Excessive Force and the Israel-Hamas War

In the wake of horrific mass terror attacks against southern Israeli communities, in which up to 1200 Israelis were murdered by terrorists from Hamas-ruled Gaza, and around 240 were taken hostage, Israel declared war against and began attacking the Islamist extremist group.

Predictably, this has triggered false charges that Israel is employing illegal, disproportionate and excessive force, but more important than the legal question (see here for that) is the practical question: how do Israel’s actions compare to that of other countries at war, especially the United States?

This is an especially relevant question following US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s  reported statement to Israeli leaders that Israel didn’t have much longer to eliminate Hamas, and his press conference assertion that Israel must avoid “…further significant displacement of civilians inside of Gaza [and] damage to life-critical infrastructure, like hospitals… I underscored… that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south.” 

Are Secretary Blinken’s demands, which mean playing into the hands of Hamas and putting Israeli soldiers at much greater risk, in accord which how the United States and US allies have acted in similar circumstances?  To answer this question a number of examples will be presented in detail in the following sections, including the liberation of Mosul from ISIS terrorists, which took nine months, involved intensive bombing by US forces — including of hospitals and mosques — and in which up to 40,000 civilians are believed to have been killed. And also the 1993 UN peacekeeping intervention in Somalia, which turned violent, and which was fought mostly by US forces. It’s worth previewing that here, because in one engagement during that conflict US Cobra helicopters defended a US bulldozer crew by firing anti-tank missiles and 20-mm cannon on a crowd of attacking Somali militiamen and civilians. The United Nations spokesman justified the killing of almost 100 Somalis by noting that, “Everyone on the ground in the vicinity was a combatant, because they meant to do us harm.” US soldiers referred to a “free fire zone” and complained that Somalis “call us killers of women and children when we shoot the very same people who are shooting at us and we kill some of the people that they are using for cover.”

In other words, when they, like Hamas, use human shields. And it’s crucial to note that these engagements involving the United States were far from US territory and in no case were the US homeland or US civilians threatened, a key difference from the horrific Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Despite never treating civilians as combatants, and, as we shall see, acting more humanely than other Western democracies at war, Israel is singled out like no other country. For example, in a truly despicable statement Amnesty International General Secretary Agnès Callamard charged that:

Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza, including through unlawful, indiscriminate attacks, has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians including 4,200 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. It also endangers civilians who are being held hostage in Gaza and ignores appeals from Israeli families to prioritize the well being of hostages during their operations.

Amnesty’s statement (1) completely ignores that Hamas is using Gaza civilians as human shields, turning what should be protected places like hospitals into legitimate military targets, (2) takes seriously casualty claims from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry, (3) denies Israel’s right to self defense by portraying any Israeli response to Hamas aggression – short of surrender – as illegal, (4) does Hamas’s work for them by cruelly using Israeli relatives of the hostages to pressure Israel to give in to the terror group’s hostage taking.

Here are the details of how other countries and the UN have behaved at war, first the already mentioned cases of the US-led coalition’s fight to eject ISIS terrorists from Mosul and the battles in Somalia, then the US invasion of Panama, Jordan’s reaction to the PLO uprising known as “Black September,” and Saudi Arabia’s reaction to riots by Iranian pilgrims in Mecca.

• The Battle to Free Mosul – Up to 40,000 civilians killed

Destroyed Old City of Mosul, with the remains of the Al-Nuri mosque in the background. (Copyright 2017 Associated Press.)

The Second Battle of Mosul (2016–2017) was a nine-month joint effort by Iraqi Government and local, especially Kurdish militias, with key US and British air support, to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS), which had taken the city in 2014 and considered it the capital of their caliphate.

By the time the liberation of Mosul began the city’s population had declined to approximately 1.5 million, and it was estimated that ISIS had between 3000 and 12,000 fighters in the city. In other words, in comparison to Gaza, the population was probably somewhat lower, but the number of enemy combatants was far lower than what Israel faces in Gaza, and there was nothing to compare to the Hamas tunnel network.

The plan to liberate the city from ISIS was first to surround it while bombing the bridges over the Tigris River to prevent ISIS fighters from easily crossing between the eastern and western parts of the city. Once that was accomplished the Iraqi coalition would begin a grinding battle to destroy the ISIS forces block-by-block, using an approach of “bite, clear, and hold.”

The Iraqi coalition requested numerous airstrikes from the US and the UK, which inevitably caused heavy civilian casualties because ISIS, like Hamas in Gaza, forced civilians to stay in the densely populated city as human shields.

A PBS report summed up the battle with these words:

Mosul’s Old City was … bombarded by U.S.-led airstrikes. Buildings were pounded into rubble. Rubble was pounded into dust.

Ground troops fought house-to-house. Well, over a year later, the area is still a tangle of debris. Heaps of smashed buildings stand as monuments to the lives destroyed here.

Those lives were destroyed in engagements like the two detailed here:

US Bombing in the al-Jidah neighborhood kills up to 300 civilians

On March 17, 2017 in the al-Jidah neighborhood of West Mosul the US dropped a precision guided bomb to eliminate two ISIS snipers on the second floor of an apartment building, killing up to 300 civilians.

Despite the very high civilian casualties the Pentagon defended the bombing, claiming that it was in accord with the Law of Armed Conflict, because it met the standards of distinction, proportionality and military necessity. It’s worth looking in detail at the reasoning and justifications:

Law of Armed Conflict: The TEA (Target Engagement Authority) approved the strike in accordance with all provisions of the applicable ROE and Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC):
a. Distinction. The Coalition attacked a valid military target which consisted of two snipers effectively engaging Iraqi CTS soldiers from a DFP.
b. Proportionality. The TEA selected a weapon that balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the two snipers with the potential for collateral damage to civilians and civilian structures.
(1) The TEA selected a GBU-38, a 500-pound class precision guided munition containing 192lbs of explosive material. The GBU-38’s steel case was strong enough to penetrate the roof of the DFP and had sufficient explosive material to neutralize the snipers engaging the CTS soldiers from their DFP in the second floor. The TEA selected a fuse-setting that would neutralize the threat to CTS, while also minimizing risk to collateral structures. The TEA expected the weapons effects for the GBU-38 to be localized to the second floor of the building. Subsequent engineering and weapons analysis indicates that the GBU-38 should have resulted in no more than 16-20% damage to the structure, localized to the front of the second floor or the structure.
(2) The TEA did not know civilians were in the structure or that ISIS had deliberately staged a significant amount of secondary explosive materials in the structure. Based on the information reasonably available, the TEA could not have predicted the compounded effects of the secondary explosives emplaced by ISIS fighters.
c. Military Necessity. CTS commanders and the TEA determined that it was a military necessity to neutralize the ISIS snipers in order for CTS to achieve its maneuver objective of seizing the sector from ISIS. If the ISIS snipers were left to continue to engage CTS forces, CTS would incur unacceptable levels of casualties in the seizure of the sector. The seizure of the sector was necessary for CTS to complete the clearance and liberation of Mosul from ISIS.

Had this been an Israeli strike in Gaza under otherwise identical circumstances, one wonders if the Pentagon and the administration, not to mention the media, would accept this explanation.

US and Coalition Bombing of Mosul’s al-Salam Hospital

Destroyed al-Salam Hospital, Mosul (Copyright 2017 Associated Press)

US bombing raids also destroyed Mosul’s al-Salam hospital, which was being used by ISIS fighters to pin down coalition fighters. An AP report about the fighting was headlined Fierce battles leave hospital in Iraqi city of Mosul gutted, and reported that after a month-long battle to retake the hospital:

… Mosul’s al-Salam hospital is little more than a burnt-out shell. Retaken from the Islamic State group by Iraqi forces this month, the building’s top floors were almost completely destroyed. The gardens around the complex are strewn with medical records and supplies. Bright blue hospital bedsheets hang from nearby trees…

Over the past month, coalition planes dropped 25 bombs on the hospital complex, according to a Pentagon statement provided to The Associated Press.

Again, if this were the IDF bombing a hospital over the course of a month because terrorists had turned into a military target, the media and world leaders would probably not be as understanding as they were during the battle to expel ISIS from Mosul.  

In the course of the battle to free Mosul there is no question many innocent civilians were killed by coalition forces, including those of the United States and the United Kingdom. While some observers put the toll at around 10,000, Kurdish intelligence sources believe that the number is over 40,000, with many victims still buried in the rubble long after ISIS was defeated.

It is interesting to contrast the facts about the liberation of Mosul and the very heavy civilian toll, the bombing of mosques and hospitals, and the destruction of the old city of Mosul, with comments and advice to Israel in a speech by US Secretary of Defense and retired General Lloyd Austin:

Now, Israel is in a hard fight against a cruel enemy, in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

But democracies like ours are stronger and more secure when we uphold the law of war. So we will continue to press Israel to protect civilians and to ensure the robust flow of humanitarian aid.

First and foremost, that’s the right thing to do. But it’s also good strategy.

You know, I learned a thing or two about urban warfare from my time fighting in Iraq and leading the campaign to defeat ISIS.

Like Hamas, ISIS was deeply embedded in urban areas. And the international coalition against ISIS worked hard to protect civilians and create humanitarian corridors, even during the toughest battles.

So the lesson is not that you can win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians.

You see, in this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.

So I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.

And so I have personally pushed Israeli leaders to avoid civilian casualties, and to shun irresponsible rhetoric, and to prevent violence by settlers in the West Bank, and to dramatically expand access to humanitarian aid (Speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Dec. 2, 2023)

Considering the evidence of massive destruction in Mosul outlined above, one can only wonder what Secretary Austin is talking about. But the saying “Do as I say, not as I do” comes immediately to mind.

• US and UN “peacekeeping” action in Somalia

In 1993 Somalia was disintegrating as a country, its government overthrown and the streets of its capital, Mogadishu, run by competing clan-based militias. Widespread famine covered by the media spurred international intervention. Under a United Nations banner, President Clinton committed US forces, and along with personnel from 25 other nations, the soldiers attempted to restore order, distribute much-needed food, disarm the militias, and eventually restore civilian rule.

One of the militia leaders, Muhammad Farah Aidid, wanted to be the sole ruler of Somalia and rejected compromises among the clans brokered by the UN. On June 6, 1993, Aidid’s forces, shielded by a cordon of civilians, attacked Pakistani UN soldiers, killing 23:

One or two men approached the soldiers and began to talk to them as 15 or so walked toward them, their hands behind their backs … Women and children then surrounded the Pakistanis … blocking them from shooting at the men, who pulled out sticks and knives as other Somalis on nearby rooftops opened fire. (New York Times, June 8, 1993)

A few days later, in response to sniper fire during a demonstration, Pakistani UN soldiers fired on a crowd of Somali demonstrators, killing two:

In what appears to be a pattern of intensifying harassment, shooting episodes have increased over the past two days. On Monday, Pakistani soldiers killed two Somalis during a demonstration outside their headquarters after snipers opened fire. (New York Times, June 9, 1993)

• UN bombards Mogadishu, leading to heavy civilian casualties

The United Nations forces responded with full scale attacks against General Aidid and his militia, first attacking densely populated Mogadishu from the air:

After hours of American bombardment that shook the city, United Nations troops stormed the headquarters of General Mohammed Farah Aidid early this morning, but the Somali clan leader was not there.

The center of Mogadishu was transformed into a battlefield as aircraft led the assault and peacekeepers swept through the city…

The attack began at 1:30 A.M. local time as General Aidid’s neighborhood was shaken by cannon fire, missiles from Cobra helicopter gunships and a AC-130H Specter gunship… (New York Times, June 18, 1993)

The AC-130 is a particularly devastating weapon, and the raids caused heavy casualties:

By this evening, hospitals reported that more than 60 Somalis had been killed and an estimated 100 wounded.

Two helicopter missiles landed in the yard of a French relief agency, International Action Against Hunger, killing one Somali worker and wounding seven others. (New York Times, June 18, 1993)

• UN Bombs Mogadishu radio, claiming “incitement”

Among the targets was Mogadishu radio, which was bombed to silence “anti-United Nations” incitement:

… aerial bombardments …hit the Mogadishu radio station. The station, United Nations officials said, had been used to broadcast anti-United Nations messages and incite actions against the peacekeeping force. (New York Times, June 18, 1993)

• UN Blames civilian deaths on Aidid: He sent civilians to confront troops

After the initial fighting, 20 Somali civilian demonstrators were killed by Pakistani troops:

The attacks have fed resentment and anger among Somalis against the Americans and the United Nations. The tensions were made worse when more than 20 civilians were killed in two demonstrations on Sunday when Pakistani troops opened fire after snipers aimed at them … (New York Times, June 18, 1993)

The UN envoy in Somalia, retired US Admiral Jonathan Howe, laid the blame for civilian deaths squarely on General Aidid:

Admiral Howe accused General Aidid of using women and children as shields for gunmen, saying that the general’s faction had organized the demonstrations and that he would be held responsible for the deaths. (New York Times, June 18, 1993)

• UN calls for “Armoured Personnel Carriers, Tanks and Attack Helicopters”

The day of the June 6 attacks against Pakistani soldiers, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 837, which:

  • condemned the unprovoked armed attacks against [UN] personnel … which appear to have been part of a calculated and premeditated series of cease-fire violations …

  • [urged] member states to contribute, on an emergency basis, military support and transportation, including armoured personnel carriers, tanks and attack helicopters to provide … the capability appropriately to confront and deter armed attacks …

• US Helicopters rocket meeting of Somali leaders, killing at least 54

Attacking on July 12, 1993 what was described as the “command and control” of Aidid’s militia, US helicopters fired “16 missiles and more than 2000 rounds of 20-mm cannon rounds” into a Mogadishu villa where Aidid aides and other Somali leaders were meeting. (New York Times, July 13, 1993) According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least 54 Somalis were killed in the raid and another 174 wounded, while Somali sources claimed that the dead totaled 73, included 10 children and 22 women. (Agence France Presse, July 13, 1993) Four Western journalists who rushed to the scene were killed by a Somali mob outside the villa. (AFP, July 13, 1993)

• In September battle “free fire zone” declared, 100 Somalis killed by US Cobras

In a September 9, 1993 battle sparked by a Somali attack against a US bulldozer crew, US Cobra helicopters fired anti-tank missiles and 20-mm rounds at “the crowd that came to see the shooting, killing nearly one hundred people.” (Black Hawk Down, p 76; in the text the date for the battle is erroneously given as September 19; the correct date of September 9 is given in the notes, p 360)

Apparently the crowd had begun to help Somali militiamen in the battle, leading UN Military Spokesman Major David Stockwell to defend firing on civilians:

Everyone on the ground in the vicinity was a combatant, because they meant to do us harm. (Manchester Guardian Weekly, September 19, 1993)

According to a diary account of one of the US units involved in the action:

… the Cobras killed as many as 100, they were shooting into crowds where they were taking fire. Remember it was a free fire zone… [The Somalis] use women as cover and concealment for when they shoot at us to make it harder to see who is doing the shooting, if we can see them at all. Then they call us killers of women and children when we shoot the very same people who are shooting at us and we kill some of the people that they are using for cover. (Black Hawk Down, p 360)

• After botched raid, 18 US Soldiers and up to 500 Somalis are killed in half-day battle

Firefights and ambushes continued for several months culminating in an ill-fated attempt on October 3rd by US Rangers and Special Forces to capture dozens of Aidid’s senior aides. The raid went awry when first one and then another Cobra helicopter was shot down by Somalis using RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades). Refusing to abandon the body of a dead pilot trapped in the wreckage of one of the helicopters, US forces instead formed a perimeter around the crash site, attempted to extricate the body, and called for reinforcements. The soldiers trapped near the downed choppers soon faced a withering assault from Aidid’s men, who were armed with AK-47’s and RPG’s. The reinforcement attempts and the effort to hold the position, while heroic, caused massive casualties. The eventual rescue, employing tanks and armored personnel carriers, added to the bloodshed. According to one report:

At least 300 Somalis are believed to have been killed during the street fighting in Mogadishu on October 3, and hundreds of women and children were among the 700 treated in hospitals after the battle…. “There was tremendous carnage involved,” a Pentagon official said.(New York Times, Oct. 14, 1993)

The author of the definitive book on the battle estimated that the toll had been even higher, up to 500 Somalis killed and a thousand injured. (Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden, p 310)

Many of these casualties were due to fire from US helicopters, which were reported to have let loose with 75,000 rounds and 63 anti-tank missiles in the 14 hour battle. (Gannett News Service, November 22, 1993)

• Despite high casualties, US spokesmen deny excessive force was used in raid

US Army spokesmen asserted that, high civilian casualties notwithstanding, the US had not used excessive force, nor breached international laws, and the Somalis themselves bore the ultimate responsibility, since they used civilian shields and had started the firefight:

From all reports, the nature and degree of force used … did not exceed what was necessary to counter this escalating fire and was consistent with the right of self-defense under international law…

It has been our experience that the Somali gunmen who have opposed us have frequently used women and children and, at times, have worn women’s clothing, to cover their movements and to protect them from attack. These gunmen do not wear uniforms or distinctive insignia; they do not carry arms openly; they are not led by accountable military leadership; they are not subject to military discipline and they do not comply with international law. It is they who initiated the firefight and who bear ultimate responsibility for this tragic loss of life.(Statement by US Central Command as reported in New York Times, October 14, 1993; emphasis added)

• The US Invasion of Panama

Reacting to increasingly repressive and criminal behavior in 1988 by Panamanian strongman General Manuel Noriega, the United States imposed economic sanctions on the Central American country and indicted Noriega for drug running. On December 15, 1989, following further unrest in the country, and a failed coup attempt, the Noriega-led assembly declared war on the United States. (New York Times, various articles December 1989)

US apprehensions over these developments were heightened by concerns for the safety of approximately 15,000 US citizens who then lived in the Panama Canal Zone.

• Unarmed Marines assaulted at roadblock, one killed

On December 16th four unarmed US Marine officers driving in Panama City took a wrong turn and encountered a military roadblock near the Noriega headquarters, at which point:

Panamanian soldiers tried to pull the Americans out of their car and then opened fire when they fled, killing one and wounding another in the ankle. (New York Times, December 19, 1989)

In response to this attack on American soldiers, which President Bush described as an “enormous outrage,” the United States, on December 20th, invaded Panama. The US invasion force was 20,000 strong, including elements of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 6th Mechanized Brigade. The US order of battle included mortars, APC’s (Armored Personnel Carriers), Sheridan tanks, and A-64 Apache helicopters firing Hellfire anti-tank missiles. Additionally, US forces employed F-117 Stealth fighter-bombers, which made their combat debut, dropping 2000 pound bombs near Panamanian barracks at Rio Hato (New York Times, December 24, 1989). Finally, the US also used the lethal AC-130 gunship, which is:

… equipped with a frightening array of 20-mm canon, 7.62-mm Gatling guns and even 105-mm howitzers that fire 40-pound shells …. [The AC-130] can lay down 17,000 rounds of ammunition a minute in a pulverizing stream of bullets. (Newsweek, January 1, 1990)

• Small Panamanian army overwhelmed; civilians not spared

These weapons were used to devastating effect against the 12,000 man Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF), which amounted to little more than a uniformed militia, and Noriega’s plainclothed militia known as the Dignity Battalions. In the course of the fighting, numerous civilians were also killed, and entire blocks of poor civilian neighborhoods were destroyed in Panama City. According to one press report:

At around 12:15 AM Wednesday, residents of century-old wooden houses ringing Noriega’s sprawling PDF headquarters, called the Comandancia, were startled by the roar of circling US AC-130 … gunships and attack choppers, then the rumble of tanks in the streets. The tanks fired barrage after barrage at Noriega’s official lair … The streets soon began to fill as terrified residents ran out of their flaming houses. An unknown number died in their homes; many were injured. (Time, January 1, 1990)

As the US forces advanced towards Noriega’s headquarters, the Panamanians fought back, drawing an unrestrained response from US Apache helicopters:

… riflemen and machine-gunners [began] shooting from the headquarters and the windows of surrounding apartment towers and other houses. American
helicopter gunships unleashed rockets and volleys of machine-gun fire. (New York Times, December 26, 1989)

According to another report of the fighting in the neighborhood, which housed 20,000 people:

… flames lapped at the base of a smoke column that rose several thousand feet. An American military helicopter hovered overhead and occasional explosions could be heard.

“This is horrible,” said a mother who had fled the area with members of her family. “Never in the history of our country has this been seen.”

Residents said that many of the wooden houses near the headquarters had been hit by gunfire and artillery fire. Many had burned, and some residents said they had lost everything. (Reuters, December 21, 1990 as published in the New York Times)

While the Pentagon officially estimated that 516 Panamanians were killed in the invasion, 314 soldiers and 202 civilians (UPI, September 18, 1990), some credible reports indicate that the civilian death toll was far higher. A 60 Minutes report suggested that the number of dead may have approached 4000, and cited a US Army document dated nine days after the invasion began that estimated the number of civilian dead at 1000. The Army document stated that:

Some were killed in the Torrijo section of Panama [site of the Noriega headquarters], where about 10 blocks of high-density housing or slums were destroyed as a result of our ops.(60 Minutes, September 30, 1990)

• US and allies veto critical Security Council Resolution

A Security Council Resolution which “strongly deplore[d] the intervention in Panama by the armed forces of the United States of America.” was vetoed by the United States, Britain and France, though a majority of the council’s 15 members voted in favor. (New York Times, December 24, 1989)

When Cuba pressed the General Assembly to pass a resolution condemning the US invasion, a senior State Department official said that such a resolution would be:

another example of hypocrisy … visible to the rest of the world even if it isn’t to the members of the United Nations. (New York Times, December 27, 1989)

• Saudi reaction to the Iranian disturbances in Mecca in 1987

During the 1987 Muslim hajj, or annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Iranian pilgrims, 157,000 strong, staged violent demonstrations intended to destabilize and discredit Saudi Arabia. According to news reports, the Iranians, bolstered by senior intelligence agents and Revolutionary Guards, intended to take over the Grand Mosque and force Saudi religious officials to declare Iranian ruler Ayatollah Khomeini the leader of all Muslims. (AP, August 5, 1987)

The Iranians, reportedly carrying under their clothes “knives and sticks,” soon overwhelmed Saudi police, taking their weapons. After a Saudi policeman was beheaded during street battles, reinforced Saudi security troops began to “shoot to kill.”(New York Times, August 8, 1987; UPI, August 29, 1987)

According to Saudi Arabia more than 275 Iranian pilgrims were killed in the fighting; Iran claimed that the toll was 600, with 4500 injured, and that “Saudi police mowed down pilgrims with machine guns.” (AP, August 5, 1987)

• Despite heavy civilian toll, US and Arab leaders back Saudi actions

The United States refrained from criticizing the Saudis for the heavy civilian death toll, and instead “blamed Iran … for the riots and praised Saudi Arabia for bringing the clashes under control.” State Department spokesman Charles Redman, said that Iranian charges that the US instigated the riots served Iran’s:

… political interest in exciting its own population and escalating its campaign of tension, intimidation and destabilization in the Gulf. (New York Times, August 4, 1987)

Arab rulers also defended the Saudis. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, for example, was reported to have joined “a growing number of Arab leaders … in denouncing Iran for the violence in Mecca.(New York Times, August 5, 1987) Arafat did not condemn the Saudi forces for using machine guns against Iranian pilgrims most of whom were without firearms.

Similarly, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also defended the Saudis, explaining that:

Moslems of the world must realize that any laxity in confronting such incidents would spread the forces of evil and aggression over all that is holy to Islam. (New York Times, August 4, 1987)

Finally, it should be noted that there were no non-Muslim reporters in Mecca, because non-Muslims are not allowed in Islam’s holiest city. With regard to violence, and with regard to access to a holy city, the contrast with Judaism’s holiest city, Jerusalem, could not be more striking.

• The civil war between Jordan and the PLO: Black September

The Palestine Liberation Organization had been firmly entrenched in Jordan, with its large Palestinian population, since the organization was founded in the 1960s. As the PLO’s military power grew it became a state within a state, challenging King Hussein’s rule and clashing repeatedly with the Jordanian army and security forces.

King Hussein blamed Yasir Arafat and the PLO for their attacks on Israel that provoked damaging retaliation. His attempts to prevent such PLO attacks were met by a number of assassination attempts. Finally, in September 1970 a PLO group hijacked three Western airliners to Jordan and blew them up after evacuating the passengers. On September 15, seemingly not in control of his country, or his capital, which was dotted with PLO checkpoints, King Hussein appointed an emergency cabinet composed of loyal generals and declared martial law. The stage was set for a showdown with Yasir Arafat and the PLO. (Jordan’s Palestinian Challenge, 1948-1983, Clinton Bailey; Israel: the Embattled Ally, Nadav Safran)

The next day the Jordanian army:

… trained its artillery on fedayeen headquarters and other targets in the al-Wahdat and Husayni refugee camps adjacent to the capital. On the next day, ruthless mop-up operations began in Amman itself to dislodge Palestinian fighters from bunkers and rooftops. These operations, which lasted for ten days, were heavy-handed, causing great loss of life and damage to property. The two refugee camps were almost razed to the ground and buildings were destroyed on top of their occupants. In Amman, most buildings harboring fedayeen nests were summarily shelled. (Bailey, p 57)

The Palestinian death toll in 11 days of fighting was estimated at 3400, though Arafat claimed that 20,000 had been killed. (Bailey, p 59, The Making of a War, John Bulloch, p 67) After a cease fire lasting until July 1971, fighting resumed and the remaining PLO forces were defeated and expelled from Jordan. Some 200 fedayeen, seeing their comrades butchered by Hussein’s troops, fled across the Jordan River to Israel. Most PLO personnel and their families resettled in Lebanon, where they repeated their Jordanian experience, setting up a state-within-a-state, and launching attacks against Israel that drew firm retaliation.


Compared to the battle to liberate Mosul from ISIS terrorists, where most of the work was done by US air attacks, the UN’s battles in Somalia, largely carried out by US forces sent by President Bill Clinton, the US intervention in Panama during the administration of the first President Bush, and the fighting in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, it seems inescapable that in comparison the IDF has acted with relative restraint as it tries to avoid as much as possible civilian casualties while fighting an enemy that does its best to hide behind civilians and to cause civilian casualties, whether Israeli or Palestinian.

In particular, Israel has put the lives of its own soldiers at risk to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, by usually warning civilians and neighborhoods before troops are sent in, thereby also alerting the terrorists, and allowing them either to escape or to set up booby traps and kill zones targeting the soldiers.

Of course, it’s important to again stress the key difference between the fighting in Gaza versus that in Mosul or Somalia or Panama, where there was absolutely no threat to American civilians at home.

After a horrific terrorist attack Israel is fighting to protect the lives of its civilians, who are subject to continuing rocket attacks even as the fighting in Gaza continues. One can only imagine what the US would have unleashed if al-Qaeda or ISIS were rocketing our country while we were fighting against them in Afghanistan or Iraq. 

The bottom line is that once again many elements of the media, and the international human rights community, are judging and convicting Israel by standards that apply to no other country, and are largely ignoring the fact that the IDF is taking more care to avoid harming noncombatants than any other army ever has.

Nothing better sums up the chilling reality of naked hatred and extremism that Israel now faces on college campuses, from the “human rights” community, and from the intersectional “progressive” movement generally, than this statement from Craig Mokhiber, a senior UN human rights official, who denounced Israel as a “European, ethno-nationalist, settler colonial project” that was inflicting “genocide” on Palestinians. Mokhiber’s intemperate charges are from his resignation letter, which was triggered by his belief that the UN is not anti-Israel enough!

Many of these critics reject any Israeli right to self-defense because they, like Mokhiber, believe Israel is illegitimate, and would be satisfied only by the country’s demise.

Their hypocritical charges about alleged Israeli violations of the Law of Armed Conflict must be seen for the pretexts that they are.

(Updated 12/3/2023: to make a few minor edits and add an image of destruction in Mosul.)

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