The untruths about the Gaza war

The untruths about the Gaza war

In June 2011, during a NATO-led intervention in Libya’s civil war, an allied drone hit the wrong target and killed at least 13 civilians, including several ambulance workers. Such mistakes, we were told at the time, are unavoidable, given the challenges and complexities of urban warfare. There was some criticism coming from human rights groups and others, but not much else.

In August 2021, a U.S. drone killed an aid worker and nine members of his family—including seven children—in Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. called the strike “a tragic mistake.” There was some criticism coming from human rights groups and others, but not much else.

Very little—if anything—is ever said about the “tragic mistakes” U.S. drone strikes caused in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia between 2009 and 2019, where civilian deaths were estimated at between 7.25 percent to nearly 16 percent of all combat-related deaths. Tragic mistakes happen in wartime.

On Monday, April 1, however, the world erupted in great anger because an Israeli drone strike killed seven aid workers who were on their way to deliver food to starving Palestinians. This time, world leaders and the world’s media wasted no time calling that drone strike a war crime.

Virtually forgotten by these global government and media critics, judging by their never mentioning it, was what Hamas did on October 7—killing more than 1,200 people, taking more than 200 hostages, raping scores of women, and dismembering infants in front of their parents.

(One exception is the Telegraph in London. As it editorialized on Sunday, “for those who cast accusations against Israel of genocide, [October 7th] is a reminder of what a real genocidal frenzy looks like.”)

All anyone saw on April 1 was Israel, the Jewish state, doing its best to starve the Gazans into submission, this time by killing the aid workers and destroying their precious cargo. The European Union’s foreign policy chief actually accused Israel of using starvation as a “weapon of war.”

It is Hamas that is using starvation as a weapon of war, not Israel, but that seems lost on its global critics. As chef Jose Andres, the founder of World Central Kitchen, whose aid workers were killed, put it on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, “Every time something happens, we cannot just be bringing Hamas into the equation.” Israel’s war, he said, was “a war against humanity itself.”

Hamas is the equation, however. It is using starvation as a public relations weapon against Israel. It also is stealing most of the aid before it reaches ordinary Gazans. Most tellingly, on March 10th a Hamas website publicly vowed to kill any Gazan who assists in providing security to guarantee that the aid reaches the people for whom it was intended. Only Reuters reported this, and there was no follow-up.

What is happening in Gaza is a monumental tragedy, but Israel is not to blame for that tragedy. From the beginning of the war until April 2, nearly 380,000 tons of humanitarian aid entered Gaza on 20,285 trucks. Since Israel decides who comes into Gaza, does that sound as though it is trying to starve anyone?

On April 2 alone, Israel admitted 266 humanitarian aid trucks into Gaza; 30 trucks carrying food aid were admitted into northern Gaza; four tankers filled with cooking gas entered Gaza as well. Seven trucks carrying medical equipment via the so-called Jordanian delivery channel also were admitted.

There are said to be 21 bakeries still operating in Gaza, reportedly producing more than 2 million loaves of bread, rolls, and pita daily for the local population. Israel has done nothing to prevent them from operating.

Is this how Israel fights “a war against humanity”?

Hamas seizes much of the aid—if not most of it—for use by its own people, while denying it to Gazans generally, just as Hamas refuses to allow ordinary Gazans to find shelter in its network of underground tunnels. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is real, but the fault for it sits on Hamas’ head, not on Israel’s.

Much is made of how Israel routinely commits war crimes in Gaza.

Last Friday in Geneva, for example, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted 28 to 6, with 13 abstentions, to investigate Israel for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. The U.S. voted against the resolution, as its representative told the council, because it did not specifically condemn Hamas for its October 7 attacks, nor was there “any reference to the terrorist nature of those actions.”

Presumably, if the resolution did include what Hamas did on October 7, investigating Israel for committing war crimes would have been okay with the United States.

Yet it was not okay on Tuesday, April 2, the day after the aid workers were killed, when Rear Admiral (ret.) John Kirby, the White House National Security communications advisor, said during his press briefing, “To date…, they [at the U.S. State Department] have not found any incidents where the Israelis have violated International humanitarian law.”

He used almost the same words the next day as well. “As I said yesterday from the podium, the State Department continues to review incidents as they arise,” Kirby said. “And as I said yesterday, they haven’t found an incident yet that has pointed to a violation of international humanitarian law.”

Kirby did have harsh words for Israel, to be sure, and these were widely reported, but not his war crimes statements. They are contained in the White House’s official transcripts of his briefings, but most of the media ignored them.

Something else the media did not jump on was what West Point’s go-to urban warfare expert John Spencer and Arsen Ostrovsky, a human rights lawyer who is the C.E.O. of the Israel-focused International Legal Forum, cowrite on Newsweek last Friday:

“The IDF has gone to unprecedented lengths, not seen in the history of modern warfare, to abide by the laws of war and avoid harm to civilians, even when doing so puts the IDF’s own soldiers at risk…. They have done this while continuing to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid and supplies.”

So much for using starvation as a “weapon of war,” but most media ignore such comments.

Spencer and Ostrovsky added this — which media reports also ignored:

“Ultimate responsibility, both legal and moral, for every innocent life lost lies at the feet of the Hamas terrorists. If the international community truly seeks to avoid future tragedies and the loss of civilian life, it would be well advised to call on Hamas to immediately surrender and release all the hostages.”

Spencer says and writes such things often these days, especially on Newsweek. He recently visited Gaza and observed the situation firsthand.

As I have noted in the past, he is one of the few people on this planet who has devoted his career to trying to make sense out of urban warfare. He is the chairman of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, co-director of the institute’s Urban Warfare Project, and host of its Urban Warfare Project podcast. He served for 25 years as an infantry soldier, including two combat tours in Iraq, and he’s co-author of the book “Understanding Urban Warfare.”

He is someone to be taken seriously, and he is—by the U.S. Army and by countries around the world that call on him to consult. It seems that he is not taken seriously only where Israel is concerned.

A week before the aid worker tragedy, when Israel was coming under unbelievably intense criticism for its raid on al-Shifa hospital, Newsweek posted Spencer’s take on that raid. He wrote:

“The Israel Defense Forces conducted an operation at al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip to root out Hamas terrorists…, once again taking unique precautions as it entered the facility to protect the innocent…; doctors accompanied the forces to help Palestinian patients if needed. They were also reported to be carrying food, water, and medical supplies for the civilians inside.

“None of this meant anything to Israel’s critics, of course, who immediately pounced. The critics, as usual, didn’t call out Hamas for using protected facilities like hospitals for its military activity. Nor did they mention the efforts of the IDF to minimize civilian casualties….

“In my long career studying and advising on urban warfare for the U.S. military, I’ve never known an army to take such measures…, especially while simultaneously combating the enemy in the very same buildings. In fact, by my analysis, Israel has implemented more precautions to prevent civilian harm than any military in history….”

So many people—too many Jews, especially—have turned away from Israel because they are denied the truth about what is going on in Gaza by most of the media, which ignores what Spencer and others like him have been saying from the very beginning.

The war against Hamas is a righteous war. It must be fought, and it must be won.

And we have a part in this war. We must not allow the world to view Israel as a pariah state. To do that, we need to spread Spencer’s words as widely as possible because, it seems, no one else will.

Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi of Kehillat Torat Chayim v’Chesed–a virtual congregation, and an adult education teacher in Bergen County. He is the author of eight books and the winner of 10 awards for his commentaries. His website is

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