Gaza: Collateral Tears

Scroll down to see my previous posts on the Gaza War, beginning January 14.

The phrase “collateral damage,” meaning civilian casualties, arose in the Vietnam War and became a standard of military vocabulary. It is, at least in theory, unintended and ancillary to attacks on military targets. There has been a lot of it in Gaza, and what it really means is blood, pain, disability, loss, grief, anguish, screams, sobs, and tears. According to the Hamas Health Ministry, as of February 21st, 29,313 people have been killed, including at least 8,400 women and 12,300 children; the wounded number 69,333, including at least 6,327 women and 8,663 children. Children have been dismembered by shrapnel, burned, blinded, and crushed under rubble, among other horrible fates. Some have probably died of fright.

So “collateral tears” must include the tears of countless millions of us who read these numbers and see photos of dead or suffering children and their bereaved parents. Someone said that the mark of a civilized person is the ability to look at a page of numbers and weep. If you can’t weep at these numbers, look in the mirror.

However, this is war. I hate war, and I assume you do too. But if you agree with me that war will not be eliminated soon, the question changes. Is Israel’s war in Gaza outside the range for wars since World War II, as measured by the ratio of civilian to military deaths? No, and it is far lower than the civilian casualties caused by the US and UK in Japan and Germany in that war.

Another measure is the civilian casualties per airstrike, using only airstrikes that caused at least one casualty. Reuters fairly criticized a graph that gave a misleadingly low figure for the Gaza War, and corrected the number to 10.1. For comparison, they offer the following numbers from recent wars: the Battle of Raqqa (2017), 9.8; the Battle of Mosul (2016), 12.0; and the Aleppo Offensive (2017), 21.2. So by this measure as well, Israel’s Gaza offensive is within the range for recent wars.

Nevertheless, our tears must lead us to ask Israel to do better. Since early in the war, international pressure has grown to force it to reduce civilian casualties, or even stop the war. Is Israel responding? My makeshift graph below suggests an answer. Continue reading

Gaza: Hamas Declares War

Last Tuesday I was privileged—or voluntarily burdened, by invitation of the Israel Consul—with the chance to view one of the restricted IDF videos documenting the atrocities of October 7th. This is a compilation of video recordings from bodycams, phone, and dashboard cameras belonging to attackers, victims, and rescuers as well as CCTV from the locations attacked.

As hard as this was to watch, it did not go as far as I expected based on reports by people who saw even worse video, surviving witnesses, and the unfortunately limited postmortem evidence. I will return to some of those. But first I want to describe this video. If you are squeamish, read no further than the next paragraph; even if you are not, you will probably be disturbed.

This is the paragraph anyone can read. What made the greatest impression on me in the video was the joy on the faces of the Hamas attackers as and after they did their atrocities. Because of the way the human brain is wired, the difference between video and verbal description is not as great for atrocities as it is for facial expressions. I had heard many descriptions of atrocities, and seeing them was important, but those facial expressions are seared into my mind—when these young men turned back toward their colleagues’ phones with faces bursting with smiles. Nothing diabolical here. The smiles were big, warm, and bright, conveying the  most spontaneous joy—pride, satisfaction, and triumph, yes—but most vividly, joy. Continue reading

Gaza War: Some Numbers

Please see below (“Concerning the War in Gaza”, January 14) for my overview of the war, and the disclaimer introducing it, also applicable here. So is this: Every death is a terrible loss, and every civilian death more so.


In 1944, General Curtis Lemay was appointed to command the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) in the Pacific Theater, his predecessor having been fired for a reluctance to bomb civilians. Lemay soon ordered the fire-bombing of Tokyo with napalm, killing as many as 100,000 people in six hours. He repeated this in other Japanese cities, with the estimated total deaths ranging from 241,000 to 900,000. This was before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed another 129,000 to 226,000. These mass bombings were not directed at military targets (few were involved) but were carpet bombings of civilians. To many, Lemay is a hero.

Similar incendiary bombings, also creating firestorms, were carried out by the British and Americans in the German cities of Hamburg and Dresden, killing at least scores of thousands. Civilian populations being what they are, most of the victims in all these cases were women and children. Causing terror was their explicit goal, in the service of ending the war. Some considered these war crimes, but they were never tried or punished as such. German mass murder of civilians, using different methods, was of much greater magnitude, and was punished.

In part in reaction to the destructiveness of that war, the 1949 Geneva Conventions greatly strengthened the laws defining and prohibiting war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, a term coined to describe what the Germans did to the Jews, but subsequently applied—in a few cases I think legitimately—to other mass killings. It has more often been misapplied. Continue reading

Concerning the War in Gaza

After focusing on the Gaza war since 7:30 am on October 7th, I’ve finally decided to begin writing about it. People ask for my opinion and I will now refer them here. If you read on, that is what you will get. I will not keep saying, “In my opinion” again and again, so please assume it. Today I will give my overview, which may be followed by other, future entries.

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Israel is at war with the empire of Iran, which includes the failed state of Lebanon, the territory of Gaza, and the faltering state of Yemen. Iran rules these entities through the terror groups Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis respectively. Like Iran, they are sworn to eliminate Israel. Through these and other proxies, Iran also controls parts of Syria and Iraq and has significantly infiltrated the West Bank. Since Iran is not an Arab country, this is larger than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The question of whether Iran gives directives to these proxies on a day to day basis is irrelevant. It nurtures, trains, arms, consults, and plans with them and has done so for many years. They don’t do anything without Iran’s approval before and after the fact. Meanwhile Iran progresses steadily toward a nuclear arsenal (which Israel already has). Continue reading