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OpinionIsrael at War

Israelis care about Palestinian lives

We have proved our desire for peace, the Palestinians must now do the same.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the northern Gaza Strip walk through a humanitarian corridor to the safety of southern Gaza, Nov. 10, 2023. Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the northern Gaza Strip walk through a humanitarian corridor to the safety of southern Gaza, Nov. 10, 2023. Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

In the early 1900s, Ottoman Palestine and then British Mandatory Palestine ruled over a small land with very few people. The majority of the residents were Arabs loyal to Syria. A growing minority were Zionist Jews. While the Zionists and the Arabs were political enemies, early Zionist writings are empty of the hateful rhetoric against Arabs that is so often found in Arab antisemitic writings. The Zionist goal was to establish a Jewish state, not to annihilate the local Arab population.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris flew to Dubai for a climate conference last week, where she met with Arab leaders and discussed the war in Gaza. “As Israel defends itself, it matters how,” she said. “The United States is unequivocal: International humanitarian law must be respected. Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.”

Harris’s criticism of Israel’s management of the war gave ammunition to those who were critical of Israel even before the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza began. Moreover, the only casualty numbers coming out of Gaza are those released by the Gaza Ministry of Health, a mouthpiece of Hamas, which has every motivation to exaggerate those numbers. This doesn’t stop the media, governments and activists from accepting Hamas’s claims at face value.

For example, there is good reason to be skeptical of Hamas’s claim that over 15,000 Gazan civilians have died in the fighting thus far, because according to these figures, not one Hamas terrorist has been killed. Every single one of the dead is supposedly a civilian. Yet this number has been widely accepted all over the world, especially by Israel’s detractors. They use it to accuse Israelis of being heartless and to justify demands for an immediate ceasefire that would rescue Hamas from destruction.

These people appear to think that war can be waged like a video game or a Hollywood movie. They seem to believe that Israeli soldiers, tanks and fighter jets are able to eliminate the “bad guys” while keeping the civilians around them perfectly safe. Unfortunately, this is impossible.

Moreover, when Hamas and the other Palestinian terrorist organizations brutally attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, they knew exactly how Israel would respond—with overwhelming force. They knew that if they embedded themselves within their civilian population, they’d be putting the people of Gaza at risk. They did it anyway. Thus, they are responsible for every civilian death in Gaza.

Israelis are not heartless. We care about Palestinian lives and know more than most nations the trauma caused by losing innocent people in war. The IDF goes to extreme lengths to spare civilian lives. It calls Palestinians to warn them about imminent attacks, announces the areas they’re about to attack in order to give civilians the opportunity to flee and creates humanitarian corridors to secure their escape.

Palestinian civilian deaths can end immediately if Hamas surrenders, hands its members and leaders over to Israel for trial, and returns its hostages safe and sound. The war, the death and the tragedy only continue because Hamas wants them to continue. If Palestinians and their advocates care about Palestinian lives, their ire, advocacy and activism should be aimed at Hamas, and they should be demanding surrender, not a ceasefire.

Israelis desire peace and friendship with all their neighbors. It has repeatedly endorsed prospective peace agreements with the Palestinians, including the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 and the Oslo Accords, both of which would have created a Palestinian state. Israel has withdrawn its forces and citizens from the Sinai, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Judea and Samaria. Almost 15 years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the two-state solution. Israel has proven its peace bona fides many times over. It is now up to the Palestinians of Gaza to do the same.

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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