Revisiting Gaza 2014 and Israel’s Actions

by Mitchell Plitnick

It comes as no surprise that Bernie Sanders’ gaffe in his interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News regarding the 2014 clash between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has gotten a lot of play. Sanders cited a figure of approximately 10,000 deaths, which was actually the figure for wounded and about five times the number killed.

Sanders immediately accepted the correction, and issued a statement confirming the error. But since then, he has stuck with his basic point: that the Israeli response to Gaza was disproportionate and exceeded any acceptable level of collateral damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure.

In response to all of this, two days ago, I sent out a tweet, one which I hardly found to be among the more controversial ones I’ve written. It read: “ You know why #BernieSanders says #Israel’s action in #Gaza in 2014 was disproportionate? Because it was.”

I knew some would disagree, and disagree vehemently, of course. The response, though has ranked with some of my most controversial dips into social media ever. Rather than try to respond to all those who tweeted back at me (and some did so in a civil manner, I should note, though they were in the distinct minority), I thought it would be easier to simply post a far from exhaustive selection of quotes, statements and reports, all of which are excerpted and linked to below.

Before I get to that, let me be clear: there is no doubt that Hamas committed serious and inexcusable war crimes during the 2014 conflict. Virtually every rocket and mortar they fired was directed at civilian sites within Israel. They killed Palestinians in Gaza who were protesting Hamas’ actions. They used civilian and United Nations sites for military purposes.

Nothing about Israel’s actions justified these crimes. The same is true in the reverse, however. Israel has every right to defend its citizens from these criminal attacks, and virtually no one debates that point. The question is whether the measures they took to do so were in accordance with the laws of war and whether the alarmingly high volume of civilian deaths, injuries and property damage was an unfortunate result of war or the result of a lack of proper care, willful or not, to try to avoid civilian casualties.

I obviously have the view that it was the latter. I don’t expect anyone to change their minds on a dime, but I do ask for a reasonable, fact-based discussion about it (admittedly, a pipe dream when discussing any aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with sympathizers of either side). And I’m not alone. Here, then, is that list of quotes, statements and reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Israel’s 2014 action in Gaza, sarcastically: ‘It’s a helluva pinpoint operation. We’ve got to get over there. Thank you, John. I think John, we ought to go tonight. I think it’s crazy to be sitting around.’

State Department: Asked if the U.S. believes Israel has not done enough to prevent civilian casualties, (Spokeswoman Jen) Psaki said: ‘‘We believe that certainly there’s more that can be done.’’?—?AP 7/17/04

Valerie Jarrett, White House Advisor: On Face the Nation Sunday morning, senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett said that Israeli attacks on Gaza schools and hospitals were “indefensible.”

“This is why the ceasefire is so important,” Jarrett said. “It’s a devastating situation. Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself, and we are Israel’s staunchest ally. But you also can’t condone the killing of all of these innocent children. I think everyone involved is frustrated. But you can’t let your frustration get in the way of trying to be a constructive player here, and that’s what [Obama’s] determined to do.”

State Department statement after shelling of UNWRA school, 8/3/14: The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which at least ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed. The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces. We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties. UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected, and must not be used as bases from which to launch attacks. The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians. We call for a full and prompt investigation of this incident as well as the recent shelling of other UNRWA schools.

Ha’aretz, quoting Samantha Power, US Ambassador to UN: U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power calls Sunday’s strike outside an UNRWA school in Rafah “horrifying.”

Power added in a statement that the United States further calls on Israel “to conduct a full and prompt investigation of this incident as well as the recent strikes that hit other UNRWA schools. Civilians, many of whom have been told to evacuate their homes by the Israel Defense Forces, must be able to find refuge in safe, UN-designated shelters.”

Former UK Defence Minister, Peter Luff: Israel has an “absolute right” to defend itself against rocket attacks, but its actions were “brutal” and “difficult to justify.”

Former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg: “I have to say though I really do think now the Israeli response appears to be deliberately disproportionate. It is amounting now to a disproportionate form of collective punishment. It is leading to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which is just unacceptable… I really would now call on the Israeli government to stop. They have proved their point. Israeli of course retains the right to react. But you cannot see the humanitarian suffering in Gaza now and the very great number of deaths in Gaza without concluding that there is not much more going to be served in Israel’s own interests … to see this festering humanitarian crisis get worse. It incubates the next generation of violent extremists who want to do harm to Israel.”

B’Tselem report on Gaza 2014: “During the fighting, which included an incursion by ground forces, the Israeli military launched strikes from the air, sea and land against thousands of targets. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of children. About 18,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged and more than 100,000 Palestinians were rendered homeless. Over the course of the fighting, Palestinians fired over 4,000 rockets and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip, mostly at civilian communities inside Israel. As a result, five civilians were killed in Israel, including a four-year-old boy. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting.”

B’Tselem: “(Israeli) attacks were not carried out on the whim of individual soldiers, pilots or commanders in the field. They are the result of a policy formulated by government officials and the senior military command. These officials backed the policy of attacking homes, reiterating the argument that the attacks conform to international humanitarian law (IHL) and eschewing any responsibility for harm to civilians.”

Human Rights Watch: Israel and Hamas committed serious violations of the laws of war during fighting in the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014. At least 2,100 Palestinians were killed, of whom the United Nations identified more than 1,500 as civilians, and approximately 11,000 people, mostly civilians, were injured. The tens of thousands of Israeli attacks caused the vast majority of destruction during the fighting, which left uninhabitable 22,000 homes, displacing 108,000 people, and left hundreds of thousands without adequate water or electricity.

Breaking the Silence: While the testimonies include pointed descriptions of inappropriate behavior by soldiers in the field, the more disturbing picture that arises from these testimonies reflects systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones. The guiding military principle of “minimum risk to our forces, even at the cost of harming innocent civilians,” alongside efforts to deter and intimidate the Palestinians, led to massive and unprecedented harm to the population and the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Policymakers could have predicted these results prior to the operation and were surely aware of them throughout.

Associated Press independent investigation: “The Associated Press examined 247 airstrikes that…hit residential compounds, out of the some 5,000 Israeli strikes during the conflict. Its reporters compiled a detailed casualty count, determining 844 dead in those strikes. The review found that 508 of those dead—just over 60 percent—were children, women and older men, all presumed to be civilians.”

Photo: Mosque destroyed during Cast Lead operation in Gaza

Reprinted, with permission, from

Mitchell Plitnick

Mitchell Plitnick is a political analyst and writer. His previous positions include vice president at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace. His writing has appeared in Ha’aretz, the New Republic, the Jordan Times, Middle East Report, the San Francisco Chronicle, +972 Magazine, Outlook, and other outlets. He was a columnist for Tikkun Magazine, Zeek Magazine and Souciant. He has spoken all over the country on Middle East politics, and has regularly offered commentary in a wide range of radio and television outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor, i24 (Israel), Pacifica Radio, CNBC Asia and many other outlets, as well as at his own blog, Rethinking Foreign Policy, at You can find him on Twitter @MJPlitnick.



  1. Do you think you can honestly say a single one of those governments that criticize would have acted more humanely? Regardless, can you name two countries in the world you think you can confidently say would have acted better under similar circumstances? Can you name 75 or more that you can say for sure would have acted worse? In every current “hot spot” I can think of the people would happily trade places with Palestinians including in Gaza. Kurds in Turkey. Yemen. Iraq. Syria. Sudan. Nigeria. Burma. Congo. Many others are not hot because the stronger power recently decimated the weaker group.

    I also do not understand why the figures given are considered accurate. They may be, but they may be grossly inflated. Obviously, Hamas is not a reliable source. But isn’t the UN very influenced by Hamas and Palestinians? I only mention Palestinians at large because they have a motive to overstate and to claim combatants are civilians.

  2. “…there is no doubt that Hamas committed serious and inexcusable war crimes during the 2014 conflict.”

    Funny how there is never any doubt that Hamas commits war crimes in these massacres, but all of Israel’s many war crimes are always “alleged.”

  3. A few comments.

    I have followed the Middle East mess closely since 1956, and have read the Israeli press daily for about 15 years, and many other sources, such as Iranian, Iraqi, Turkish, Lebanese, etc., frequently. I have other sources of information.

    Reference was made in the comments to the broader picture, not just Gaza. My sense (I have a good head for numbers, am an engineer and an economist) is that since 1948 Israel has
    killed about 100,000 civilians of different flavors (Lebanese, Egyptian, Palestinian, etc.) , and
    various Arab types have killed about 3000 Israelis, possibly a bit more. I could expand on this forever, but would rather not.

    To comment on a point raised by Mr. Berko, the Gaza losses bandied about are not simply numbers issued by a Hamas press office, but actual names, faces, ages, dug out by, in large part, a number of NGOs working in the Strip, and the numbers themselves do not seem to be at issue, but more the ratio of combatants to civilians. Certainly on the ages, sex, etc.; about 1500 or more were non-combatants, even if you automatically assign any dead 18-50 year male as a combatant. About 540 children were killed.

    A comment triggered by the photo at the head of the story; I understand that 107 mosques were either destroyed or heavily damaged, including one from the Seventh Century. Knowing a fair amount about how coordinates are collected and used, for both targeting and avoidance of civilian targets, that number is extraordinary, and to my naive mind suggests a bit more targeting than avoidance.

  4. Netanyahu told the truth, “We do not target civilians.” What he omitted to say was that they felt entitled to wipe them out if they were in the vicinity of the target. Imagine what the reaction would if a cop deliberately killed a hostage who was being held by a gunman.

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