A letter writer in The Wall Street Journal‘s 4 December Letters section drew a distinction between Israel’s treatment of civilians during Hamas’ war on Israel and Hamas’ treatment of civilians.

Just like Israel warned Gaza City residents to leave before its airstrikes, Hamas tried repeatedly to get Israelis to avoid the concert near the border and leave the nearby kibbutzim, right? Wrong, of course, and therein lies a fundamental distinction. Israel would have been glad to see Gazan civilians evacuated to safety to avoid its airstrikes, but Hamas would have been bitterly disappointed if those Israeli civilians hadn’t been around to be slaughtered.

That brings to mind a broader distinction between civilized nations (especially those of the West) on the one hand and terrorist entities on the other.

In WWII, the Allies deliberately and indiscriminately attacked the enemies’ population centers and infrastructure in an attempt to cow those populations into surrender. It didn’t work, and in the aftermath, those western nations recognized the both the politico-military ineffectiveness of the strategy and especially its immorality. Ever since, western civilized nations have been at pains to minimize collateral damage—especially including accidental deaths to civilians, from both direct and indirect causes—and they have set high standards regarding the definition of “unavoidable” and “accidental” civilian deaths. These nations have set similarly high standards regarding collateral damage to or destruction of infrastructure unrelated to an enemy’s war effort.

Terrorists, on the other hand—of which Hamas (and its junior partner, Palestinian Islamic Jihad) and Russia are current exemplars—deliberately target population centers and civilian infrastructure in the prosecution of their wars. Their targeting has nothing to do with any attempt to cow the targeted population into surrender; it is a core part of terrorists’ war aims: the extermination of those populations and the erasure of those populations’ nations from the world.

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