A Double Standard on Gaza

Summary ... Once again the otherwise fractured "international community" has come together in one of those rare moments of unity, made possible only by the time-honored ritual of condemning whatever policy Israel is currently pursuing to protect its citizens from terrorism.

Last Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council criticized Israel's demolition of homes in Gaza but failed to condemn the Palestinian terror that brought about the offensive in the first place. The U.S. refused to lend its support to such an unbalanced resolution but didn't use its veto power to stop it.

The U.N.'s text must be considered a real showcase of even-handedness when compared to the statement by the Irish foreign minister who currently speaks for the European Union. Brian Cowen's comments came after an Israeli shell accidentally hit Palestinian demonstrators. Mr. Cowen was so eager to bash Israel that he didn't even bother to check Palestinian casualty claims. "Initial reports suggest that at least 23 people, many of them schoolchildren, were killed," he said. In reality, only eight Palestinians died. Mr. Cowen went on to accuse Israel of "reckless disregard for human life."

His words bear no resemblance to reality. Israel takes more care not to harm Palestinian civilians than the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas. In so doing, Israeli soldiers often risk their own lives, as the death of 13 ground troops earlier this month shows. If Israel really had such a "disregard" for Palestinians, it wouldn't send its young soldiers in harm's way but bomb terrorist positions safely from the air.

In contrast to that, the death of Palestinian civilians caught in the cross-fire appears to be part of the terrorists' strategy. The terrorists, who deliberately hide among the general population, know that every civilian death will be blamed on Israel, no matter what the circumstances and no matter whether the bullet actually came from an Israeli rifle.

Mr. Cowen even had the gall to liken the demonstrators' death to a Palestinian terrorist attack earlier this month, where members of Yasser Arafat's Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades shot four children, aged 2 to 11, at point blank range before the eyes of their eight-months-pregnant mother before killing her too.

Neither these murders nor any other of the Palestinian terrorist attacks have ever prompted a single U.N. resolution. As a matter of fact, the U.N. Security Council has yet to convene to even discuss Palestinian terrorism.

The Israeli operation in Gaza is designed to root out the arms smuggling in Rafah, which is at the border with Egypt. The whole area is honeycombed with tunnels that surface in private homes, built often with the open encouragement of the PA. Just recently, Arafat called on his people to "terrorize the enemy." The terrorists also use the private houses as hiding places to attack Israeli soldiers.

The problem wouldn't even exist if the PA fulfilled its obligation to fight terror instead of colluding with it. Also, the smugglers wouldn't have it so easy if Egypt, officially at peace with Israel, didn't turn a blind eye to this problem. Maybe it's time Washington asks Cairo to remind Americans why they are propping up President Hosni Mubarak's regime with almost $2 billion a year.

Contrary to popular opinion, international law is on Israel's side. Art. 53 of the fourth Geneva Convention indeed prohibits the destruction of private property by an occupying power. But Israel's critics as well as the U.N. resolution fail to quote the text in its entirety. Such actions are illegal, "except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."

Preventing terrorists from firing at Israelis from these houses and putting an end to the smuggling of explosives and rockets appear to us to be "absolutely necessary" operations. Particularly as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems determined to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. It is the use of civilian structures by Palestinian terrorists for military attacks which violates international law.

Those really concerned for Palestinian welfare should speak these truths instead of criticizing Israel for trying to defend itself.

[ Wall Street Journal | Published: May 24, 2004]