When a Hamas spokesman acknowledged that 50 out of the 62 Palestinians reported killed during the May 14 assault on Israel’s border with Gaza, that fact alone should have fundamentally altered the debate over what happened. Though the international press called the incident a “massacre” in which the Israel Defense Forces used “disproportionate” force, the fact that most of the fatalities were members of a terrorist group undermined the narrative about the “March of Return” being a peaceful demonstration for better living conditions for Gaza residents.
But what good are facts if all you’re really after is more propaganda war against Israel? If someone like British shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (the person who will be Britain’s leading diplomat if a Labour Party that is tainted by anti-Semitism wins the next election in that country) could claim that Israeli snipers were shooting Palestinian children in the back while they ran for their lives, then clearly anything is possible.
So how much more will the actual death of a Palestinian baby feed the narrative of Israeli atrocities?
Palestinian apologists are now trumpeting the case of 8-month-old Layla Ghandour, who allegedly died as a result of inhaling tear gas while present at the melee along the border as proof that Israel is committing war crimes. While one can be appalled at the idea of anyone bringing an infant to a violent demonstration in which armed protesters organized by a terrorist group are charging an international boundary defended by troops, there’s no arguing with the picture of a dead child.
While Hamas more or less admitted defeat by ending the protests earlier than expected because of the high price it was paying in terms of the lives of its own fighters, it can be said to have “won” the exchange with Israel because the image of Ghandour’s mother weeping over her child’s tiny body might be all that anyone will remember from this week’s bloodshed.
Like the death of Muhammad al-Dura—a 12-year-old boy who was caught in the crossfire during a Palestinian assault on an Israeli border outpost at the start of the Second Intifada in September 2000—Ghandour is now an icon of Palestinian resistance. It didn’t matter that, as subsequent journalistic investigations proved, al-Dura’s death was caused by Palestinian fire. All that mattered was the iconic photo of the boy in his anguished father’s arms. The picture said nothing about the fact that the incident was caused by Palestinian terrorism, let alone who shot him. But it swayed more minds than reasoned arguments.
So in that sense, it doesn’t really matter whether the child was killed by tear gas (a Harvard University medical expert quoted in a New York Times story doubted it) or what bizarre set of circumstances brought the baby to the border. Nor does it stop left-wing Jews who purport to feel “shame” at the IDF’s efforts to prevent a rampaging mob from entering Israel to commit mayhem and murder from bashing the Jewish state because it didn’t rely solely on nonlethal methods of crowd control, like tear gas (which failed to stop Hamas operatives from trying to breech the border fence).
The fact that the supposedly peaceful demonstrators were hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails, and planting IED bombs and launching incendiaries, should have tipped off those criticizing the Israelis that they were being duped by Hamas. That the march’s avowed purpose was “return,” which signifies an attempt to wipe out the 70 years of history since Israel was born, also designates that the point of the effort was to re-ignite the conflict and eradicate Israel.
But whether or not you’re inclined to treat dead Hamas fighters as if they were innocents, there’s no arguing with dead babies.
As the New York Times noted, Ghandour was far from the only infant or child at the border on Monday. Pressured by Hamas to turn out to advocate for the erasing of the last 70 years of history and dispossess the Jews, Palestinians brought their children to the border as if they were going to a family picnic. As we saw during previous armed conflicts with Israel, Palestinian factions routinely use humans as shield. The presence of civilians protects their fighters, as well as provides a bonus in the form of bad press for Israel if non-combatants are harmed.
While some Jews are ashamed that Israelis are prepared to use lethal force to defend their country, Hamas leaders feel no shame about putting Palestinian children in harm’s way. In their eyes, the goal of destroying the Jewish state is so important that no action is too depraved if it undermines Israel.
Hamas is correct about the effectiveness of these tactics, which are nothing less than acts of human sacrifice. In the face of such calamity, it’s hard for some seemingly fair-minded observers like the Times’ David Brooks to think clearly about Gaza. The situation is so egregious that they assume that no matter what Hamas does, they’ve come to believe it’s somehow Israel’s responsibility prevent the Palestinians from purposing the deaths of these kids. Rather than analyze the conflict dispassionately, he and others simply damn both sides as extremists.
But while horror at the death of an infant is our understandable first reaction to this incident, it doesn’t absolve the world from calling out the barbarity of what the Palestinians are doing. A child’s life is not a prop in a public-relations scheme. Nor does the Palestinian willingness to sacrifice their children obligate Israel to allow Hamas a chance to kill Israeli children, as would happen if the IDF let the mobs at the border have their way.
It may be ironic, but the more bestial the tactics employed by the terrorists, the more likely the rest of the world is to engage in a false moral equivalence between Hamas and their intended Israeli victims. Though, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley rightly noted, no other country in the world would act with as much restraint as Israel has done, the Palestinians’ dead-baby strategy seemed to have worked.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him at: @jonathans_tobin.