That’s more than 4,000 war crimes, or an average of 363 per day. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system did intercept 90 percent of Hamas’s deadly projectiles, thus limiting the death toll within Israel from what might have been hundreds to 12, all but one of them civilians — including two children. Five of those killed, two Arab Israelis, two Thais and an Indian, were non-Jews.
However, the Iron Dome’s success in no way mitigates Hamas’s culpability, which is strictly a function of the latter’s actions and intentions. Moreover, Hamas stored rockets, and launched them, in or near civilians or civilian structures, just as it did during the 2014 war with Israel, when it earned a rebuke from Amnesty International. This, too, is a violation of the laws of armed conflict.
Finally, of the at least 248 people in Gaza dead, at least some were struck by errant Hamas rockets. Eight civilians, including two of the 67 children in Gaza who have been reported dead, lost their lives in a single such incident, according to a May 11 report by Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), a Palestinian human rights organization that also documented civilian casualties inflicted by Israel.
Clearly, though, the bulk of civilian casualties in Gaza were from Israeli air and missile strikes, which numbered roughly 1,500.
Whether these deaths — as well as the damage to schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure Israel caused — amount to war crimes, as Omar and others asserted, depends on whether Israel’s forces inflicted them in the course of pursuing legitimate military goals through proportionate means.
Fairly or not, given Hamas’s deliberate decision to fight from within a densely populated urban area, the burden is on Israel to avoid civilian casualties.
How well it met that burden is obviously a subjective question, but Israel clearly tried — by using precision munitions to strike Hamas targets it had identified in advance. Israel says it killed 225 militants, including nearly 30 leaders, while destroying 340 rocket launchers plus 60 miles of Hamas’s vast tunnel network.
To illustrate the difficult choices Israel faced: One 15-year-old Gazan was killed by an Israeli missile while in the company of the intended target, his father — a reported Hamas military commander, according to DCIP.
Bombing the offices of international media organizations Al Jazeera and the Associated Press, supposedly based on intelligence that Hamas was using the same high-rise building for military purposes, was questionable, legally, yet Israel mitigated the harm by warning the building’s occupants and giving them time to evacuate.
Israel’s 11-day campaign may have been more discriminate than its 50-day battle against Hamas and allied groups in the summer of 2014. That one left more than 1,486 civilians dead, according to the United Nations, an average of nearly 30 per day. Assuming the 248 people in Gaza who died in 2021 were all civilians — an unlikely assumption — the daily average would be a bit more than 22.
Indeed, Israel’s operations compare favorably with some in Afghanistan by the U.S. military, which killed 37 civilians in a single mistaken air attack on a rural wedding party in 2008, according to an Afghan government report.
And they compare even more favorably with a hypothetical scenario in which Israel intended to cause civilian casualties — that is, a scenario in which Israel behaved as wantonly as its harshest critics claim, or as Hamas actually does.
And yet while progressives in the United States duly criticize Hamas rocket attacks, they reserve their strongest rhetoric for Israel. Omar accused it of “terrorism,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) alleged that “U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children.”
Perhaps Israel did violate international law in some instances, along with the errors and misjudgments that always happen in battle. That should be investigated, just as Israel’s critics say. However, Israeli wrongdoing, if any, occurred in the context of a generally professional military operation that was carried out in response to Hamas’s rocket attacks.
Hamas’s campaign against Israel and its civilian population, by contrast, consisted of nothing but war crimes, from beginning to end.