This week, Israel struck a major blow in the war against terror with the killing of Salah Shehadeh in Gaza, operative head of the U.S.-certified terrorist group, Hamas. (See an interview with Shehadeh.)
As Palestinian civilians were killed and wounded, newspapers like the Hartford Courant and San Jose Mercury News outrageously likened the Israeli action to the same type of "terrorism" that Hamas uses.
While the loss of innocent life is always regrettable, it is important for the media to give the full context of Israel's actions.
(1) Shehadeh operated from a heavily populated neighborhood, precisely because he knew the civilians would serve as a human shield against any Israeli attempt to assassinate him.
Writing in the NY Post ("Hamas Kills Its Own" - July 24, 2002), John Podhoretz declares that responsibility for the civilian casualties lies with the dead terrorist himself. Podhoretz explains:
The Fourth Geneva Convention goes into great and elaborate detail about how to assign fault when military activities take place in civilian areas... Hamas is at war with Israel. But instead of separating themselves from the general population in military camps and wearing uniforms, as required by international law, Hamas members and other Palestinian terrorists try to use civilians – the "protected persons" mentioned in [The Fourth Geneva Convention] 3:1:28 – as living camouflage. To prevent such a thing from happening, international law explicitly gives Israel the right to conduct military operations against military targets under these circumstances.
(2) Israel proved in Jenin that whenever possible, it will go to great lengths to minimize civilians casualties – even at the expense of it's own soldiers. In Gaza, such a house-to-house operation was not possible, and would have likely resulted in a far greater number of casualties on both sides. (The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel naively writes that Shehadeh could have been arrested like Barghouti and put on trial.)
The Chicago Sun Times ("Hamas to blame for civilian deaths" - July 24) writes:
Israel says it had scheduled the attack on Hamas terror mastermind Salah Shehadeh three times before Tuesday but postponed it because of fears of civilian casualties. When the bombing was carried out, said Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, 'the information we had was that there were no civilians near him."
Israel's enemies and those who always think the worst about the Jewish state reject these claims out of hand. But given Israel's record of trying to avoid civilian casualties, such as the decision not to use air strikes in the assault on the terrorist cesspool in Jenin – and remember all the Palestinian claims of a Jenin massacre that turned out to be totally bogus? – we think there's good reason to believe the Israelis.
Another defense of the Israeli action comes from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The Israeli attack on Shehadeh was more justified than the American attack. The Israeli operation was careful enough to actually kill the enemy who was the target. By contrast, the United States still doesn't have a coherent story about why it dropped a bomb on the wedding party. A New York Times report this week suggests that the United States has killed hundreds of innocent civilians on a number of occasions because of unreliable information about potential targets.
Military operations are always designed to minimize one's own casualties. In the Gulf War against Iraq in 1990, the American military claimed that nearly 100,000 Iraqis died, compared to American losses of approximately 225. In the American war against Al Queda, thousands of the enemy have died along with an estimated 700 civilians – compared to American combat losses of less than 50 (80 percent of which are from accidents or "friendly" fire).
As U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "This is a war that has been forced upon us by terrorists... We are making great efforts not to hurt civilians, but if civilians are hurt, the entire responsibility for such is upon the terrorists who use them as cover..."
(3) The media quotes Palestinian sources that the killing of Shehadeh spoiled an agreement that had nearly been reached to stop Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians. Yet in an interview with CNN's Jim Clancy, Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat said he had no information about who was involved in these negotiations.
Meanwhile, a senior Israeli source told Maariv that,
The Tanzim were not preparing any cease-fire, and the Hamas were not involved in any such contacts. These claims are fabrications and part of Palestinian psychological warfare." And just two days before Shehadeh's killing, Maariv published a call by Arafat's Fatah movement to continue the attacks: "We call on all groups... to increase their armed activities against targets of the military occupation."
Putting these rumors into perspective, The Times of London wrote:
The proposal floated would not have ended attacks on Israeli soldiers, did not bear the signatures of any Palestinian leaders and comes after all too many protestations of peace more honoured in the breach than the observance. Above all, the ceasefire offer did not have the backing of Hamas, the organisation led by the intended target of Monday night's attack, Salah Shehade. Given his record, and that of his organisation, the likelihood of any cessation of hostilities from Hamas seems wildly improbable.
(4) The media claims that Israel's action will provoke additional acts of revenge by Hamas. Is this any different from these groups' position before the Shehada killing? Hamas has been operating for months at a high frequency of attacks – including the Tel Aviv disco, the Sbarro pizzeria, the Moment cafe, the Passover seder – and is constantly boasting of "thousands ready for martyrdom." If anything, the killing of Shehadeh places a major obstacle to Hamas' terror operations.
In a breech of journalistic ethics, BBC's James Reynolds seems to be encouraging Hamas retaliation, as he describes less the Palestinian mood and more of his own personal thoughts: "There is a feeling that Palestinian militant groups need to do something to avenge the deaths of those killed in this latest Israeli strike."
(5) While the media presents Shehadeh's wife as an innocent victim, a photo of Shehadeh and his wife in Time Magazine shows her in full military gear, holding an assault rifle. After seeing this image, it is difficult to categorize his wife's death as regrettable collateral damage.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ralph Peters ("Civilian Casualties: No Apology Needed" - July 25) declares:
This is not about diplomatic table manners. It is a fight to exterminate human monsters... Terrorists and their supporters must learn that they will be allowed no hiding places. Not in their homes, not in churches or mosques, and not in foreign countries to which they might flee. This is a war that must be fought without compromise...
(6) International hypocrisy is running high. The same cacophony of voices that denounced the (non)-"massacre" in Jenin, is jumping to criticize Israel again. But why are Palestinian terrorists allowed to target civilians without exciting an international outcry, while every accidental civilian death inflicted by Israel is a crime against humanity?
The Times of London puts the battle against Hamas into perspective:
Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamic group which has never recognised Israel's right to exist. It has prosecuted its war without any moral restraint. Its terrorists have not been merely careless but have deliberately targeted civilians, exploding bombs in circumstances designed to maximise the number of innocent men, women and children killed... Hamas is not interested in negotiation or accommodation with the Jewish state, simply its extermination.