The New York Times has a long, sad story about children killed in Gaza. As the first few paragraphs are framed, not only should your heart be wrenched at the children’s death (which is always a tragedy), but you should also feel inflamed with rage that Israel would visit this destruction on innocents:
The three Abu Ghazala fathers were in mourning, in the Palestinian way, sitting with their relatives recently in a shaded courtyard, open to the fields of watermelon and eggplant in which their children had died.
The children — Yehiya, 12, Mahmoud, 9, and Sara, 9 — were tending goats and playing tag on Aug. 29 when an Israeli shell or rocket blew them apart. “They went up to that palm tree,” said Ramadan Abu Ghazala, Yehiya’s father, pointing 300 yards away. “They went there every day.”
As the fathers, all farmers, talked, an Israeli blimp, with cameras, hovered in the sky above Beit Hanoun on the northern edge of Gaza, an Israeli drone buzzed in the air and an Israeli watchtower loomed over the nearby border. It was the blimp or the drone, presumably, that first identified the target.
Fatah, the more secular and nationalist of the two main Palestinian movements, and the opposition here in Hamas-run Gaza, has adopted the three young cousins. A Fatah flag flies over the house where they all lived. Fatah has published a “martyr” poster of the three, with Sara represented, between the boys, by a large bunch of red roses. Anyone who dies for any reason in the fight with Israel is regarded by Palestinians as a martyr, with a rapid path to heaven.
Wow. Clearly, the Israelis are either (a) intentionally targeting children or (b) they’re firing shells at random to terrorize the local population. Well, not so fast. Context starts to creep in in the next paragraph:
The Israeli Army said the children were playing near a launcher used to send Qassam rockets into Israel to try to kill or destroy anyone and anything they happen to land on — children, soldiers, livestock. Sderot, an Israeli city visible from here, has been the main target, and its residents live in fear, running to shelters when an alarm sounds. Sometimes they do not make it.
The children touched the launcher, the Israelis say. But they will not say what munition hit the children, except that it was ground-launched. The assumption here is that it was a missile, directed or fired by the Israeli troops who often hide in the orchards and fields, trying to kill the gunmen who launch the Qassams.
The Israelis, who contend they must do everything they can to stop rockets from falling on innocent Israelis, say they did not realize that the targets in this case were children, except when it was too late. The Abu Ghazalas do not defend the rocket fire from their fields.
I can give a little more context, because I blogged about this story when it was first reported, at the end of August. It turns out that there were several rocket launchers aimed at a heavily industrialized part of Israel near the Gaza border. Israeli surveillance revealed several people clustered around the rocket launchers, and assumed that they were ready to be fired. It was based on this information that the Israel Army attacked, not the people, nor the village, nor the field, but the rocket launchers themselves. As an Israeli military source said, rocket launcher sites are appropriately considered war zones, and are reasonable military targets. Even had the Israeli military known that the people clustered around the launchers were children, that would not necessarily have been a reason to hold fire against what appeared to be an imminent threat. While individual Palestinian families suffer genuine grief at the death of their children, the Palestinian culture and, especially, the Palestinian terrorists, believe that children are useful warriors in their death match with Israel.
Given that the rocket launcher is a legitimate military target, perhaps our attention should shift from the Israelis and back to the family. In that regard I ask, “What the #*%@ were these children doing playing around a rocket launcher?” One Palestinian, after the children’s death, was shocked enough to speak the truth (anonymously, of course, because truth kills in that neck of the woods) — he believes that the fault lies with the ones who leave the guns near children.
A member of the Abu Ghazallah family who witnessed the airstrike said a rocket launcher was near the area where the children were playing. The relative, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal, said the launcher belonged to Islamic Jihad, an armed movement responsible for much of the rocket fire into Israel.
“I hold the Islamic Jihad responsible for the killing of these children,” the relative said.
What he left unsaid is that the terrorists entice children there, effectively stating them out like tethered goats, ready to be killed for propaganda value.
If you plow deeper into the story, there is material there showing that Israeli’s are not, in fact, targeting children and are, instead, troubled by the children put into military zones and doing their best to avoid tangling with them:
And although the children had been killed by ground fire, [an Israeli military spokeswoman] offered an interview with an Israeli fighter pilot, identified only as Major Asaf, who spoke with feeling of how hard Israel tried “to prevent terror actions against our innocent civilians” while “not hurting the innocent on the other side.”
“The moment we see that there is any doubt that all the people in the vicinity are armed, our policy is to cancel the mission,” Major Asaf said.
That these aren’t just words is demonstrated by another anecdote told in the same article, although it wraps up with a scathing indictment from the Palestinians because Israel failed to dispense sufficient medical care to a people who, as a group, are intend upon destroying them:
In June, the first day of vacation after school exams, four boys were playing at the beach, near the former Israeli settlement of Dugit, in northwest Gaza, about 100 yards from the border fence, another good place to launch Qassams.
Israeli forces were just inside Gaza, searching for rocket-launching teams. The troops saw the boys crawling toward the fence and appearing to dig and plant something, presumably an explosive.
The Israelis say they yelled a warning over a loudspeaker and fired warning shots, then real ones. Two of the boys, Ahmed Abu Zubeida, 9, and Zaher al-Majdalawi, 10, were shot dead. Muhammad al-Atawanah, 16, was seriously wounded and brought by the Israelis to an Israeli hospital, where he was treated and interrogated by Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency. Muhammad Abu Tabaq, 15, ran away.
Some Palestinians said the boys had been digging for scrap metal. Others said they had been flying a kite and wanted to hide it while they went to the beach. That is roughly the Atawanah youth’s story.
“We swam, we played and flew the kite, but it hit something and fell,” he said. “We all bent to try to find out what went wrong and fix it, but then there was shooting. Ahmed wasn’t moving. Zaher was bleeding. I got a bullet in the back.” The Israeli soldiers took him to the hospital, but he accused them of not helping Zaher. “They are criminals!” he said. “All this for a kite!”
So, we have a military that, before defending itself, gives loud verbal warnings and warning shots before it fires. It then takes away those who are wounded and treats them.
In case you need a reality check to see just how abnormal Israel’s behavior is, not in terms of brutality, but in terms of being an unusually humane — probably too humane to be effective — military force, why don’t you check out some live blogging from this May when Palestinians were lobbing rockets into a town, with many heading for a school. The rockets heading for the school were surely no coincidence. Palestinian terrorists like intentional targeting schools. Oh, and about the Israelis treating the wounded boy, please contrast that with the two soldiers who got lost in the West bank and were actually ripped to pieces by a screaming, celebratory crowd.
War is brutal and children die. But for the NY Times to run a story that wallows in the Gazans’ victimhood without providing a stronger dose of context (I think the context is weak), is just well — typical.
(Sorry for this post’s fading out. I’ve been trying to get it written all day, but between work and children, this is the best I can do.)