ISRAEL DID not start the war that now rages between it and Hamas. The Islamist movement began launching missiles indiscriminately at Israeli cities a week ago, using as a pretext several days of unrest in Jerusalem. Israel’s subsequent bombing of targets in the Gaza Strip, which has been aimed at killing commanders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, eliminating rocket launchers and destroying the tunnel network used by the militant groups, is not morally or legally comparable to the rocket launches, which are war crimes.

As the campaign continues, however, Israel is pushing the boundaries of legitimate military targeting, at the expense both of Palestinian civilians and the international media. Over the weekend an airstrike on a tunnel caused neighboring apartment buildings to collapse; 42 people, including 10 children, were killed. The previous day another strike destroyed a 12-story building that housed the offices of the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other news organizations. The building was evacuated beforehand following Israeli warnings, and Israeli officials said it contained a Hamas intelligence and research office. But the principal result of the attack, intended or not, was to disrupt the work of two of the most prominent and best-resourced media outlets covering the conflict. The AP rightly called for an independent investigation.

By early Monday, the Palestinian death toll had reached 200, including at least 58 children, some of whom may have been killed by the more than 400 rockets fired at Israel that fell in Gaza itself. Ten Israeli residents had died, including elderly and disabled people and a 5-year-old; were it not for the effectiveness of Israeli antimissile batteries, hundreds would have been killed.

Meanwhile, the collateral political and diplomatic damage to Israel is steadily growing. Demonstrations against its treatment of Palestinians took place in numerous Western cities over the weekend, and even some pro-Israel members of Congress expressed concern about the continuing bombing campaign. On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken lamented the “hundreds of people killed or injured, including children being pulled from the rubble,” and added that “we’re also alarmed by how journalists and medical personnel have been put at risk.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israeli military action would continue for “some time” in an effort “to degrade Hamas’s terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again.” The veteran leader stands to benefit from a prolonged conflict: When it began, he was on the verge of being ousted from office through an alliance that joined right-wing Jewish and Israeli Arab parties.

More bombing will inflict only incremental damage on Hamas, which cannot be destroyed by military means. But it could cause harm to Israel’s relations with the United States, and it could tear at the social fabric of the country. Since the fighting began, the worst riots in 20 years have broken out in several Israeli towns, fueled by Jewish as well as Arab mobs. In a week the Israeli military has inflicted, by its account, extensive losses on Hamas, including the killing of numerous leaders and the destruction of miles of tunnels. It’s time to call a halt.

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