It is getting uglier.
The worse reports are about more than 40 people who died while seeking shelter in a UN school. We also hear of families being wiped out, and widespread suffering on the verge of a major humanitarian crisis.
So far those reports are from UN personnel, or journalists allowed to operate in Gaza by Hamas. The IDF has not allowed international or Israeli journalists into Gaza.
Nothing associated with the United Nations has much credibility. Even lower on the scale than speeches in New York or Geneva are comments from UN personnel in Gaza. Israelis view them as spokesmen for Hamas, and wanting to perpetuate dependence on UN food and facilities for at least another 60 years. Thereby UN personnel maintain their budgets, staffs, pensions, and prestige.
Unfriendly sources do not provide details that we hear from the IDF. Hamas fighters mingle with civilians in order to gain a measure of protection; Hamas uses schools, mosques, hospitals, ambulances as well as residential areas as places to store its munitionsand launch its missiles. In the case of the UN school, we hear that Hamas fighters were firing their missiles from alongside the school, and were storing munitions in the school.
It is not certain that an Israeli missile landed on the school. The deaths may have come from Palestinian munitions. It would not be the first time that Palestinians blamed their "accident" on Israel, and much of the world accepted the Palestinian claim at face value. Among the pictures of injured Palestinians are young men. They are not wearing military uniforms, but Hamas has abandoned those in order to mix more easily with civilians.
We have heard about Hamas fighters dressed in physicians' gowns and given shelter in the main hospital; fighters who hold children by their ears in order to keep them alongside, as shelters against fire from Israeli soldiers; and Israeli soldiers who see women accompanying groups of children, asking themselves if the women will turn out to be suicide bombers seeking to get close to an Israeli position.
What to believe where the most troubling pictures are shot by unfriendly personnel, and we have learned skepticism from several decades of American, Israeli, and other spokespersons of armies at combat?
Pressure is building to end the carnage. Comments that Israel is violating international law from ranking Turks and Jordanians are mildly disturbing. The rants of Muslim-led parades in Europe and America are expected and tolerable. So far important governments like France, Britain, and the United States are close enough to the Israeli position when they say that a cease fire must be lasting, and include provisions to assure that Hamas will not rearm.
Ranking Egyptians are still holding Hamas responsible for the catastrophe, and demanding that it must stop firing missiles at Israeli civilians.
Efforts of the Foreign Ministry of Senegal to involve itself in peacemaking have passed without much impact on the Israeli media.
Israel and others learned from Lebanon that a cease fire without muscle is not likely to stop rearmament from Syria and Iran.
Five Israeli soldiers have died in combat. The fighting occurs in congested areas with limited visibility, at night as well as during the day, and involves foot soldiers, tanks, artillery, and aircraft. Just as some Israeli missiles hit Palestinian civilians, others hit Israeli soldiers. Four of the five soldiers died as a result of "friendly fire."
News programs begin with the names of the dead after the IDF has informed family members, the times and places of funerals. After the funerals there are interviews with a parent, sibling, or spouse, sometimes sobbing, talkiing about the soldier, and recounting their last meeting or telephone call. Some attest to the sacrifice for the sake of Israel. In the case of religious families, this means a sacred people and not a country, and comes in language learned in the yeshiva and synagogue. Then we go to interviews with the wounded, and reports of people streaming to hospitals with food, blankets, and socks for the soldiers. Hospital supplies are adequate. The donations provide an opportunity to share in the national mission.
Ranking intellectuals and left-of-center politicians are calling "enough," or "too much," but support for the IDF is extensive. Eighty-eight percent of the people answering one popular web site's query said that the death of Israeli soldiers did not affect their opinion about the war, that "we have to continue despite the sadness."
The officials running the war for Israel (Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak, and Foreign Minister Livni) are saying that Israel will continue until it destroys Hamas' willingness and capacity to fight, and assures that it will not rearm. They claim that no resolution of the UN or other body will deter them.
Israel's resolve may weaken with an increase in pressure from countries that is respects, but it will take a time for numerous participants to produce a workable formula. Israel is strong enough to have something to say about the end of this operation. Meanwhile it goes forward, and the damage to Hamas and its allies increases. Sooner or later, it will be enough.
I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem