The Things We Disagree On About Gaza

I’ve been very critical of Israel’s counterattack on Gaza, which appears to have killed a woman or child about once every eight minutes for the past three months. Many of my readers and friends disagree with these columns and are pained by what they see as my unfairness toward Israel.

Too often, opinionated people bypass the most compelling arguments on the other side. Let me instead try to confront head-on the kinds of criticism I’ve received:

Israel was attacked. Children were butchered. Women were raped. So why are you criticizing Israel rather than the Hamas terrorists who started this war?

That’s a fair question. Yes, Hamas started this war with its brutal attack on civilians, and it has been indifferent to Palestinian lives. As someone who has reported regularly from Gaza over the years, I’m aghast at the admiration some American leftists show for an organization as cruel, misogynistic and economically incompetent as Hamas; it’s an echo of the left’s appalling admiration for Mao a half-century ago.

Israel was understandably shattered by what happened on Oct. 7, and I appreciate that trauma and share that sadness. But Hamas’s indifference to human life must never be an excuse for us to become indifferent. It’s too late to save those massacred on Oct. 7, but we can still try to reduce the toll in Gaza this month and this year.

I’m also aware that my tax dollars have helped underwrite the bombings that have ended up killing and maiming children in Gaza — the world’s most dangerous place to be a child, according to UNICEF — and this American complicity creates its own moral responsibility to speak out.

What do you expect Israel, or any country, to do after such a barbaric attack? It’s tragic how many Palestinian civilians have died, but what could Israel possibly do but hit back?

I think it’s a fallacy that the Israeli military has a binary choice: either to level Gaza or to do nothing. I’d like to see Israel dial way back on what is always a continuum.

For example, Israel had dropped 29,000 bombs, munitions and shells by mid-December, while the United States dropped 3,678 munitions in Iraq between 2004 and 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Biden administration itself has repeatedly answered the question of what Israel should do. It sent military leaders to Jerusalem to offer advice and it regularly counseled using greater efforts to spare civilians — instead of Israel’s pattern of what President Biden termed “indiscriminate bombing.”

You call for restraint — but what restraint did America show in Hiroshima or in Dresden? Why do you now insist that Israel behave by very different rules?

Yes, I live in a glass house. And, yes, I want Israel to play by different rules. It was revulsion at the horrors of World War II, including those in Hiroshima and Dresden, that helped lead to the 1949 Geneva Conventions creating rules of war to protect civilians from such mass slaughter.

In any case, two academic researchers using satellite imagery have found that at least 68 percent of buildings in northern Gaza have been damaged, which according to The Financial Times is a higher proportion than were damaged in Dresden.

The killing in Gaza is very sad, but we can’t stop halfway. We have to eradicate Hamas and re-establish deterrence. That’s the only path to ensure security for Israel.

Let me push back: Does leveling parts of Gaza truly make Israel more secure? As Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has suggested, large-scale killing of civilians can result in a tactical victory but strategic defeat.

Wars have a quite imperfect record of achieving their aims: Going into Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq did not enhance American security, and Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon did not boost Israeli security.

The longer this war goes on, the greater the risk of a conflagration involving Israel and Lebanon, an uprising in the West Bank, a greater crisis in the Red Sea or even a war with Iran. None of that would make Israel or anyone else more secure.

That’s one of my prime concerns about this war: To me, it’s not clear that the enormous bloodshed, public health crisis and risk of famine actually advance security, or that Israel has a workable plan for what follows the fighting.

More than 100 hostages are still held by Hamas, and they may be suffering unimaginable abuse. The war must continue until we get them back.

Negotiation and exchanges have done a much better job liberating hostages than bombardment. So far Israeli troops have killed more hostages than they have freed (one, at the beginning of the war).

If Hamas had organized an attack on America comparable to the one on Oct. 7, Americans wouldn’t be preaching restraint. The United States would be invading Gaza.

Yes, perhaps. Indeed, we did something similar after Sept. 11, 2001, in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I write my columns today about the Israeli war in Gaza in the same spirit in which I wrote innumerable columns two decades ago warning against invading Iraq. Sadly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be repeating in Gaza the mistakes America made after Sept. 11. (Except that Israel appears to have killed far more Gazan women and children in three months than were killed in the entire first year of the war in Iraq.)

The attack on Oct. 7 was particularly savage, and no doubt my perspective would be different if I had been on the receiving end. But I believe that in the aftermath of a terror attack, we must guard against the way fear makes us lose our bearings so we despise and demonize the other.

Some Gazans tortured, raped and murdered Israeli citizens on Oct. 7 because they saw the world through a bigoted prism and stereotyped and dehumanized Jews. We should not reciprocate with our own version of collective guilt that leaves vast numbers of Gazan children wrapped in tiny shrouds.


Update: Thanks to readers for donating more than $6.3 million so far to the nonprofits in my holiday giving guide, supporting girls’ education in Africa, job training in the United States and help for disadvantaged high school students. Contributions will be accepted until the end of January at

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