibility lies with Hamas. If Hamas had put an end to rocket attacks from Gaza there would have been no military action at all. There would have been no need. Israel, after all, pulled out of Gaza in order to avoid a draining military presence. The last thing Israel wants now is to be involved in military action.
But the rocket attacks have increased in intensity with a frightening regularity since the end of the so-called ceasefire and the Israeli government, like any sovereign power, has as its first duty the protection of its citizens from terror.
When the mechanisms of that terror are stored deep within a densely-packed population, as in Gaza, there are bound to be casualties, even though Israel’s action has been as targeted and precise as it is possible to be in the circumstances.
Yet the condemnation of Israel for its supposedly “disproportionate” response — the same word that critics used over the military action in the Lebanon in 2006 — could not be more wrong. Israel has done its best to ensure as few civilian casualties as possible. Hamas, on the other hand, launches its rockets with the specific intention of killing Israeli civilians. A proportionate response would involve random bombing, which would be wrong on any level. Yet if critics of Israel’s actions can see that, why do they refuse to acknowledge its veracity when applied to rocket launches from Gaza?
In the end, the straightforward truth is that, while every decent human being mourns the civilian casualties, there would not be a single one in Gaza if Hamas had ended, rather than stepped up, the rocket attacks. That is the central fact of this whole episode.