Four years ago, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in response to a spate of horrendous suicide bombings. The theater of operations was the West Bank, specifically the UNRWA refugee camp in Jenin, referred to in a Fatah report to Marwan Barghouti as “the suiciders’ capital.”
In short order, Palestinians began shouting about an IDF “massacre” of hundreds in Jenin. With no loss of time, U.N. officials joined the chorus. After visiting Jenin, U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen declared, “The stench of decaying corpses are (sic) all over the place.”
Subsequent investigation showed fewer than 60 Palestinians, almost all terrorists, had been killed. In fact, the IDF had operated with extraordinary care, losing 23 soldiers because of a reluctance to bomb where innocents might be hurt.
It was bad enough that a UN envoy, working on behalf of the Palestinian propaganda machine, had lied. Potentially far more serious was the readiness of various media sources to transmit as truth these charges against Israel. The BBC, CNN, Agence France Presse, NPR and others carried reports on the “massacre” without adequate investigation.
It is instructive to recall this background as the accusations fly once again, this time to condemn Israel’s two-front war against terrorists in Gaza and southern Lebanon. The pattern is predictable: Israel is attacked with propaganda as well as with weapons. It began this time with Israel’s ground operation into Gaza, mounted – with every care taken to avoid damage to innocents – after the June 26 kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Promptly, the Palestinians began to speak of “a crime against humanity.” True to form, UN agencies, most notably the UNRWA, expressed concern about an impending “humanitarian catastrophe.”
The protests focused on two issues. Shortly into the operation, Israel had shelled an electric transformer, reportedly plunging Gaza into darkness and making it impossible to operate the pumps for Gaza’s wells. On July 12, Karen AbuZayd, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, declared: “The residents are living without water or electricity for more than two weeks…”
This, it turns out, was a considerable exaggeration, as AbuZayd surely knew. Gaza was never solely dependent on that transformer; a good part of its electrical power comes from the Israel Electric Company and the power it provides was shared via several feeds across Gaza once the transformer went out. Generators were in extensive use there as well and, according to Col. Nir Press, Head of the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Gaza Strip, Israel had brought in more. A week after the transformer was taken out, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert stated in a press conference that 70 percent of Gaza had power. As to Gaza’s water, a solid percentage comes from Israel by pipeline and is being supplied daily. Additionally, it should be noted, cooking gas and fuel have also been coming in from Israel.
The second concern centered on the passage of food and medical supplies from Israel, primarily at the Karni Crossing. But demands for the crossing to be open 24 hours a day were unreasonable because Karni is a frequent target of terrorists. Israeli soldiers have died in attacks at this crossing, and when soldiers operate there today, for the sake of assisting the population of Gaza, they put themselves at risk. This is little known and even less appreciated.
Since the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the crossing has been opened about every other day as Israeli intelligence indicates no imminent threat. The first week of July alone, 92 truckloads of supplies came through. What is more, the nature of the supplies that have been brought in, which comply with requests made by the Palestinians, indicates that there has been no crisis, whatever claims have been made to the contrary. One major shipment, for instance, included thousands of boxes of cherries. Furniture has come through as well. Although a cry had gone up regarding major shortages of flour, the Palestinians declined to receive the full shipment of flour that had been arranged.
Facts, however, have failed to arrest the anti-Israel propaganda campaign. On the day before AbuZayd made her statement, this came from Reuters: “A UN official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said UNRWA, the agency that administers Palestinian refugees, has stockpiles of food and other humanitarian supplies but cannot access them while the Karni commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza is closed.”
Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Coordinator of Israeli Government Activities in the Territories, exposed this statement as a calculated misrepresentation of the situation. When Karni must be closed, Israel, in a humanitarian effort to keep supplies flowing, opens other crossings. Dror pointed out that there are several agencies and private groups that cooperate with this approach. The UN World Food Program brings in food through alternate crossings without a problem. The EU, wanting to help by bringing in fuel for electric generators, was perfectly willing to use the Nahal Oz Crossing to do this; 300,000 liters of fuel were brought this way.
The UNRWA, however, insists on using the Karni Crossing for bringing in supplies. If Karni is not open, agency officials refuse to use something else. The UNRWA, it should be noted, has announced a $170 million emergency fund. Undoubtedly, the image of struggling Palestinian refugees in Gaza who are denied supplies because Israel has closed off access brings in more donations than the reality in which the refugees are being provided what they need. From a purely fund-raising perspective, leaving the people without supplies may even be productive.
The crossing at Rafah at the Egyptian border was yet another subject of controversy. After the kidnapping, it was promptly closed so that Cpl. Shalit could not be transferred to Egypt. Palestinian authorities protested that this created a human emergency, as people from Gaza were trapped in Egypt and unable to return home. Israel then offered to allow 500 people to enter Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing instead. No deal, responded Palestinian officials: It’s Rafah or nothing. The situation has since been resolved, but those 500 people unnecessarily sat in limbo for days. This is just another case, it would seem, of making sure the Israelis look bad, whatever the inconvenience to fellow Palestinians.
With the eyes of the world now on Lebanon, the usual suspects are once again in full cry against the Jewish state. January Egeland, UN emergency relief coordinator, went to tour a Shi’ite neighborhood in Beirut that had been bombed by Israeli planes zeroing in on Hezbollah strongholds. “Horrific,” he cried. Not only was he “shocked” by what he found, he declared Israel to be in “violation of humanitarian law.” What law requires a sovereign nation to sit still while its citizens are subject to unrelenting rocket attacks Egeland did not elaborate.
From some quarters has come the claim that Israel is behaving like a “bully.” In light of the fact that Hezbollah is backed by both Syria and Iran, one would say that this charge has it backward, and that Israel is showing courage in facing down these forces. Similarly, charges that Israel’s response has been “disproportional” allude to the fact that more Lebanese have been killed than Israelis, without seriously considering why this is so: Hezbollah has deliberately situated itself within civilian residential areas, thereby greatly increasing the possibility of civilian damage. For Hezbollah, this situation is viewed as having two possible benefits. Either Israel will hesitate to attack for fear of hurting civilians, or will hit civilians and will then endure criticism from the international community.
When that international community does criticize Israel in this regard, it is playing into Hezbollah’s hands. But the fact remains that Hezbollah, not Israel, is responsible for Lebanese deaths, about which it cares nothing. Even Israel’s critics seem to grasp this point. Chastising Hezbollah, the UN’s January Egeland recently stated: “I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this. I don’t think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men.”
That there is a severe humanitarian problem ensuing from the war is indisputable. What must be countered are the charges that Israel is acting irresponsibly – that it is wielding excessive force that damages civilians unnecessarily. In point of fact, no army in the world acts with more humanity than the Israel Defense Forces. While a powerful response by Israel is necessary to remove the threat of Hezbollah and its stockpile of 12,000 rockets, Israel has been consistently mindful of the need to minimize damage to innocent civilians.
There is no shortage of evidence to support this assessment. Before bombing Lebanese villages where Hezbollah was situated, Israel, surrendering the advantage of surprise in order to save civilians, has repeatedly given residents advance notice to clear out of the way. Similarly, before radar stations were bombed, the Lebanese soldiers manning them were given opportunity to get out of the way. Deeming it necessary to block the ability of Syria to bring in additional weaponry or fighters by air, Israel bombed the runways of the Beirut airport. Significantly, however, Israeli forces left the towers and gates intact so that Lebanon could resume utilization of the airport more readily. Bombing roads leading into Lebanon from Syria, Israel left a channel open for people fleeing the areas of fighting. Blockading Lebanon by sea, Israel has cooperated in allowing foreign nationals to get out and humanitarian supplies to get in. Israel has also made it clear that it is not at war with Lebanon, but with a proxy for Iran, which has declared its intention to annihilate Israel.
What is more, when ostensible Lebanese civilian deaths are counted, the reality is that some percentage of those killed are in actuality members of Hezbollah and not innocent by any stretch of the imagination. A reporter from BBC, hardly a pro-Israel news outlet, has now admitted witnessing the use of a private home by terrorists: “It is difficult to quantify who is a terrorist and who is a civilian.” A cache of weapons was found in a mosque at Meroun A-Ras. Would anyone claim that the people who attended that mosque were uniformly ignorant of how their place of worship was utilized? Considering the perverse determination of Israel’s detractors, one can’t rule out the possibility.
This piece ran in FrontPageMagazine.com on July 26, 2006