OpinionIsrael at War

How many Palestinian civilians are innocent?

The media, politicians, NGOs and others have a responsibility to objectively assess the “continuum of culpability.”

An anti-Hamas demonstration near the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on Jan. 24, 2024. The signs read "We are fed up" and "Free the kidnapped." Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS.
An anti-Hamas demonstration near the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on Jan. 24, 2024. The signs read "We are fed up" and "Free the kidnapped." Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, senior security editor of The Jerusalem Report and a contributor to The Hill and The Jerusalem Post. He regularly briefs member of Congress and their foreign policy advisers about the Middle East.

In 2006, Alan Dershowitz wrote in The Los Angeles Times, “The news is filled these days with reports of civilian casualties, comparative civilian body counts and criticism of Israel … for causing the deaths, injuries and ‘collective punishment’ of civilians. But just who is a ‘civilian’ in the age of terrorism when militants don’t wear uniforms, don’t belong to regular armies and easily blend into civilian populations?”

Looked at today, Dershowitz’s words seem to prove that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I watched the footage of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, I was shocked by the willing participation of Palestinian civilians. They were anything but innocent. This is not to minimize the tragedy of civilians being used as human shields by Hamas, which is a horrific war crime. Nonetheless, we must ask: Can one make an objective argument on this issue without being slandered as unsympathetic to humanitarian tragedy or Islamophobic?

In Dershowitz’s new book War Against the Jews, he uses the term “continuum of culpability” to analyze the spectrum of Gaza civilian involvement in Hamas terrorism. There is little doubt that many—one would hope most—Gaza civilians are innocent despite generational indoctrination in Jewish-hatred. However, it appears that there is at least a sizable minority that is part of Hamas’s war machine.

For example, The Wall Street Journal has reported, “Intel Jerusalem shared with the U.S. indicated that of the roughly 12,000 Gazan employees of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, some 1,200 have ties to either Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Those 1,200 are civilians.

We must ask: How many civilians are only one degree of separation from Hamas? Are they legally guilty of supporting a terrorist organization or at least morally culpable in its crimes?

Moreover, Palestinians almost universally support Hamas terrorism. Reuters has reported that a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Research found: “Almost three in four Palestinians believe the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel was correct.” Another poll by the Arab World for Research and Development found: “Ninety-eight percent of Palestinians said the Oct. 7 slaughter made them feel ‘prouder of their identity as Palestinians.’” Those who believe such things may not be guilty of terrorism, but they are definitely not innocent.

Neither are the thousands of Gaza civilians who cheered as kidnapped Israelis were paraded through the streets, many of the women having been obviously raped and brutalized. Nor are the Palestinian civilians who have been exposed as Hamas spies.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked the politically incorrect question: “I would challenge anybody in here to point to me, which Palestinian is Hamas, and which one is an innocent civilian? … I would encourage the other side to not so lightly throw around the idea of innocent Palestinian civilians. … I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term ‘innocent Nazi civilians’ during World War II.”

American media and too many in Washington choose, out of laziness or sympathy for the Palestinian cause, to label all Palestinian civilians as innocent; even though they know that it is almost impossible to differentiate between civilians and Hamas terrorists who wear civilian clothes. Numerous Israel-hating individuals and NGOs are happy to consider these terrorists “civilians” in order to libel Israel.

What about the Palestinians wearing civilian clothes who pop out of underground tunnels and fire missiles at Israeli civilians? Are they not guilty of war crimes? Are they terrorists or civilians?

Is Daniel Greenfield, opining in JNS, correct in saying, “The ‘Palestinian’ majority wants a war to destroy Israel fought by Islamic terrorists. … When you spend all of your time dreaming of invading and destroying another country, you may be a civilian, but you’re no more innocent than your average Nazi Party member”?

The Western world believes that when women and children are killed, they are innocent by definition. Certainly, small children are, but it is well-known that Hamas uses teenagers as child soldiers. According to international law, child soldiers are legitimate targets, as their bullets are as lethal as those fired by adults. As for women, female Palestinian terrorists—including suicide bombers—have been common for decades. Today, Palestinian women wheel baby carriages through areas they were warned to evacuate, doing reconnaissance work for the cowardly terrorists hiding in tunnels.

And what about the civilian families who allow missiles and hostages to be kept in their homes? What about the imams who allowed tunnels to be dug beneath their mosques, knowing the tunnels are used to kill Jewish civilians? Where do they fall in the “continuum of culpability”?

What about UNRWA employees, who took part in the Oct. 7 massacre, teach hatred of Jews and Israel, and allow their schools to become armories and missile launching sites? In a long overdue move, the U.S. has halted funding to UNWRA. Don’t expect that to last long. 

Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, a Palestinian-American who grew up in Gaza and serves as executive director of Project Unified Assistance, wrote in Haaretz: “There must be a cultural shift within Palestinian society to reverse decades of incitement and anti-peace sentiments. There must be a once-and-for-all disposal of the notion that Israel can be dismantled or erased. It is time for the Palestinians to embrace peace, reject violence and genuinely believe in coexisting with their Israeli neighbors.”

That metamorphosis must take place among innocent Palestinian civilians.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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