It is a widely accepted truth that military leaders, dating back centuries, have sometimes viewed it in their best interests to have their own state harmed. In its most deliberate form, this is carried out by a false flag attack, where a state will pose as a foreign entity and attack its own citizens. Other times, a state will promote a foreign attack and/or have advanced knowledge of an attack and do little, if anything, to protect its citizenry. These attacks not only serve to unify a country behind a cause, but can also be used to create foreign sympathizers and allies; this latter purpose is especially relevant in an age of global interconnectedness through digital media.
How does this military philosophy apply to the violence in Gaza? Approximately one hundred Palestinian civilians died during the weeklong Operation Pillar of Defense, mainly as a result of Israeli airstrikes. On the other side, four Israeli civilians died as a result of Hamas rocket fire. Many in the foreign media were quick to label this disparity as evidence of an injustice committed by Israel. The numbers, however, do not tell the entire story. Israel’s civilian death toll is relatively low due to an unparalleled effort to protect its citizenry. Hamas, however, deliberately risks the lives of Palestinians. Not only did Hamas provoke the Israeli attacks by firing hundreds of rockets per year into southern Israel — they also placed Palestinian civilians directly in harm’s way; rockets were fired from, and presumably stored in, densely populated areas. When the Israeli military targeted these stockpiles and the militants associated with them, civilian casualties necessarily resulted.
Much of the media, however, will have you believe that the civilian casualties are solely the responsibility of Israel and its closest allies. On the surface, this appears true. Israeli missiles, after all, are directly responsible for these deaths. Ending the analysis there, however, is a mistake. Not only did the Israeli military attempt to warn Palestinian civilians in advance of strikes — after all, civilian casualties only serve to worsen Israel’s image abroad — but Hamas deliberately puts Palestinians in danger and it should be held accountable for that.
Yet as long as members of the media continue to place the blame on Israel for civilian casualties, why should Hamas act any differently? The more Palestinians killed — the more photographs of dead Palestinian children displayed prominently by the foreign media — the more support Hamas receives and thus the more likely they are to continue their reckless tactics.
Two recent opinion pieces by Stanford students fit under this category of one-sided journalism: “Stanford, we are complicit in Gaza violence,” published by my colleague Kristian Davis Bailey ‘14 on the Stanford Daily blog, and a similar piece on the activist blog Stanford Static written by “students concerned about the siege on Gaza.” As the authors of the Static piece write, “given the death of many Palestinian civilians and our complicity in this violence as Stanford students, we have a responsibility to do something about it.”
Indeed, Stanford students are complicit, and we do have a responsibility to act. But not just in the way that Bailey and the Static activists envision. Rather, certain Stanford students are complicit in the violence by solely blaming Israel for civilian casualties that are as much a result of Hamas’ actions as those of Israel. Such endorsements of Hamas only ensure that their general disregard for Palestinian lives will continue. Our responsibility, then, is to look beyond the civilian casualty numbers and ask why those casualties occur.
I am not saying Israel is perfect. It is not. But even if you believe Hamas’ end is just, their means are most definitely not; they not only indiscriminately fire rockets into Israeli population centers, but needlessly risk Palestinian lives by firing these rockets from heavily populated areas. If you are in favor of protecting innocent lives, you should not tolerate either. Yet the aforementioned Stanford pieces, and similar ones published throughout the international media, do nothing to stop the violence — they only encourage it.