How can ‘the most moral army in the world’ kill 34,000 people in Gaza?

Is the Israeli Defense Force “the most moral army in the world”? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated this slogan again and again.

In December, in an interview with Jewish News Syndicate, Israel Defense Forces international spokesman Major Doron Spielman said “I don’t think there’s been another army in history that has ever taken this much concern for a civilian population, of the enemy it is trying to defeat.”

The IDF warned Gazans before striking, he said, thereby losing operation surprise: “People eventually are going to be looking back to Israel as probably the unreachable model of what an army can do to take care of a civilian population.

Four months later, these words sound hollow, even absurd. As calculated by Gaza’s health ministry, 34,000 people have died in Gaza, most of them civilians, under the Israeli bombardment. The enclave has become an apocalyptic wasteland. Israel has been rebuked by the Biden Administration and the UN Security Council has voted for a ceasefire.

The latest indication that the IDF is failing morally is the possibility that one of its units, the Netzah Yehuda brigade, will be sanctioned by the Biden Administration for human rights abuses on the West Bank. It is made up mostly of ultra-Orthodox nationalists and has a reputation for treating Palestinians harshly. It has been linked to the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian man with American citizenship, Omar As’ad, who died of heart failure after being arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and abandoned in near-freezing conditions.

Most moral, then?

But definitely more moral than Hamas, its opponent in Gaza, whose fighters are being hailed as heroes on American campuses.

Hamas started the war on October 7 with an unprovoked assault on southern Israel in which its militants killed about 1,200 people and took 253 hostages. But a worse crime still was leaving the innocent civilian population of Gaza exposed to retaliation by the IDF.

Israel’s response was perfectly predictable. It did what the United States did in Afghanistan and Iraq – it attacked with overwhelming strength. It always has. Moshe Dayan said in 1955: “We do not have the means to prevent the murders of [Israeli] workers in orchards or of families sleeping in their beds at night. What we can do is set a very high price for our blood, so high that no Arab locality, Arab army or Arab government will want to pay it.”

Hamas knew that. So Hamas bears some responsibility for every death in Gaza. It isn’t just indifferent to the suffering of Gazans after October 7; it wants them to suffer, as part of its strategy of humiliating Israel morally and detaching it from its allies.

Furthermore, Hamas has an appalling record of human rights abuses. In 2007 it fought a brief civil war with Fatah. A report by the Palestine Center for Human Rights, which normally is highly critical of Israel, detailed the atrocities committed by both sides.

“The fighting included: extra-judicial and willful killings of combatants who laid down their arms; killing a number of wounded persons inside hospitals; abduction and torture; using houses and apartment buildings in the fighting, endangering the lives of civilians; obstruction of access of medical and civil defense crews to areas of clashes.”

At least two Fatah officials were thrown off high buildings.



Join Mercator today for free and get our latest news and analysis

Buck internet censorship and get the news you may not get anywhere else, delivered right to your inbox. It's free and your info is safe with us, we will never share or sell your personal data.

Hamas’s ethical guideline in this conflict, as on October 7, was simple: wipe them out. In a statement entitled “We Vow Comeuppance against the Killers,” Hamas declared:

“Enough is enough. Self-restrain, agreements and convention are no longer fruitful with these killers. These wrongful people insist to continue their wrong deeds and killings. If they were left unpunished, they would drown and make us drown with them … The only means that can deter them is killing …”

Bear in mind that it is other Palestinians that Hamas is talking about.

In 2018 Human Rights Watch published a report claiming that “Hamas authorities routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents with impunity.”

Can there be any doubt of what would happen if the roles of Hamas and Israel were reversed, if Israel were weak and vulnerable and Hamas were strong and dominant?

Israel has lived with an existential fear of annihilation since it declared independence. Hamas’s hatred for the “racist, anti-human and colonial Zionist project” is part of its charter. In the present war, both sides are fighting savagely. Neither side can claim to be “the most moral army in the world”.

Netanyahu’s cruel pursuit of complete victory in Gaza is a terrible strategic mistake, which is alienating its friends and stoking the hatred of its enemies. Nonetheless support for Israel offers the best chance for peace in the long run.

Although its government is flawed and chauvinistic, it is a democracy and aspires to live by the rule of law. It has a free press and its errors eventually are exposed. It is flexible enough, and rational enough, to negotiate with its enemies to achieve a peaceful settlement of historic injustice.

The leaders of Hamas, on the other hand, seek peace through extermination. Their ideology is inherently violent; their governance is vicious and authoritarian. There is no freedom of the press. A peaceful settlement with Hamas is inconceivable.

The number of deaths of Gazan civilians is absurdly disproportionate to the deaths of Israelis on October 7. Netanyahu has to agree to a ceasefire. That is the only way that his nation is going to prove its moral ascendancy over Hamas. 

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator

Image credit: IDF footage on NBC News


Showing 35 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-05-10 13:13:36 +1000
    Al, the history of the word, “Palestine”, is not relevant. You have one group being persecuted by another group because they want their land, and the water underneath that land. It is no more complicated than that.
  • Al Brennan
    Some think of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute as a clash of nationalisms. Others stress religious antagonism, while others yet see an East-West power struggle. But it is roundly agreed upon that a key element of the conflict is land. That land, for many years by many people, was called Palestine.

    Yet few people—including Middle East policy makers, journalists, historians and even lexicographers—know much about the history of the name “Palestine,” or what territory it has at one time or another encompassed.

    The ancient Romans pinned the name on the Land of Israel. In 135 CE, after stamping out the province of Judea’s second insurrection, the Romans renamed the province Syria Palaestina—that is, “Palestinian Syria.” They did so resentfully, as a punishment, to obliterate the link between the Jews (in Hebrew, Y’hudim and in Latin Judaei) and the province (the Hebrew name of which was Y’hudah). “Palaestina” referred to the Philistines, whose home base had been on the Mediterranean coast.

    Readers may like to inform themselves further ->
  • Al Brennan
    Every action has been in the hands of HAMAS to decide. The solution has been, and still is, in the hands of HAMAS, viz. hand over the hostages, and surrender, simple.
  • David Elazar
    commented 2024-05-02 16:52:47 +1000
    Jurgen, Israel is also a sovereign country which is being rocketed indiscriminately from Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and even Syria and recently Iran. Iran has called for the destruction of a UN member state, has supported terrorist organizations who are doing their dirty work, and uses Syria as a base for supplying arms to the terrorists. All this against the UN Charter. Israel has the right to defend itself anyway possible including the disruption of Iran’s nuclear program, which by the way is also aimed at Germany. Once they have the bomb, you will see how they will blackmail the West. I do agree with you that much more should be done about these Jewish terrorists who are attacking Palestinians.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-02 06:43:57 +1000
    Claire, you write the following, and it is indeed looking like the central statement in your contribution, from which everything else follows:

    “They have every right to deal with people in their country that they view as threatening. " … “They COULD have just dropped enough bombs on Gaza to kill them all,”

    NOBODY has every right. Your statements are disgusting,

    Lenin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot would agree with such an evil thought, and I hope you do not want to be associated with those nice guys, Next time think before you start typing.
  • Claire Komives
    commented 2024-05-01 23:28:56 +1000
    I agree with David Elazar. Israel was given to the Jewish people legitimately from a country that won it by war. After the UN agreed to the handover in 1947, nine Arab countries tried to take it back by force, but the Israelis won that fight. After that, a country that was 30 miles wide and surrounded by countries that despised the Jews was under constant threat. They have every right to deal with people in their country that they view as threatening. After the incredible horror of October 7th, the IDF determined that they needed to finish off the threat of Hamas. They COULD have just dropped enough bombs on Gaza to kill them all, but they went in and announced over and over: GET OUT! We are going to bomb this area. Never in the history of mankind has there been such an approach to war. Did the US go in and announce in Iraq that they were going to bomb someplace? No. It was not expected. The Jewish nation is held to a different standard than the rest of the world. David is also correct that according to the Geneva Convention, if the army is using civilians to prevent attack, they become a legitimate target for the attacking force. The IDF is not responsible for the death of those civilians. WHY doesn’t Egypt or Jordan take in the refugees? They don’t want them. They WANT the Palestinian civilians to die – their OWN Muslim brothers and sisters – so the whole world can continue to put the blame on Israel for killing them. And while we are on this, WHY are the Palestinian people under such dire economic straights? Why didn’t their leaders try to make the place more prosperous? I have read that Gaza is the most densely populated place on earth. It isn’t. Singapore is an example of a place that started like Gaza – no infrastructure, farms, etc. They invested money and effort to make it one of the most prosperous on earth. Hamas has no intention of helping their own people. They only want power. Hamas is solely responsible for this entire debacle, from the misery of the Palestinians over the years until October 7th until however many of their own people have died in this conflict.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-01 22:44:11 +1000
    David, I do not have the book on international law. Hence, I suggest you ask some lawyer in Beirut or Damascus, who could refer to a law showing that it is not allowed to bomb a sovereign country (in the case of Syria more than a 100 times) or a foreign embassy without y declaration of war or murder scientists in Iran or not protect Palestinian farmers from the terror of Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

    But of course, everybody and his child and his dog is Hamas, by the way an organization subsidized by Israel in it’s beginning.
  • David Elazar
    commented 2024-05-01 21:27:24 +1000
    Jurgen, to what international law has Israel shown its disrespect? Show me the exact law and not what someone quotes or writes. You don’t have to believe what any government says, so why do you believe and quote the Hamas. No country will allow its enemy into its territory especially one that wants to destroy and kill. Even the UN 1949 recommendation that the Arab refugees be allowed back to their homes states that they have to accept Israel and live in peace.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-01 20:58:05 +1000
    David, are you referring to the government of Israel or Hamas, when refer to the “Terrorist organization”?

    I do not believe in many things my own German government says, such as eg that children needed to get vaccinated against Covid.

    So, why should I believe everything that the Israeli government says, a government that has often shown its disrespect for international law ?

    Re: Egypt: Why has Israel not allowed the Palestinian refugees to enter Israel, where all the UN-food supplies are waiting and Israeli supermarkets are fully loaded, while it suggests to the Egyptians to get supplies through the Sinai desert?

    Oh I forgot: all Palestinians, including women and children, are terrorists, and helping terrorists is too much for Israel.
  • David Elazar
    commented 2024-05-01 18:14:24 +1000
    Also, before making wild statements about morality, consider this. Egypt Is Obliged to Let Gaza Refugees In: Cairo’s decision to seal the border has exacerbated a humanitarian disaster. It’s also illegal.
  • David Elazar
    commented 2024-05-01 18:10:07 +1000
    Should you believe everything a terrorist organization which doesn’t allow freedom of press or freedom of speech/expression reports? How many are Hamas fighters? How many are adult males between the ages of 17–45? How many are women and children whom the Hamas didn’t protect? How many were killed by Hamas and Jihad misfired rockets which land on Palestinian civilians? How many are “children” between the ages of 16–18 who are Hamas fighters? How many are civilians who participated in the Oct 7th barbaric slaughter of Israeli civilians? Food for thought before making wild statements.
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Jurgen,
    We agree on a number of issues, but we differ here.
    To my understanding Hamas is a scam & any info. coming from them is automatically suspect. Ditto for their supposed support amongst Gazan residents. It’s been a non-stop campaign of indoctrination & intimidation. I’d like to think I’d be braver if I lived under a criminal regime but I’m not so sure.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-04-30 15:33:23 +1000
    Israel is the occupier, the final ruler over Gaza. The Palestinians are suffering for decades, sometimes more, sometimes less.

    The Palestinians, brought up in Muslim culture, can only think in terms of war, revenge and killing the enemy. Their enemy, however, is stronger in almost every aspect. So, the almost inevitable defeat of the Palestinians is going to destroy their faith, which can actually be a positive aspect, because the normal Muslim on the street takes the history of Muslim armies winning so many wars as proof that Allah/Satan is greater.

    Untill that total defeat, there will be war. Can be a long, long war, the Palestinians are as stubborn as the Israelis.

    Problem is that Israel will go down as well. Why? Because their claim to be the light of the nations, to be morally superior, will be destroyed as well. There is a risk that God is going to punish Israel again for it’s transgressions, at least if you take Moses’s warnings seriously.

    The region is in a vicious cycle, a death spiral, and the outcome will be more death. Unless?

    Unless the people change fundamentally by listening to Jesus, who said: accept your cross and love your enemy. Love, love to the true God and to your neighbor, even if he is an enemy, can be victorious over hate.

    By the way, I have explained this to a Palestinian as well, many years ago. I confess I am a really bad teacher, so you guess the response.

    Many Jews are great teachers. What the Israeli Jews currently teach is hate, and the Palestinian students, and the Jewish ones too, are learning.

    I guess it is time to try another Jewish teacher.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-04-30 14:21:20 +1000
    David Elazar, I believe that Joe Biden and his entourage are gangsters, I believe that poor and oppressed US citizens are not living in a real democracy. Would that justify my army entering the US and killing the Biden gangster clan and all their government employees?

    Of course not, this is the responsibility of the citizens of the USA.

    The same logic applies to Gaza: killing all Hamas members and supporters (70 percent of Gazans?) because they are gangsters and do not live in a democracy, as Mrs Crackers indirectly implied, is also not justifiable.
  • Tim Lee
    Claire, this is the mystery of free will. God is outside time and space and sees past, present and future in a vision of the whole. Seeing that we will fall and not preventing it is not the same as making us fall. Our temporal horizon leaves us grappling with this mystery. This story is about the God of Justice and Mercy, not the cruel and unpredictable god that some folks interpret it to show.
  • Claire Komives
    commented 2024-04-30 10:18:44 +1000
    Tim Lee: The article you published is one person’s opinion of the interpretation. I cannot agree with that article. God must have known that he would not, in the end, expect that Isaac would be killed. It was not cruelty on God’s part. God is not cruel. I also don’t get the part about God heard Ismael’s cry… God also knew that he would save Ismael. How could he not if he promised to make a great nation of Ismael. No, I cannot agree with that article.
  • Tim Lee
    Thanks for pointing this out, Claire. It’s not a quibble to say that God did not tell Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away to die, he asked him to do as Sarah told him to even though it was wrong on a human level, as was God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. The difference is that the first act of injustice arose from malice while the second was an expression of retributive justice.

    This article in Ascension Press puts it this way: “The last time Abraham saw Ishmael, he was sending Ishmael and Hagar on a death march into the wilderness with just some bread and water because Ishmael’s existence (as Abraham’s first-born son by his wife’s maidservant) was a perceived threat to Isaac.”
  • Claire Komives
    commented 2024-04-30 09:35:24 +1000
    Tim Lee: you have many inaccuracies in your comment. First, God told Abraham to send away Hagar and Ismael and promised to make a great nation of Ismael (the Arab people). Abraham didn’t want to do it because he loved his son Ismael. So this was not an eye for an eye situation. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. God wanted Abraham to demonstrate to him that he really loved God. This was a foreshadowing of God sending his only son, Jesus to die for the people. I am impressed that you quoted Budda but if you had checked the actual text of the old testament you would have understood it better.
  • Tim Lee
    War in the Middle East has its roots in the first fratricide – Cain killing Abel – after the fall of our first parents that rent asunder their communion with God and each other. This rippled through to the breakup of Abraham’s family when he sent his son Ishmael and his mother Hagar out to the desert to die. In an expression of Justice (“an eye for an eye”), God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac . An Angel of Mercy (the flip side of Justice) saved both Ishmael and Isaac.

    Enduring peace will only come if we break the vicious cycle of violence and retribution, starting in our families and in our hearts. The Cross, in which the vertical bar of God’s will intersects (contradicts) the horizontal bar of our will, is the solution to the contradictions and conflicts that rend asunder the human family. Loving our enemies to the point of forgiving murder is rhe only way to break the cycle but it’s a chasm of a fine line between forgiving a transgression and condoning it. “Anger is the punishment we give ourselves for someone else’s mistake.” ~ Buddha
  • David Elazar
    commented 2024-04-30 05:10:02 +1000
    Jürgen Siemer: It seems as though you do not understand what democracy is. Democracy is much more than elections or polls. They have elections in Russia, China, Iran, Arab countries, and Palestinian territories. Would you call them democracies. Democracy includes, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press, etc. Do you find this in Gaza and the West Bank? The answer is a clear no.
    Check out the Freedom House ""freedom rating" of 210 countries and territories:
    Gaza 8 (not free) West Bank 22 (not free) Israel 74 (free) USA 83 (free) UK 91 (free)
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-04-30 04:23:15 +1000
    Dear mrscracker, I have just done a little internet-search. Found a piece from a washington-based organization, the FDD, foundation for defense of democracies. They claim that according to a poll released March 30, that Hamas has gained support among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. 71 percent of Palestinians, they claim, support Hamas. 59 percent believe Hamas should rule Gaza.

    Looks like democratic representation.

    If you have other data, let us know.
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Jurgen, I often agree with you on other issues but Hamas is simply a criminal gang of mercenaries who don’t really adhere to Islam out of any authentic devotion. They’re in it for the money & right now Iran’s paying.
    I actually respect Muslims. I just don’t respect cartels, especially those hiding behind & profiting from suffering Gazans. At least the Mexican cartels have no pretense about what they do. They take ownership for their crimes.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-04-30 02:33:53 +1000
    Dear Mrscracker, you are wrong. It is the opposite: Iranian policies are directly and indirectly provoked by the US. It is the call to Jihad by Hamas, that Iran, seeing itself as an Islamic theocracy, simply cannot reject without loosing the last support of the poor Muslim masses in the region, and the regular Israeli attacks (bombs on embassies, cyber attacks, murder of Iranian scientists), all with the silent approval of the US, and all the economic sanctions by the US against Iran.

    Take note the the Palestinians through their suffering and they knew they would suffer, are currently earning a lot of respect in most parts of the world.
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Mullins, Hamas’s policy is driven currently by Iran. Period. They are simply mercenaries for the highest bidder.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-04-29 15:39:31 +1000
    What Israel does are clearly crimes. There is no doubt, the whole world (well, the portion not in the pockets of …) sees it. This does not mean that there are no Muslim terrorists, there are.

    Both sides use false religious or ideological reasons to justify their actions. Islam is a religion of and for warriors, tlit uses terror and fear both for Muslims and non-muslims, these are the core foundations of this evil sect.

    Today’s Judaism has become a tribal sect, captured by the rabbis and their Talmud. Judaism is actually similar to Islam, because it’s goal has become to seek the domination of this world, here, however, not for it’s faithful followers but for it’s tribe.

    Christianity with its promise for the redemption of the individual, the personal relationship between the individual and God, and its promise of the kingdom in heaven, not on earth, is fundamentally different.

    No surprise that Christianity is hated both by the Muslim and the Jewish religious leaders.

    I add that Islam and Judaism have also a similarity with atheism, specifically with the social Darwinism that allowed the English to trade slaves, the Bolsheviks to murder free farmers, the Nazis to establish concentration and death camps for non-Arians, and the French revolutionaries to murder the french nobility and French Catholics, e.g. in the Vendee.

    The trick is to declare those outside of their groups to sub- or non-human, that can be killed indiscriminately for some “greater good”.

    Christian Zionists are idiots, sorry about the harsh word.

    The only lasting solution to end the hate and the killing in the middle east, and in the world, is to follow Jesus, not by force but based on a free decision of each individual.

    People, all people, independent of nationality, race and social status including masters and slaves, and including those who hated each other, can become brothers in Christ, and find peace, a peace based on truth.

    Everything else is only a temporary cease fire, not peace.
  • Malcolm McLean
    commented 2024-04-29 08:55:13 +1000
    A ceasefire is an abandonment of the war aims and an admission that Hamas must remain in power and in control of Gaza. And that needs to be clearly understood by anyone who recommends it.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-04-28 09:48:51 +1000
    Hamas is a soulless terrorist organization. No doubt. Israel, under Netanyahu, is slightly less soulless. Ande the argument here is that the slightly less soulless bunch, the Israelis, are somehow the good guys. I must say here that I haven’t trusted the Israelis since they murdered 44 US sailors aboard the Liberty in ‘67. Oh, to be sure, they paid reparations; in US dollars supplied by us. And before I continue, no one here seems to want to explain why Israel was funneling money to Hamas. Jump in if you have an opinion. Israel has been tormenting Palestinians since 1948. Ethnic cleansing from day one. The occupation of the West Bank is, without question, a war crime. They have been there for half a century. The occupants have no rights. Their land and water resources have been coopted. Palestinians are routinely murdered by Israeli “settlers”. No one is ever charged. The Palestinian residents are subjected to daily harassment and humiliation. All in direct violation of international law. Why do you so-called Christians think this is OK? If I were there I would take up arms. I had a friend once. I thought we were good friends. I was invited to his house on Jewish holidays. But because I wouldn’t accept that Palestinians were animals, he never spoke to me again. Is Israel an ally of the United States? After the Liberty? After shooting a Boston Globe reporter in the back? I know what we have done for them. What have they done for us? And now they meddle in US politics. They will find out that that isn’t a great idea. Look at what is going on. we have done so much for them. We have incurred the wrath of an entire region on their behalf. What have they done for us? How do they pay us back? By murdering our citizens whenever they consider it convenient to do so? And why did you say that Israel was funneling money to Hamas? Could it be that the last thing Israel wants is to negotiate with a reasonable Palestinian authority? That they would much rather have Hamas to point to as an excuse for these crimes against a group of people who happen to occupy land that they want?
  • David Elazar
    commented 2024-04-27 20:05:25 +1000
    In addition, casualty figures should not be compared. Remember, many more Germans were killed than Americans or British. Does this make the American and British armies immoral? Also, stop believing everything a terrorist organization is reporting.
  • David Elazar
    commented 2024-04-27 19:59:12 +1000
    To Michael Cook. What could Israel do if the Hamas doesn’t want their population protected? Populations who aren’t protected by those who govern them will suffer. That’s what happened to the Israelis on Oct 7. Afterwards the Israeli population was protected. The Palestinians were never protected on purpose by the Hamas. In the Ukraine much of the civilian population was moved to other countries thus saving them. Nobody wants the Palestinians. Those who start a war should expect suffering.
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2024-04-27 18:17:34 +1000
    to David Elazar. Netanyahu’s epigram is clever, but I wonder if it is an excuse for poorly thought-out military strategy. In asymmetric warfare, the weaker side will always use civilians as a shield — in Vietnam, in Iraq, even in Chechnya. It is cruel and brutal and wicked, but perfectly predictable. I am not a military expert, but I suspect that Israel pulled out a tattered playbook and used it.

    Just as the IDF failed miserably to anticipate October 7, it failed to create a strategy to minimise casualties. It is like the generals of WWI not anticipating trench warfare or the generals of WWII complaining about the morality of Blitzkrieg. Human shields and hostages — was there no more imaginative and humane way to counter these weapons used by Hamas?

    If the enemy uses gas warfare, the army’s job is respond with a tactic which preserves its humanity, not to complain that the enemy isn’t playing fair.

    I question your point that “war is not expected to be moral”. If you mean that “bad stuff is always going to happen”, that’s always true. But if you mean that gloves come off and moral standards no longer apply, that cannot be true. What is the point of being a human being if you do not strive to be moral?