Mr. Rosenbaum, a novelist, essayist and professor at the New York University School of Law, is the author, most recently, of “Payback: The Case for Revenge.”
Let’s state the obvious: No one likes to see dead children. Well, that’s not completely true: Hamas does. They would prefer those children to be Jewish, but there is greater value to them if they are Palestinian. Outmatched by Israel’s military, handicapped by rocket launchers with the steady hands of Barney Fife, Hamas is playing the long game of moral revulsion.
With this conflict about to enter its third week, winning the PR war is the best Hamas can hope to achieve. Their weapon of choice, however, seems to be the cannon fodder of their own people, performing double duty in also sounding the drumbeat of Israeli condemnation. If you can’t beat Iron Dome, then deploy sacrificial children as human shields.
Civilian casualties will continue to mount. The evolving story will focus on the collateral damage of Palestinian lives. Israel’s moral dilemma will receive little attention. Each time the ledgers of relative loss are reported, world public opinion will turn against the Jewish state and box Israel into an even tighter corner of the Middle East.
All the ordinary rules of warfare are upended in Gaza. Everything about this conflict is asymmetrical—Hamas wears no uniforms and they don’t meet Israeli soldiers on battlefields. With the exception of kaffiyeh scarves, it isn’t possible to distinguish a Hamas militant from a noncombatant pharmacist. In Vietnam, the U.S. military learned guerrilla warfare in jungles. In Gaza, the Jewish state has had to adapt to the altogether surreal terrain of apartment complexes and schoolhouses.
There are now reports that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are transporting themselves throughout Gaza in ambulances packed with children. Believe it or not, a donkey laden with explosives detonated just the other day.
The asymmetry is complicated even further by the status of these civilians. Under such maddening circumstances, are the adults, in a legal and moral sense, actual civilians? To qualify as a civilian one has to do more than simply look the part. How you came to find yourself in such a vulnerable state matters. After all, when everyone is wearing casual street clothing, civilian status is shared widely.