Jonah Goldberg

Sometimes the facts don't require such sorcery; they just need to be gussied up a bit. In June, a Palestinian family was tragically killed by artillery while visiting a beach in Gaza. At first it seemed plausible that Israel was responsible. Which is why Hamas immediately swept the beach for evidence and collected all the shrapnel from the bodies to prevent that impression from changing. The Israelis initially apologized for the deaths - that's what Israelis do when they kill civilians - and only later revised their apology when an investigation revealed that the deaths were probably caused by ordnance buried under the beach.

That didn't stop the usual chorus from calling the deaths a deliberate "massacre." Indeed, every unintentional civilian death caused by Israel is a "massacre" while every intentional slaughter of Israeli civilians is "self-defense."

But here's the thing. Even if Israel did accidentally bomb the beach - as the Hamas government still claims - those deaths would still be tragic, but they wouldn't be Israel's fault. Hamas was allowing rockets to be fired at Israel a few football fields' distance from a recreational beach, hiding behind day-tripping picnickers. What, exactly, was Israel supposed to do?

Just days ago, Israeli jets bombed a building in the Lebanese village of Qana - a building Israelis believed to be evacuated - and it later collapsed. More than 50 people, many of them children, were pulled from the wreckage, dead. Newspapers, politicians and a host of useful idiots condemned another Israeli massacre. Images of dead children saturated the airwaves. Israel immediately apologized.

The script is even more familiar. The Qana "massacre" was very convenient for Hezbollah politically. It stymied Condoleezza Rice's visit to Beirut, forestalled talk of disarming Hezbollah, and rallied international opinion around the terrorist group. Aspects of the Qana story don't jibe, starting with the timeline. The building collapsed seven hours after the bombing. Some of the victims didn't look like they were killed in a building collapse, and refrigerated trucks were reportedly brought in before the media could visit the site, perhaps delivering corpses. An elaborate 30-foot banner condemning a bloody-lipped Rice for the attack was improbably at the ready for a protest that morning. Bloggers around the globe are steadily picking apart other details, to the dismay of many who like their anti-Israel storylines tidy (see for a summary).

But again, even if the deaths were the byproduct of Israel's bombing, that hardly makes it an intentional massacre, and it hardly makes Israel the villain. Hezbollah deliberately places its weapons caches beneath schools and homes, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. It shoots its rockets from civilian population centers. If the rockets slaughter Israelis, Hezbollah wins. If Israel responds and kills civilians, Israel loses. And either way, you can be sure some sucker will blame Israel for the whole thing.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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