Death in wartime is a given, and this includes civilian deaths. The death toll in Gaza has been high because Hamas has put its nihilistic “resistance” against Israel before the protection of the lives of its own civilians. And most of the civilized world seems to understand that point.
What strikes us as hypocritical, however, is the criticism of Israel’s conduct in the Gaza war and the resulting civilian losses. Frankly, we expect such criticism from Israel’s foes. But we expect more from Israel’s friends. So when friends say things that are hypocritical or unfair, it hurts even more. We felt that sting on Sunday, when State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that “the United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling” outside a U.N. school in Gaza that reportedly killed 10 people. And it hurt last week, when President Obama declared that others of Israel’s actions that resulted in civilian deaths were “indefensible.”
We want to be clear: Our complaint here is not with criticism of Israel. Our complaint is with the double standard of that criticism and the inherent unfairness of it. Quite apart from the fact that each of the civilian deaths in Gaza came in the course of unquestionably legitimate military action — most of it purely defensive — there is a streak of disturbing self-righteousness in the criticism that seeks to hold Israel to a higher standard of morality and military precision than the very countries that are expressing the criticism.
Would the United States, the European nations or any other country act differently if they were being threatened by terrorists next door? Can anyone expect a country at war for its survival to worry more about civilian losses on the other side than the safety and welfare of its own citizenry and military? Of course not, which is what makes the criticism of Israel so galling.
In war, the focus is never on civilian losses. It is on military victory and a country’s own military losses. In the eight-year U.S. involvement in Iraq, an estimated 500,000 Iraqis died, according to a 2013 study published in “PLOS Medicine.” Perhaps even more mind-boggling is the casualty count from the Vietnam War — 1.5 million to 3.8 million Vietnamese civilian and military deaths, according to a recent report in The Washington Post. Add to those more than 600,000 deaths in Cambodia and another 1 million in Laos, and you have a situation where the accusations and the outrage being spoken today seem to be wholly misdirected. And what about the historic civilian death tolls elsewhere in the Middle East?
Peace, and the people of Israel and Gaza, will be served by a vigorous diplomacy that demilitarizes Hamas, returns the Palestinian Authority presence to Gaza and eliminates the terror threat to Israel. Finger wagging and efforts to hold Israel to a different standard than any other nation just pushes that peace further away.