The first casualty in war is the truth. The apparent aggressor formulates or fabricates what it considers to be a compelling justification for the murder, mayhem and misery that inevitably follows the first shots fired. Even the actions taken by the combatants in the initial engagements of the war are usually so distorted or misrepresented as to suggest they were not involved in the same battles.
What is most unusual in the current Middle Eastern war is that both the attacker, Hamas, and its target, Israel, agree on how the slaughter began. Both sides claim that an invading force from Gaza under the direction of the dominant military group in Gaza, Hamas, breached the high-tech barrier between the Gaza strip and Israel and attacked ‘soft’ civilian targets, including a music festival and more than a dozen nonmilitary settlements just inside the Israel border. The attackers used drones, hang-gliders, motorcycles, machine guns, and grenades in a highly coordinated, well-rehearsed assault on unarmed civilians. They kidnapped about two hundred men, women, children, and infants, allegedly to use as human shields and to offer in exchange for 6,000 Hamas ‘soldiers’ being held in Israel. They blew apart dozens of unarmed men, women, and children jammed into bomb shelters and killed dozens more as they fired at unarmed civilians fleeing the attackers. Hamas members did not dispute the war crimes attributed to them by Israelis. In fact, they celebrated this savagery.
As the cancer of war spread, atrocity begat atrocity. A million residents of northern Gaza were ordered to evacuate to the south or be killed in Israeli raids on the north. Water, food, fuel, and power were cut off in what was designated a ‘siege’ of the Gaza strip. Residents of Gaza were denied access to Egypt to the south and Israel to the east and north. A blockade off the coast to the west had been in place for years after Hamas took control of the strip in 2007. This was part of a futile effort to keep weapons from streaming into Gaza from neighbors hostile to the survival of Israel. In southern Lebanon, Hezbollah, the army trained and supplied by Iran, increased its bombardments of Israel and threatened an incursion from the north. To the east, there were increased military actions in the West Bank Palestinian territory. Rockets aimed at Israel were launched from Yemen far to the southeast. Despite Israeli air attacks, hundreds of rockets aimed at and exploding in Israel continued to be launched from Gaza.
On October 17, as President Biden took off for a meeting of Middle Eastern leaders in Amman, Jordan, the main hospital and presumed safe zone in Gaza City was bombed. Thousands of Gaza residents had gathered at and about the hospital for care and shelter. Hundreds were killed and many more were injured by the bomb. Hamas claimed it was an Israeli air strike that hit the hospital. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) insisted that they had nothing to do with the bombing and blamed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for the explosion. Other sources attributed the hospital disaster to an errant Hamas rocket or a launch explosion. The meeting in Amman, Jordan, was cancelled before Biden’s plane landed. International humanitarian aid continued to pile up on the Egyptian side of the southern border fence, and Egypt refused to allow anyone to escape Gaza across its border. Desperately needed food, water, fuel, and medicine sat just yards away from the besieged children of Gaza, and their purported allies provided no relief.
During World War II, General Curtis Lemay, when asked what the objective in warfare was, claimed,” You’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed enough, they stop fighting.” The conflict in the Middle East is an argument against that view. The killing has been going on for nearly a century, and it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Hamas, Hezbollah, and their ilk say that the fighting will stop when Israel no longer exists. Israel insists that the fighting will stop when their borders are secure and rockets no longer rain down on their playgrounds from hostile neighbors. Military leaders in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran, as well as those in more remote venues, such as Russia, apparently see no value in withdrawing support from militants willing to kill and be killed for religious, nationalistic, or more personal reasons. As neighborhoods are levelled by air strikes and hospitals are targeted by mystery bombers, one might conclude that ‘you’ve killed enough.’ The children of Gaza and of Israel would probably agree, but their cries are drowned out by the bombs and rockets exploding around them.
Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the U.S., as well as in England, Germany, and France.