The mass killing at the Gaza school Tuesday and the civilian deaths at the Zaiton neighborhood are a terrible disaster, period. Not a public relations disaster, as opposed to the dominant tone that took over public discourse yesterday. It was also not a diplomatic disaster, the kind that would boost international pressure exerted on Israel to end its Gaza operation, even if this will very likely happen.
The bombing of the school will be the equivalent of the Kfar Qana bombing in the Lebanon war. It is a dramatic event any way you look at it.
UNRA is an agency designated by the United Nations to take care of Palestinian refugees; it is not a terror group. Those who stayed at the school Tuesday took cover there from the bombings and raging battles. By doing so, they fully followed the instructions of the IDF, which for a week now has been urging citizens – via leaflets, text messages, and public announcements – to evacuate their homes located in trouble-prone areas.
Meanwhile, the bottom floor of the building in the Zaiton neighborhood was occupied by frightened families who left the top floors for fear of Air Force attacks. The killing of the people at the school and in Zaiton is intolerable.
Gaza civilians not the enemyWe cannot just shrug it off and say that this was an “operational mishap,” or automatically resort to a plethora of self-righteous explanations. The talkback scene in Israel is apparently a lost cause when it comes to exaggerated passion and indifference. Yet the minimum that we could ask of the official, sane Israel was an expression of deep regret over the death of innocents.
Instead, we received a statement by the IDF spokesman claiming that this was a case of “firing in response to an attack,” as “the school was apparently used as a launching site for mortar shells at IDF troops.” Woe on us if the level of certainty required for razing a school is “apparently.”
Tuesday afternoon, I stood on top of a small hill in the south. Civilians and media personnel gathered there too, watching the ongoing aerial and artillery assault whose difficult results were only discovered later as if they were hypnotized. A thick cloud of smoke rose from the Strip and then slowly sailed towards Israeli territory. It was a black cloud.
Israel justifiably embarked on the retaliation and deterrence operation in Gaza. Yet the principles of justice, morality, and proportionality now require it to quickly aspire to end the fighting. The civilian population in the Gaza Strip is not the enemy, and the terrible suffering caused to it does not serve any Israeli interest.