Early Tuesday morning I was in the Coventry station waiting for a train to London, and I bought three British newspapers— The Times, The Daily Mail, and The Guardian.
All, appropriately, reported the tragic deaths of five girls, all in one family, in Gaza in an Israeli strike. Only The Guardian, known for its support of the Palestinians, covered the front page with the story, but it needed to be reported and it was. As a father, it brought tears to my eyes.
The family is named Balousha. “The seven eldest girls,” The Guardian wrote, “were asleep together on mattresses in one bedroom and they bore the brunt of the explosion. Five were killed where they lay: Tahrir, 17, Ikram 15, Samer, 13, Dina, eight and Jawahar, four.” Their mother, Samira, had lost five of her nine children; she said, “I didn’t see any of my girls, just a pile of bricks.”
Most of us who have not lost a child cannot begin to imagine the magnitude of the grief. We have to hear their words. We have to know their names. But what we do not have to do is blame Israel.
It was not the fault of Anwar and Samira Balousha that they moved their family into a small house next to a mosque. It was not their fault that the mosque was used as a weapons cache and military facility. But this was also not Israel’s fault.
It was not the fault of the Baloushas that the leaders of the Gaza territory aimed and launched thousands of rockets at civilians in southern Israel during the eighteen months they have been in power and in the months before that after Israel withdrew completely from their territory, dragging recalcitrant Jewish settlers out by force.
It was not the Baloushas’ fault that the same leaders ignored countless pleas and warnings from Israel, one as recently as three days before the air strikes began, to stop the rocket fire. But these things were also not Israel’s fault.
The mosque was precisely targeted because of its military value. The explosion caused the collapse of the Balousha family’s house, beside the mosque. It was no one’s fault that the house was next to the mosque, but it was the fault of the Gaza “leadership”—the fault of Hamas—that the weapons were in the mosque and that the provocations of rockets targeting Israel’s civilians yielded their inevitable conclusion.
An editorial in Al Ahram, an Egyptian weekly, addressed Hamas directly and clearly: “If you can’t kill the wolf, don’t pull its tail.” Forget for the moment the fact that Egypt is no great friend of Israel, and that the image is not complimentary. Concentrate on the practical meaning of this advice, and you will know who is to blame for the sudden, bloody deaths of Tahrir, Ikram, Samer, Dina, and Jawahar Balousha, and for the grief of their parents Anwar and Samira.
Hamas has gotten this advice in one way and another from Egypt and other Arab moderates for years and has ignored it. Instead it has listened to the advice of Iran and Hezbollah. Sure, they said, go ahead, pull the wolf’s tail. By Monday the cost was clear; Hamas could have read Al Ahram Monday morning and taken it, and perhaps the Balousha sisters would be alive.
Those who call this a crime against humanity are living in a dream world and have no knowledge of the history of war. They also have no knowledge of the difference between targeting civilians and accidentally killing them. As of this writing the UN estimates that around 60 of the more than 400 Gazan deaths have been civilians. Every one is a tragedy. But in the crowded conditions of Gaza these numbers reflect exceptional care taken by the Israel’s Air Force and intelligence services to avoid the deaths of innocents.
In contrast, of the 542 deaths in Israel between 2000 and 2007 due to terror attacks by Hamas and others, the great majority were civilians. Why?–because mainly civilians were targeted. As for the rocket attacks, almost every one is directed against civilians. Watch this 47-second Hamas video to find out how they view the deaths of children, women, and non-combatant men in Israel. Warning: it is bloody, but it is theirs, and it will leave you no doubt about who the targets are.
Nizar Rayyan (Ghayan), a top Hamas leader, was interviewed two years ago by Jeffrey Goldberg, who asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (cease-fire) with Israel. His answer: "The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don't need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel . . . Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God."
On Wednesday of this week, Rayyan went on television and warned Israel against a ground action: “We are the ones who know Gaza’s every corner and know how, with the permission of God, we will kill and imprison their men and rub their noses in the sand.” On Thursday he was killed by an Israeli air strike, together with his four wives and nine of their twelve children, among whom Rayyan insisted on staying while he issued his bloody directives against Israel. Are those children’s deaths on Israel’s hands? I don’t think so.
Golda Meir said that she could forgive her enemies for killing Israel’s children but could never forgive them for forcing Israel to kill theirs. The deaths of Gaza’s children will be difficult to forgive, but it will not be Israel that needs the forgiveness.