Over the last dozen years, terrorists have fired more than 12,000 rockets from Gaza into Israel. For Israelis living in the southern towns most affected, the barrages bring a terror that disrupts daily life -- school, religious services and kids' birthday parties. Israeli mothers have learned to drive without wearing seat belts, so they can race to secure their kids from incoming missiles in the few seconds of warning they're given. Many children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the past several years, the once-crude rockets that Palestinian terrorists have built or smuggled into Gaza (a small coastal strip of land south of Israel) have gained range. Some now threaten the major population centers in Israel -- the metropolitan areas of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An assortment of terrorist groups sited in Gaza launched a barrage of about 100 rockets into Israel earlier this month. Israel is now responding with a military campaign of airstrikes targeting terrorist leaders, rocket stockpiles, launch sites and smuggling tunnels.
Hamas, the terrorist group that has controlled Gaza since 2006, is doing its best to portray Israel as the aggressor, claiming that 100 Palestinians have been killed, whereas only three Israelis have died. But a mere comparison of body counts is no indicator of who is in the right. Many more Germans died in World War II than Americans or Brits. It is also worth noting that terrorist leaders number among the Palestinian dead, whatever the real number is.
Hamas has never been a particularly reliable source of information. In the last few days, the group was caught tweeting out a photo purporting to show a child killed in the current conflict, when in fact, the photo comes from the ongoing civil war in Syria. In another incident, Hamas staged a scene of the Egyptian prime minister, Hesham Kandil, kissing a dead 4-year-old boy, supposedly killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. The Telegraph of London reported that the boy in question was actually killed by one of Hamas' crude homemade rockets, which misfired.
Due to its long experience under siege, Israel has been able to minimize casualties on its own side by requiring buildings to have bomb shelters, sounding sirens alerting citizens to incoming rocket fire, and developing a top-flight emergency response network. Their "Iron Dome" missile defense system has been able to stop nearly a third of the roughly 1,000 rockets that have been fired at Israel in the last week.
In an effort to minimize civilian casualties, Israel has also airdropped leaflets and sent text messages in Arabic warning Palestinian civilians to stay away from Hamas members. The Israelis have also aborted airstrikes in midflight after determining that too many civilians were in target areas. As they have often done in the past, Hamas leaders are strategically using civilians as human shields. They hide out in residential areas, and they deliberately stockpile and launch their rockets from sites near mosques, schools and hospitals.
The bottom line is that in a conflict like this one, where one side is going out of its way to put civilians in harm's way, a lopsided civilian death toll is an inevitable, but no less tragic, consequence. That's true no matter how careful the other side is.