In the wee hours of the morning this past Tuesday, the Israeli airforce carried out a targeted killing against Baha Abu al-Ata, the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iranian linked terror group in Gaza. When the smoke cleared from Abu al-Ata’s leveled apartment, his body was paraded through the streets as a martyr, and over the next 48 hours the Palestinian Islamic Jihad exacted retribution by targeting Israeli civilians with over 450 rockets.
When I woke up that day to the sound of my rocket alerts buzzing 5 a minute about southern Israel, I had to figure out what happened and more importantly how I felt about what was happening. In times of conflict it is instinctual to rally around your own flag to support the fight against the enemy. As a critical thinker however, I felt I had to suspend my blind tribalism in order to come to a more reasoned understanding of the conflict. This started with putting myself in the shoes of the ‘evil other.’
I tried to look for moral qualification to the actions of the Islamic Jihad, where I could find understanding, and where I could sympathize. Although they are considered a terrorist organization by many nations (a designation with which I unequivocally agree), their actions are supported by a sizable cohort of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians being humans and thus at large moral people, there must be something that I don’t understand. After unsettling days of reasearch, news reading, and argument, I’ve first come to the understanding that “It’s complicated,” but that I am not without a judgement. I want to shed light an understanding I’ve come to that is not easy to reach from the outside and not shared in news media.
When discussing military actions, It is wrong to draw a moral equivalency between both the intentions and actions of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Israeli Defense Force. Wedesday’s NPR headline was the poster child for the false moral equivalency; ‘Rockets rain on Israel and Gaza.”
’Rain’ implies two things about the nature of the Israeli and Gazan launched rockets; Like rain, the rockets landing in both Gaza and Israel are high in volume, and like rain, the rockets are indiscriminate of where they land, creating damage in a large area. This Idiom is only descriptive of the actions and Intentions of the PIJ and is fundamentally misleading about the IDF. Did the PIJ send a high volume of rockets as to be described as “rain”? Yes, The PIJ sent 450 rockets into Israel in 48 hours. Comparitiveley the IDF launched limited retaliatory F-16 strikes only in direct response to continuing rocket fire. Like rain, were these PIJ rockets indiscriminate of where they landed? Yes, they were aimed in the direction of Israeli Civilians in towns, kibbutzim, and cities in the south with indiscriminate weaponry to inflict the MOST damage possible. In contravention with the Geneva accords the heads of Al- Quds rockets are filled shrapnel in order to increase damage by spraying on impact. Conversely, the IDF targets individuals of terror organizations and attempts to minimize the damage to the community and loss of life. Of Abu- Al Ata’s three story building, Israeli F-16’s leveled only his floor, the rest intact demonstrated by pictures of the day. A video was aired of a high rise with ONE apartment smoking from a strike.
When people die in Gaza, it doesn’t automatically mean that the IDF committed war crimes. Collateral deaths of innocent Gazans can be explained by many factors none of which are that Israel targets civilians (not all explanations morally absolve the IDF’s conduct.) 1.2 Million Palestinians live in the 141 square miles of Gaza, where terrorists hide in civilian areas, using humans as shields by putting their operations and arsenals in schools, humanitarian sites and neighborhoods. Avoiding collateral deaths is thus difficult and many have urged restraint on Israels part. There is a two sided coin to this; Israel calculates the likelihood of collateral deaths and often still chooses to strike at the time of least impact but still when there could be collateral deaths which is tragic. These collateral killings do not always go without investigation; the IDF publicly announced a probe into the eight person Gaza family that was killed in a strike. On the other hand, the death tolls are a distortion in their own right; many of those killed in Gaza were supposed to be, (We can debate the necessity/ Morality of targeted killings but that’s for another time). Death tolls do not always differentiate between terrorists and innocents because of course, to much of the Arab world (and world), these are freedom fighters and now martyrs of the cause; 25 of the 34 killed were Islamic Jihad Targets. In contrast, no Israelis were killed. Looking from the other side, Israeli safety doesn’t mean the PIJ didn’t commit warcrimes. Israelis stayed safe not because the PIJ showed restraint, or because they sent rockets at non- civilian targets, but because the Israelis have the Iron Dome Missile Defense System which intercepted 90% of the rockets going to civilian neighborhoods, and Israel has bomb shelters and bomb alert sirens. Still, there are pictures of houses in Ashkelon with holes in the ceiling above playrooms with children’s toys strewn about.
To counter everything I just said, we often miss that the human aspects on the ground between Israel and Gaza are the same. When innocent people die, both Israelis and Palestinians shed the same pained tears, hug their loved ones with the same love that bond the other together, and too often hate with the same face the other who they feel killed their loved one. An exchange from a friend back home illustrates the complicated nature of this situation; He posted a video of the daughter of Abu Al Ata sobbing over the death of her father captioning “Pray for Gaza.” I understood her devastation to be real and valid; her world was truly rocked. For humanities sake we should allow ourselves to empathize with her and what her life is to be now. Her own devastation about her fathers death cannot overrule the fact that for her father, the lives of innocent women, men and children were worthless; he orchestrated hundreds of offensive attacks targeting children the age of his own daughter in kindergartens, and homes in Israel. For the Palestinians connected to PIJ, or simply under Hamas rule, the true yoke of oppression comes from those who see indiscriminate violence as a means to an end.