by: Ilse Strauss, News Bureau Chief
The images grip your heart. A broken father—grief streaming in rivulets down his cheeks—rocking the lifeless body of his two-year-old daughter after the toddler and her pregnant mother were supposedly killed in an Israeli airstrike. A mother’s tears pooling on the picture of a beaming preschooler—riotous curls framing an angelic face—as she cradles the bloodstained clothing her son wore when he was caught in the crossfire between Israeli and Palestinian militants. Two women holding onto each other as they shriek their sorrow skyward over a line of shroud-covered loved ones who allegedly perished in an Israeli bombing.
The accusations that Israel slaughters innocent Palestinian women and children are not new. They resound with unwavering predictability during every round of back-and-forth fighting between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian terror groups. And with tragic images like these flashing across screens, who could blame millions around the world for believing Israel guilty of war crimes?
First, let’s be clear. There should be a roar of outrage over these deaths. But it shouldn’t be directed at Israel.
Colonel Richard Kemp is often one of the only pro-Israel voices amid a crushing chorus of condemnation. Yet his experience and expertise make him hard to ignore.
A 30-year British army combat veteran with 14 operational tours in some of the world’s flashpoints. Former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan who subsequently worked in the British Cabinet office on defense and intelligence issues. Recipient of the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery and Commander of the Order of the British Empire. The list goes on. Bottom line? When Kemp speaks on military and intelligence matters, the powers-that-be listen.
Kemp has been in Israel for every major conflict since 2018 and observed the battles unfold from the boundaries of the frontlines. So what’s his take on the claims that Israel targets innocent Palestinians?
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hezbollah have no illusions of winning a military victory against the IDF, Kemp explains. “They attack for one reason: forcing the IDF to counter their aggression, knowing that in doing so, Israel will inflict civilian casualties, which they’ll use to vilify Israel. Their aim is international condemnation, and they’re very successful.”
Achieving this aim requires fighting in a way that maximizes the probability of civilian casualties, Kemp says. “They deliberately place their weapons and munitions among the population. Fighters and commanders surround themselves with their families, so if they’re targeted, the families die too. They position themselves in civilian areas like apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, shops and mosques. So when the IDF attacks to protect its people, striking weapon systems, munitions or terrorists, it’s inevitable that civilians will die. That’s reality. That’s why civilian casualties are inflicted.”
Moreover, a percentage of the missiles and mortars that Gazan terror groups fire at Israel also misfires or falls short, slamming into densely populated areas and killing their own people. Often, the “friendly fire” comes from civilian centers, like the home of the two-year-old toddler and her pregnant mother, who actually perished when a rocket launched from their apartment misfired, not in an Israeli strike.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. According to the IDF, out of the 1,100 rockets fired at Israel in August 2022, 200 misfired or fell short inside Gaza, killing more civilians than Israeli strikes. In fact, rockets fired from Gaza reportedly killed 12 of the 15 children who died over the three days of fighting.
This makes the terror groups—not Israel—guilty of a double war crime: firing on a civilian population from among a civilian population from a building dedicated to civilian use, thus turning civilians into human shields.
“If there’s a legitimate military target, like munitions or terrorists, in an apartment building, Arab speakers will call the occupants,” Kemp explains. “They’ll tell them they’ve got x amount of time to leave, and even tell them which route to take and where to go. Then they’ll monitor the building to see that the civilians leave and will even make follow up calls.”
Warnings for ground or artillery attacks come via radio, loudspeakers or dropped leaflets, Kemp continues. Then, before aborting the attack or forging ahead, the IDF drops an explosive on the apartment roof that causes a loud bang but no damage.
Still, civilians often refuse to leave. “Hamas threatens people to stay put. ‘If the Israelis attack, you might die,’ they say. ‘But if you leave, you’ll definitely die, because we’ll kill you.’ That’s what the IDF contends with.”
Despite the barrages of rockets, the casualty figures in Israel remain low. Does that mean the missiles are actually harmless? That the terrorists aren’t really trying? And perhaps more importantly, does it mean Israel shouldn’t respond as forcefully?
“Israel has spent millions on defense,” Kemp counters. “There’s a comprehensive system of detection, an alarm system and the shelter system. Then there’s the Iron Dome and other anti-missile systems, which is perhaps the primary reason why the casualty figures are low. The Israelis are committed to saving their people’s lives. The people on the other side do the opposite.”
Kemp adds that anybody who argues that Israel should turn a blind eye to the bombardments needs a “reality check.”
“Any country must respond to attacks. It’s negligent if the government doesn’t. National sovereignty means the right to defend. Also, regardless of how good Israel’s defensive systems are, they’re not foolproof. Israel has no choice but to respond.”
Israel goes further than many other countries and further than the law requires to keep the enemy population safe, Kemp says. Doing so often means endangering the lives of its own soldiers.
That level of morality, Kemp holds, is embedded in the core of the Jewish state. “The IDF fights with the level of morality that their people expect of them. The IDF has high moral standards because Israel has high moral standards. Although many Israelis are secular, Judaism still permeates the Israeli society to an extent that Christianity doesn’t permeate British and American societies. That influence enhances the moral behavior.”
How then do Christians explain the harrowing images of tiny shroud-covered bodies and grieving parents? “Israel is not at fault. It’s Hamas, it’s PIJ and ultimately Iran…They deliberately try to get their people killed, making it almost impossible not to kill them.”
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Photo License: IDF soldier feeding baby
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