“The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling … in which at least ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed.” Jen Psaki, State Department, August 3, 2014.
On January 27, 2014, President Obama gave an interview to The New Yorker, where among other things he was asked about the killing of civilians during the course of fighting terrorism. It had been just over a month since US intelligence, thinking that its drone was firing on a group of Al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen, killed twelve civilians and injured another fifteen who were participating in a wedding party.
Obama’s perspective on the subject of collateral damage, as stated to the interviewer was: “The way I’ve thought about this issue is, I have a solemn duty and responsibility to keep the American people safe. That’s my most important obligation as President and Commander-in-Chief. And there are individuals and groups out there that are intent on killing Americans—killing American civilians, killing American children, blowing up American planes. That’s not speculation. It’s their explicit agenda.”
Obama continued: “If we can’t [capture and prosecute], I cannot stand by and do nothing. They operate in places where oftentimes we cannot reach them, or the countries are either unwilling or unable to capture them in partnership with us. And that then narrows my options: we can simply be on defense and try to harden our defense. But in this day and age that’s of limited—well, that’s insufficient. …. where possible, we can take targeted strikes, understanding that anytime you take a military strike there are risks involved. What I’ve tried to do is to tighten the process so much and limit the risks of civilian casualties so much that we have the least fallout from those actions. But it’s not perfect.”
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, American drones have killed between some four hundred and a thousand civilians in Pakistan including between 168 and 200 children. Additionally, there are many other accounts of civilian casualties in Somalia and Yemen, such as the one mentioned above or the one in 2009, when a Cruise missile killed 14 Al-Qaeda terrorists, and along with them, another 41 Bedouins were killed… the list goes on.
It’s important to remember that Obama is doing this as a part of his responsibility to keep American people safe against a real threat, but one that is seven thousand miles away from the US border.
Did any of what President Obama say sound familiar when it comes to the Israeli population? Just replace “American(s)” with “Israeli(s)” in the following phrase: “there are individuals and groups out there that are intent on killing Americans—killing American civilians, killing American children, blowing up American planes. That’s not speculation. It’s their explicit agenda”.
So what should Israel do when the Hamas terrorists are not just threatening, but are actually firing rockets, and are not seven thousand miles away, but are across the border, less than one mile away?
Why should Israel’s duty and responsibility to keep its citizens safe be held at a different standard than that which President Obama holds himself?
Israel, like the United States, does the best that it can to limit the risk of civilian casualties. The West Point Academy utilizes the Code of Ethics of the Israel Defense Forces, among other resources, and Prof. Asa Kasher, its author, is a frequent lecturer on the subject around the world.
The State Department should know better and look at its own backyard before using the word “disgraceful” to characterize an action by Israel; an action that was no different than the one which President Obama characterized as his duty when it comes to protect his country’s citizens.