It’s that tragic time of year again when the Gaza Strip erupts into flames once more, and the usual suspects are quick to paint the tragic and complex issue with the black-and-white brush of their own agenda. And of all those metaphorical brushstrokes, the numbering of casualties on each side is the most revealing. In more ways than intended.
This year the popular propagandistic narrative is that of an evil, genocidal juggernaut of an Israel against a poor, downtrodden Palestinian people, like cattle before the slaughter. According to this fable there are only two sides, two groups, in the conflict. Every act of destruction falls on the conscience of every last person in Israel’s territory, and every dead body on the other end of the border is an innocent child.
Back to reality. There are, in fact, four main groups at play here: the people of Israel, the people of Palestine, the Israeli Defense Forces, and Hamas. The first two groups are simply trying to mind their own lives, and scurry for cover whenever the bombs start to fly. The other two are military groups, ostensibly charged with the safety of their corresponding civilian population. In reality, as in all wars, all this amounts to more death and destruction than protection.
Notice that key word: war. This isn’t a one-sided aggression here; it’s a two-sided armed conflict. Two organized forces are lobbing explosives at each other, with civilians caught in the crossfire. Omit all mention of one of these two sides, and the conflict ceases to make sense. It starts to look like a vicious, genocidal Israeli force is senselessly intent on pounding Gaza into the sand. And while that narrative is very useful for purposes of anti-Israel propaganda, it is not even remotely grounded in reality.
Now about those oft-quoted casualty figures, which show far fewer lives lost on the Israeli side. Using the two-group fantasy scenario, it seems like a brutal massacre of the Palestinian people. Using the four-group reality where you have two armed forces supposedly championing the safety of their respective civilian populations, a different truth comes into focus: the Israeli Defense Forces are much better at protecting their civilians. IDF members are clearly identifiable via uniforms, quickly sweep friendly noncombatants off to safety, and take the fight as far away from those in their care as possible. They even make overtures and attempts to minimize civilian casualties on the other side. Hamas members, on the other side of the equation, are often indistinguishable from civilians, fire into civilian populations, operate out of civilian areas, and make no perceivable effort to reduce the instances of death and injury on the Palestinian side, let alone the Israeli camp. When it comes to protecting its own people, the IDF handily outclasses Hamas.
There are great, complex issues at play that spark hostilities, with plenty of blame to spare on both sides of the border; and a continued effort to address these issues is necessary if we are to even dream of peace. However, when it comes to war, and condemnations thereof, we really have to be equitable in criticisms of both armed forces. Before blasting civilian casualties caused by Israel with any kind of honesty, we must demand Hamas wear clearly recognizable uniforms, target only military installations and personnel, and remove their forces from civilian populations, including sending their organized armed forces across the border to do battle in an area devoid of Palestinian noncombatants. At that point we can actually address grievances on both sides, and work towards true peace.
War is hell, and its agents are demons. We would do well to recognize all members of their ranks, and hold them all equally accountable.