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Blame Israel and Hamas both for Gaza’s civilian deaths

Sorting through the propaganda war.

The main outrage now, in the fourth day (Friday) of Operation Protective Edge, as Israel calls it, is the rising number of killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli airstrikes, mainly as a result of attacks on residential buildings where militants live or are thought to live.

Haaretz reported that the Palestinian Health Ministry said that of the 86 Gazans killed by Wednesday night, most were children (22), women (15) and the elderly (12). And that didn’t count the five members, at least, of the Ghaneem family in Rafah who were killed when their four-story building, home to some 30 people, was hit overnight.

As usual, the propaganda war between Israel and the Palestinians over civilian casualties goes like this: Palestinians accuse Israel of deliberately targeting civilians, while Israel blames the deaths and injuries on Hamas and other militant groups for using the civilian population as “human shields.”

But the Palestinians’ accusation against Israel is false, while the Israeli claim against the Palestinians is partly false, partly true, but basically misleading. The main reason for the high number of Palestinian civilian casualties, obviously, is that an incredibly powerful air force is bombing the hell out of one of the most crowded, vulnerable places in the world – and the fault for that lies with Israel, whose punitive, often lethal blockade of Gaza, together with its military occupation of the West Bank, invites Palestinians to fight back. As in all its wars with the Palestinians since 1967, Israel is the aggressor in Operation Protective Edge.

But while the Israeli Air Force’s assault guarantees that a high proportion of civilians in Gaza are going to get killed and maimed, that’s not because of the air force’s efforts in this respect, but despite them. TIME Magazine’s Karl Vick wrote on Thursday:

Compared with any other military, [Israel’s] armed forces take exceptional care to avoid civilian casualties. If a house is going to be bombed, a call is placed to it announcing this fact, and explicitly warning civilians to get out. A pilot might also drop a “door-knocker” on the roof — a nonlethal sound bomb also intended to announce an impending attack. The real bomb that’s then loosed on the target is often a munition, sometimes quite small, specifically selected to contain damage to the target and spare the neighbors.

The problem is not that the Israeli army is unusually brutal, as armies go; if anything, the opposite is the case. The problem – in Gaza and the West Bank, now and before – is that the IDF is a colonial army, which is an inherently brutal role, one that other armies were ordered by their governments to give up decades ago.

About Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other armed groups using Gazan civilians as “human shields.” This Israeli claim is based on the fact that Gazan militants live among the civilian population and keep much of their weaponry in the neighborhoods. But this is hypocrisy; every guerrilla army that fights on its own turf against an incomparably stronger enemy fights from among the civilian population. The pre-1948 Irgun and Lehi guerrillas would kill the British, then “melt back” into the Jewish neighborhoods. In Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, there are civilian public buildings – including schools – with plaques at the entrance telling how they housed weapons caches and training camps for the Irgun, Lehi or Haganah. Up through Israel’s War of Independence, the kibbutzim were military outposts as much as they were civilian settlements.

But in another regard, the charge that Hamas uses Gazan civilians as human shields is absolutely true, and Hamas deserves loud condemnation for it. Karl Vick in Time:

Israel’s military says Hamas is promoting civilian deaths in Gaza, not only by operating from private homes but through posters and slogans actually urging people to cluster around targets as human shields. In one instance Tuesday, by numerous accounts local residents ran toward a building that had just received a phoned warning it was about to be bombed, apparently counting on their presence to protect. And it might have worked: an Israeli military spokesman said an effort was made to divert the incoming missile, but it was too late.

Haaretz reported on Thursday that the Gaza Interior Ministry – run, of course, by Hamas – sent out text messages to Gazan residents calling on them to disregard Israeli warnings to evacuate their homes ahead of the airstrikes. “The aim of the [warnings] is to scare civilians, and civilians must act responsibly and not follow misleading Israeli instructions,” the message read.

This is vile; families are told by their leaders to stay put in their homes when they know they are about to be bombed by F-16s? It’s something like this that tells you no matter how much Hamas may be on the receiving end of Israel’s manhandling of Gaza, and no matter how much it may be the weaker side, it is not any reasonable person’s idea of the “good guy” in this or any other circumstance.

And yet. Hamas’ terrible abuse of Gaza’s civilians in this way is not entirely divorced from (though it is much worse than) the way Israeli society used to consider it shameful for civilians to leave their homes under rocket attack. Good Israelis were supposed to say, defiantly, “This is my home and no terrorist is going to run me out.” As late as the 1991 Gulf War, when many Tel Aviv residents rode out the Scuds at their parents’ homes out of town instead of trusting the plastic sheeting and tape on their windows to protect them from harm, they were widely accused of cowardice. Things have changed since then; the “I” has overtaken the “we” in the Israeli mentality. But through the 1980s, which saw thousands of Lebanese rockets fall on northern Israeli towns, it was considered an Israeli adult’s patriotic duty (though not that of the children, who were sent to safety if possible) to sit at home, helpless, risking his or her life against incoming rockets, for the sake of national morale.

So Israelis should not act that uncomprehending and self-righteous about Hamas’ conscription of defenseless civilians for the cause. And if Gazans are still pretty much stuck in the “we,” not “I,” mentality, Israel bears much of the blame.

But again, it is a great deal worse to pressure people into sitting still for almost certain death or serious injury than it is when such a fate is possible but not very likely. Hamas should be denounced for telling civilians to disregard the Israeli warnings to evacuate their homes. This directive is no doubt driving up Gaza’s civilian death and injury toll, and makes Hamas’ leaders the last people on earth to complain about it. If there’s any ray of hope in this ghastly matter, it’s that the Gazan Interior Ministry’s text message to ignore Israel’s warnings may indicate that a lot of  Gazan families have been doing the right thing and running for their lives.

Why are there are no white flags in Gaza?
‘They left us no choice’: On military escalation and its Israeli rationale
What Israel’s ‘precision bombing’ of Gaza looks like

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    1. Philos

      Alternately, one could argue that the only thing Gazans have to protect their homes, their possessions, their family heirlooms, are their bodies. They know that the Israeli state would kill them without compunction, slaughter them in fact, if not for the fact that the Israeli state is wary of war crimes. The only thing that stands between the wholesale massacre of the Gazans (like in Cast Lead) and phoning up to give a polite warning that every material thing you treasure is about to be obliterated is the mercifully chilling effect of the Goldstone Report and the UN Mavi Mamara report. No IDF senior officer wants to forego his foreign vacations and investements.

      Reply to Comment
      • Craig Vale

        It would be a good argument too. Where can Gazans flee to ? One of the most dense populations of any civilian population centers globaly, there is little place for civilians to hide. For Israel, its like shooting fish in a barrel as if it were a fair grounds. Shame on those who somehow see an equivalency in the violence. Pushed to the edge of the sea by successive Israeli administrations that have occupied or stolen their ancestral lands, what else can they do while in the death throes than to fight back with what they have and not roll over to the biggest bully in all of the middle east. They go down fighting against what they know are superior forces aligned against them. Somewhat reminisant of Massada eh?
        Already the majority of the dead are women and children and elderly men and the likely body counts of Hamas members is probably less than 30. Israel bombs with impunity and without conscience claiming the moral high ground while wallowing in a gutter filled with a sense of self righteous pity. ” Woe is me” as yet another Gazan family is blown to bits by an enemy who blithley sails through the skies pushing his little red button on the stick to illicit a roar from the home crowd perched on the hills overlooking the Gaza. They even have the gall to post you tube video’s as if it were a summer vacation’s right of passage.The penultimate occupier that revels in death. For shame!

        Reply to Comment
      • rsgengland

        How can you claim that Israel would kill the Palestinians without compunction.
        Where is your evidence. On what do you base yor evidence.
        The Arabs on the other hand have often stated that their intention is to obliterate Israel aqnd its people.
        Some have even gone so far as to threaten another Holocaust against the Jews.
        Please don’t mention the misapplication/mistranslation of an Israeli minister who used the Hebrew word “Shoah” which translates as catastrophe, as opposed to “The Shoah” which translates as The Holocaust which he did not use.

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    2. Rab

      “the fault for that lies with Israel, whose punitive, often lethal blockade of Gaza, together with its military occupation of the West Bank, invites Palestinians to fight back”

      Is that why they’re shooting at the Egyptians as well?

      Oh wait…

      By the way, there were bomb shelters in Israel decades ago already and people used them.

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      • Donald

        Rab, do you think these things through? I’m sure Hamas feels enmity for Sisi, but Sisi isn’t assassinating them and if Hamas wants to smuggle anything (civilian or military) into Gaza, the last thing they need is to anger Egypt. You’re so eager to score points you say things which are utterly nonsensical from any point of view.

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        • Rab

          “Rab, do you think these things through?”

          Sure. Do you?

          “I’m sure Hamas feels enmity for Sisi, but Sisi isn’t assassinating them and if Hamas wants to smuggle anything (civilian or military) into Gaza, the last thing they need is to anger Egypt.”

          Hahaha. Dude, Egypt shut down the entire tunnel network for Hamas thereby destroying their ability to govern Gaza. You think they came to Abbas for a so-called unity agreement because things were going well? Egypt didn’t just shut down the tunnels which were a source of revenue for Hamas and a source for everything else, including weapons to Gazans, they destroyed the tunnels. Hamas gets supplies from Israel but they get nothing from Egypt. Who are they attacking?

          Now, it’s true that Egypt isn’t “assassinating” Palestinians, but that’s because Palestinians aren’t firing on Egyptians. On the other hand, Israel allows thousands of Gazans to come to Israel for medical treatment and Egypt doesn’t. Who are the Palestinians attacking?

          “You’re so eager to score points you say things which are utterly nonsensical from any point of view.”

          Perhaps if you knew a little more about the conflict, you would rethink your positions.

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          • Goldmarx

            “Egypt shut down the entire tunnel network for Hamas thereby destroying their ability to govern Gaza”

            Wrong. Hamas doesn’t need tunnels to govern Gaza; the tunnels are for self-defense from whoever is firing on Gaza from the outside. Governing Gaza means having the sea lanes available and the skies cleared of sonic boomers, for example. Israel is blockading Gaza, not Egypt.

            “Now, it’s true that Egypt isn’t “assassinating” Palestinians, but that’s because Palestinians aren’t firing on Egyptians.” But they would be firing on Egyptians if Egyptians were bombing them.

            As usual, you reverse cause and effect. In 2014, Israel started firing on Gaza weeks ago; only then did Hamas order rocket attacks.

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          • Rab

            It’s as if you people are children.

            The tunnels were overseen by Hamas. People paid Hamas to build them and people paid Hamas to bring in whatever they could and Hamas would take a fee. It worked like the US border with Canada. If you want to bring something commercial into your country, you pay a brokerage fee and a tax. Hamas made a fortune and thereby was able to A. govern as if it were collecting taxes for its ongoing costs; B. Make its people filthy rich thereby rewarding them for their loyalty and demonstrating that fealty to them pays,; C. Control virtually all incoming (and to a lesser degree outgoing) foods, arms, commercial products, etc. thereby also controlling to some degree who gets what in that territory and that means also who doesn’t get anything which is a very powerful mechanism of control, D. control to some degree people on the other side of their border who were the paid agents enabling the tunnels to exist and thrive.

            Basically, without the tunnels, Hamas becomes dependent on what comes overland into Gaza which is a fraction of what was moving through the tunnels and doesn’t include the same variety much less the quantity of arms they could bring in. It also means they don’t get a cut or as big of a cut and they don’t control the population’s access to the same degree.

            Regarding who fired first, Israel responds to rocket fire or impending rocket fire. Otherwise, it leaves Gaza alone. It has been receiving lots of rocket fire. Some are claiming that Hamas was trying to stop it and that at one point Israel accidentally killed a Hamas crew trying to stop a rocket launch, but the claim that Israel attacked first is simply bullshit.

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          • Goldmarx

            No, Rab, you are the liar. Israel fired first this time – that’s why this Operation is markedly different from the previous ones. That’s the point that Larry Derfner and commenters like Danny
            have been raising.

            “Impending” rockets? Oh, isn’t that a convenient one-size-fits-all excuse. Just claim something is ‘imopending’ and fire away.

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          • Rab

            Glad we’ve cleared up the confusion about the tunnels.

            Now let’s address the rockets. Here is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with its tally. You can see that March had 50 launches, April had 9 and May had 2. I realize to you that’s a cease fire, but to me and anybody who considers a rocket fired at civilians to be illegal and immoral, that’s a violation of a cease fire.


            As for pending or impending rockets, my point was that sometimes the IDF succeeds in identifying rocket launch crews while they’re setting up and they bomb them before the rocket launch. I consider those events to also be Palestinian violations of the cease fire, and they aren’t counted in anybody’s stats but they happened a number of times in the months prior to June.

            Finally, there’s the question of June itself. Hamas men, who, according to Israel, were guided by a Hamas leader in Turkey, kidnapped three Israeli teens and killed them. Israel created an operation to undermine the Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria in order to avoid more such kidnappings and murders. Somehow this action is deemed by you, and, amazingly, Larry Derfner, to be inappropriate. Apparently, Israel needed to just weep over the lost boys and let Hamas continue to threaten Israelis and strengthen itself in Judea and Samaria under the guise of partners of the PA.

            It’s a good thing Derfner is a columnist and not a politician or soldier.

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          • Squidward

            According to Israel, but Israel has presented no evidence that Hamas men killed the Israeli teens. Certainly, no evidence has been presented that showed that the Hamas leadership in Gaza had anything to do with it.

            Israel’s response of arresting over 400 Palestinians without charge in the West Bank was unjust. However, they accomplished what they were intending. They wanted Hamas to react. Hamas did so they had their pretext to start bombing Gaza civilians and all.

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          • Squidward

            Larry, Hamas should not be telling people to stay home, but they’re not forcing people to stay home either. Does Israel have the right to tell people to evacuate or be killed? If I told you to leave your house or you’re going to be killed, would you oblige?

            The Palestinians have a right to resist, even if their resistance is staying in their homes. Israel has no right to bomb their homes and Israel has no right to massacre them.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      Larry, Israel’s culpability for the current situation is clear, but how is Hamas to blame? Please elaborate because I don’t understand.

      For the record, this is how I understand the chain of events as they happened:

      1. Netanyahu seeks to destroy John Kerry’s mid east peace initiative by placing demands on the Palestinians that he knows a priori they can never meet.

      2. Netanyahu finally succeeds in bringing the peace efforts to a halt by reneging on a promise to release 104 prisoners.

      3. Abbas responds to Netanyahu’s intransigence by entering negotiations with Hamas over a unity government, and succeeds in building one, comprised mainly of technocrats that should have been music to Israel’s ears (if Israel hadn’t been as tone-deaf as it is).

      4. Netanyahu raises hell and stomps his feet in frustration over what he correctly perceives as a direct threat to his strategy of intransigence. We can assume he is hard at work on a plan to destroy Abbas shining new unity government.

      5. Three settler teens are kidnapped in the west bank. Netanyahu pops a champagne bottle in his office and then gets to work.

      6. Israel embarks on possibly the most transparent, politically-motivated military operation in its history, whose unofficial objective is to bring down Abbas’ unity government by jailing Hamas’ political echelon.

      7. In addition to its actions in the west bank, Israel also sends some F-15 planes to bomb Gaza. Why? Just ’cause it felt like it – DUH!

      8. Gaza responds by sending Qassam rockets into Israel.

      9. Israel declares that they will put an end to Qassam rockets, and bombs Gaza some more.

      10. Gaza sends more rockets into Israel.

      11. Barack “I can’t hear you”* Obama says that Israel has a right to defend itself.

      (*) http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/raises-president-netanyahu.html

      Where in this list of events do you see a Hamas analogue to Israel’s outrageous actions? If anything, since 2012 Hamas has been the model citizen in Gaza, keeping other groups in check and preventing rocket fire into Israel. But when Israel decides to bomb Gaza for no reason, do you expect Hamas to keep quiet and take Israel’s bombs lying down? Why?

      Reply to Comment
      • I agree w/about 90% of what you wrote, but how does any of that make it right for Hamas to tell Gazan families they have to sit still and get bombed to bits instead of trying to save themselves?

        Reply to Comment
        • Rab

          Seriously? You agree with 90% of that?

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        • shachalnur

          Why tell the population to stay in their houses?

          1. If you know a bomb is gonna hit your house in 60,59,58…,you won’t stay there because someone told you to do so,if you really want to live.

          2.The ones that do,have other reasons,and can only be explained by understanding this is not just another round of “cutting the lawn,Landlord gone crazy”.

          3.However awfull it sounds,untill the deathcount reaches 1000+ this is a small conflict historically,even if there will be a few dozen of Israeli dead.(Compare it to Cast Lead under Olmert)

          4.Israel won’t go for a full invasion,and less “all the way”(Lieberman dixit).

          5.Don’t forget the 3 Israeli teens killed(who did that,any proof?),Muhammed burned alive(Who did that,did they make this plan alone?),and his beaten-up US cousin(Was he at a rally or in his uncle’s garden?).

          All very shaky stories.

          6. Channel 2 is preparing the local faune for Abbas becoming mediator in a possible ceasefire.

          The fact some people stay in their houses might be part of something very different going on.

          Reply to Comment
      • Rachel

        The main part you have missed in the chain of events is that Hammas has been bombing Israel for 14 years. I remind you the Israel does not occupy Gaza strip since 2005, if they had any motivation to build thier own state they have had plenty of time to do so. This round of missile launching started when the IDF were searching for the 3 missing teenage boys (kidnapped by Hammas in the West Bank)as an act of support. Hammas was bombing southern Israel for nearly a week before Netanyahu decided on Operation Protective Edge. Does my explanation give you a diffrent undersanding of the chain of events or are you just all about bashing Israel?

        Reply to Comment
    4. Goldmarx

      Danny’s time-line is accurate and quite readable. Thanks!

      Even Bibi admitted recently that Hamas did not launch any rockets from the cease-fire in 2012 until just a few weeks ago.

      But, I think Larry is onto something – he should not have blamed Hamas, but Hamas certainly merits criticism for some of their tactics within their self-defense struggle.

      Perhaps in 1979, when Israel and Saudi Arabia worked together to finance and promote Hamas as an alternative to the PLO, they should have published a manual for Hamas called, “The Guide to Smart and Savvy Self-Defense.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        I never said Hamas are angels. Far from it, in fact. But you know what – I’d rather shake Ismail Haniyeh’s hand any day of the week than that of that master of intransigence and cartoon bomb artist that passes for Israel’s prime minister. I’m sure you’ll agree with me on that one.

        Reply to Comment
        • Goldmarx

          Sorry, I’ll have to pass on that offer. I’d rather shake hands with Omar Barghouti; I see him as a genuine partner for peace.

          Reply to Comment
          • Rab


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    5. Donald

      Larry, have you seen the youtube video at Haaretz showing the time delay between the “knock” and the bigger bomb? Assuming it’s real, and as Haaretz published it I have no reason to doubt it, the delay was about a minute. The people running out might still be killed. If there were any old or sick or small children , this sort of warning wouldn’t be sufficient.

      The claim that Israel isn’t deliberately targeting civilians is a form of doublethink. I’m familiar with it as an American–we did the same thing on a larger scale with the Iraqi sanctions, where we engaged in policies clearly intended to cause civilian suffering while claiming that we were trying to avoid it. So sure, Israel could kill hundreds of thousands of Gazans if it wished. It kills a much smaller number and goes through the ritual of acting like it is trying to avoid killing them. But it’s an act of collective punishment, pure and simple. What possible good does it do to blow up houses? Command and control centers. Yeah, sure.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Hamas is irrelevant here. The objective of Israel is twofold: they need Gaza to test new weapons and they want to get rid of the Palestinians there eventually.
      So it has to be a slow genocide, because that’s how you can make a bigger profit. The bombings, drones, fake attacks, incursions, and killings at the border serve to kill more people in the long run by psychological means than by killing all of them directly.
      In the early 20th century, scientists tried to discover how long a cat can go without sleep by putting it on a tredmill till it died. That’s what we see happening here. And just like for those scientists there’s a reward when the weapon testing has become obsolete: the gas fields of Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolcach Tov

        Evil is as evil does.

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    7. Eric

      This author is missing a key fact about Israeli’s reactions under rocket attack. Israel’s population from day one were trained to head to the bomb shelter. Every residential building was required to have one. But during the 90’s everything changed. The average Israel had to make an instant decision to go up or down. The plastic lined rooms are designed to keep out poison gas. They are totally useless against a direct rocket attack. A bomb shelter us instant death for rocket that missed but lands nearby if it has poison gas. While most Israelis do not want to die they realize it is kind of out of their hands. If everyone left their homes every time a missile was fired at them that would bring the economy to a halt. Their chances of being killed are random but low. And if it is poison gas everyone in the Middle East will be dead sooner or later anyway. That is not the same as encouraging innocent civilians to rush to a target even if you believe your cause is just.

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    8. Sherri Munnerlyn

      I see the attacks on houses and housing units as very egregious unlawfully targeting of civilians and civilian objects. I know you have to analyze the facts of each case to come to firm conclusions, but absent some clear indications the specific houses targeted are actually being used in military operations they are on their face unlawful. Even if there was evidence a particular house was a proper military target, care must be exercised to protect civilians in the house and vicinity, the proportionality rule, I think Israel fails all these tests in these widespread attacks on houses and housing units.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Joel


      Who do we blame for the Palestinian rockets launched at Israel that fall short and kill or maim Gazan civilians?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Annemie

      Maybe one needs to live in Gaza to understand the extent of the bombing of civilians. Israel directly bombs hospitals, ambulances, the Red Crescent office, disability reabilitation centres, first responders, etc. These are NOT accidents, these civilian-populated buildings are deliberately and directly targeted. That’s why the Goldstone report looked so bad, and Israelis must prepare themselves because the report on the current bombing might look even worse. Moreover, the Ministry of Interior tells people to ignore Israeli telephone warnings because these warnings are pre-recorded generic messages and sent to hundreds of thousands of phones. They do not even identify the area to be evacuated. Hamas is vile, but one cannot hang this on them. A bit of research would have uncovered this.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Israel. Israel is the aggressor, the reason Hamas is fighting, so Israel is to blame for errant Hamas missiles.

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    12. Daniel

      Larry conveniently forgot to mention that munitions are not only kept in those civilian houses, but are also launched out of those houses. Which is why those are targeted. Otherwise an almost balanced article.

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    13. I didn’t leave it out for convenience, I left it out because the footage I’ve seen in the past of Gazans firing rockets shows them in open spaces. I don’t know enough to say with confidence where the rockets, or even where most of them, are being fired from.

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      • Rab

        This launch is next to a school or other administrative building:


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    14. Hans Kristian Eide

      I really liked the way you put this article, but I also feel one more thing should be mentioned. Should not an F16 be omitted as a wepon used in a city fight? Did USA use fighterplanes often inside Iraqi cities? I do not know the answer to that and anyway – if they did they were also wrong in this. If bankrobbers take hostiges and shoot from the windows the police do not order an F16 in to level the bank? It just seems like an option which should not be.

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    15. darrencastellano@att.net

      Israel must continue regardless of collateral damage if it’s ever going to be free of Hamas ! Just like the United States did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s unfortunate that the palastinian people chose to follow Hamas and it charter of Israeli destruction . The blood of the children isn’t on Israeli hands, no matter how one wants to frame the conflict. You can reason and dissect the situation as the world has for the last 66 years. Bottom line, Israel has a right to insure it’s existence and the safety if her people, even if it comes with a very high cost of innocent lives. She cannot allow the continuios threat to exist any longer. Sure she’ll have the whole Muslim world coming down on her but Israel has chosen this moment to be aggressive and use extreme prejudice to deliver the message that she will not take it anymore. Iran’s nuclear facilities will be next and if the United States and her allies are smart, they will help Israel do it. Iran will make Israel and the west regret it if we don’t . It’s the biggest terrorist country on the planet and it’s time we face it, before we commit diplomatic suicide.

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      • Darrencastellano,if only you could have been in the middle of the bombing in Gaza seeing mothers loosing their children or having them horribly maimed maybe you would not be touched ,compassion is scarce in many parts of the world

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