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May 9, 2019 9:20 am

The World Ignored Israel’s Restraint in Gaza — and the Larger Story

avatar by Sean Durns

Opinion

Smoke and flame are seen during an Israeli air strike in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, March 15, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.

Not for the first time, many in the press and around the world have missed an important story in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In dozens of reports about Hamas and other terror groups’ most recent rocket barrage attacking the Jewish state, the media largely omitted the extraordinary steps that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) undertook to minimize casualties.

And Israel’s restraint should be a story in itself.

That story begins with Gaza-based terrorist organizations yet again launching attacks against Israeli civilians behind the cover of human shields.

On May 3, snipers from Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an Iranian-backed terror group, attacked IDF soldiers and attempted to assassinate IDF Col. Liron Batito. The attack was “deliberately planned,” according to an analysis by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC). The PIJ terrorists did this under the guise of the Hamas-orchestrated “Return March,” in which armed terrorists were interspersed among civilians attempting to illegally cross the Israel-Gaza border. In response, the IDF targeted two Hamas bases, killing two operatives.

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The next day, terrorists launched a massive barrage of rocket and mortar fire that steadily expanded to include Israeli civilian targets more than 25 miles from the Israel-Gaza border. Hamas and its terrorist allies launched 700 rockets — each rocket a war crime.

Communities in southern Israel, such as Ashkelon, Ashdod, Qiryat Gat, Qiryat Malachi, and Beersheba, were hit. Schools, houses, factories, gas stations, railroad tracks, and even an oncology ward were struck. Four Israelis were murdered, and more than 100 civilians were injured — many of them critically.

The IDF responded with surgical strikes from the air and sea, and limited ground operations. More than 240 terrorist targets, “most of them,” the ITIC noted, “belonging to Hamas and PIJ,” were hit. Among them, the IDF said, were rocket launching squads, observation posts, military compounds, and training camps.

For its part, the media responded with incomplete and often deeply biased coverage. Some headlines, such as The Wall Street Journal’s “Israel and Gaza Trade Blows,” gave readers a false equivalency between the actions of terrorist groups and those of a sovereign nation defending itself. The Washington Post, NBC, CNN, and others treated Gaza’s Health Ministry — a Hamas-controlled entity — as a credible source. Several outlets uncritically repeated claims that Israel killed a pregnant Palestinian woman and her son — although PIJ itself later admitted that it was responsible for their deaths.

The New York Times — less than two weeks after the shooting at a San Diego synagogue and uproar over the publication of a virulently antisemitic cartoon — even blamed Jews for the violence perpetrated against them. The paper called the PIJ sniper attack merely “a violent but localized expression of Palestinian impatience with Israel’s failure to alleviate dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza.” Dispensing with any pretense of impartiality, the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, David Halbfinger, tweeted that Israel’s decision to release footage of its strikes was “combat porn.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), BDS leader Yousef Munayyer, and other anti-Israel activists claimed that Israel was using disproportionate force and intentionally harming civilians. Tlaib accused Israel of unjustly oppressing and targeting “Palestinian children and [their] families.”

However, the exact opposite is true. Israel’s targeting was highly selective.

Indeed, the IDF’s targeting — and its intelligence — enabled the Jewish state to take out huge swaths of the terrorists’ infrastructure, while largely avoiding any civilian casualties.

A May 7 analysis by the ITIC found that of the 23 Palestinians killed before the May 6 cease-fire was reached, at least 17 — about 74 percent — have been linked to terrorist groups. This is a level of selective targeting that many — including the US and its allies in their anti-ISIS campaign — could only dream of.

Although many news reports failed to mention it, the IDF took drastic steps to prevent civilian casualties. Israel not only carried out precision strikes against high-value targets, but it frequently employed “roof knocking,” an IDF-developed practice of dropping non-explosive devices on the roofs of buildings prior to a strike. The IDF has used roof knocking for more than 10 years as a means of warning civilians of imminent bombing attacks, and to give them time to flee (even though this can also help terrorists and genuine targets escape).

No other nation in the region — and indeed, few in the world — employ “roof knocking.” The US itself didn’t adopt the tactic until 2016, when fighting ISIS, which, like Hamas and PIJ, uses human shields and stores its weaponry in the houses of civilians.

It is certainly newsworthy that a small country surrounded by terrorists ceaselessly seeking its destruction, expends the time, effort, money, and innovation to prevent civilian casualties. This is particularly true when one considers that Israel’s terrorist opponents have precisely the opposite objective.

After the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, then-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey remarked that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.” Dempsey cited “roof knocking” and the IDF’s practice of dropping warning leaflets as proof. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) documented, Dempsey’s comments were widely ignored by major news outlets.

Five years later, Hamas’ tactics remain unchanged. Regrettably, so too does the media’s inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to honestly cover them, or to give Israel’s measured response the column space that it deserves.

Sean Durns is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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