"Israel has committed the war crime of the 21st century," cried a Palestinian representative. Using massive force against a crowded refugee camp, Saeb Erakat claimed, the Israelis had "massacred" hundreds of Palestinian civilians. A CNN reporter used the figure of 300-400 dead. Peter Hansen, the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) told a Danish newspaper that 300-400 Palestinians had been killed.
The place was not Gaza in 2009, but Jenin in 2002. The great Jenin massacre turned out to be another in a long series of false atrocity stories manufactured by the Palestinians and credulously repeated by the international press (which likes nothing so much as the image of vicious Israelis). Cartoonists across Europe delighted in drawing Israelis in Nazi uniforms. Le Monde ran a cartoon comparing the destruction of Jenin with the Nazi destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto.
In fact, in August 2002, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (neither very friendly to Israel) put the final fatality figures at 26 Palestinian fighters, 26 civilians and 23 Israeli soldiers. The Israeli casualty figures were comparatively high because the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) decided to fight street by street with soldiers on foot instead of using air power or tanks precisely to minimize civilian casualties. The houses in Jenin were booby-trapped. The terrorists surrounded themselves with civilians.
Now we are told that Gaza suffered 1,300 killed and up to 4,000 wounded. These numbers come exclusively from Hamas sources and have not been independently verified. In fact, the numbers have been challenged by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which put the number of dead at between 500 and 600, the majority of whom were young men. Others suggest that as many as 1,000 may have been killed, the majority Hamas fighters.
Certainly the humanitarian crisis in Gaza evokes sympathy. But the full and complete responsibility for that crisis lies at the feet of Hamas. The Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (published on the West Bank) reported on the Abd Rabbo family. The Abd Rabbos had the misfortune to own a farm that overlooked the Israeli town of Sderot. This, the newspaper reports, turned it into an ideal military position for the Palestinian fighters, from which they have launched hundreds of rockets into southern Israel during the last few years. "The Abd Rabbo family members emphasize that they are not (Hamas) activists and that they are still loyal to the Fatah movement, but that they were unable to prevent the armed squads from entering their neighborhood at night. One family member, Hadi (age 22) said: 'You can't say anything to the resistance (fighters), or they will accuse you of collaborating (with Israel) and shoot you in the legs.'"
As in Jenin, Israel took extraordinary measures to limit civilian casualties in Gaza. Reporting in the Weekly Standard, Max Boot notes that the IDF made hundreds of thousands of phone calls and dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets warning civilians to vacate sites of impending attacks. "When the Israeli Air Force detected Palestinian civilians atop buildings," Boot writes, "it dropped tiny bombs designed to cause little damage. Only when the civilians had cleared off did the air force drop larger munitions that flattened the structure."
Unlike the Israelis, Hamas was keen to increase Palestinian casualties of violence. Gaza is full of munitions, smuggling tunnels, and incitement videos exhorting the faithful to kill Jews, but it's nearly impossible to find a bomb shelter in the Strip. By contrast, the Israeli town of Sderot, where my 12-year-old son visited last week, is covered with them. He sat in the living room of an 80-year-old woman whose son had urged her to take cover in the newly built bomb shelter in her basement. Five minutes after she reluctantly rose from her sofa and left the room a Kassam rocket crashed through the ceiling.
Sderot is home to 23,000 long-suffering people. Boot reports that at no time during the past eight years has Sderot enjoyed more than four consecutive days without a missile attack. I cannot imagine how they bear the anxiety. I felt a tiny shred of what they must go through when I worried about my son's recent visit.
Operation Cast Lead has brought a respite. In the face of an enemy like Hamas, it is the only way.