During the 2009 Gaza war, an explosion in the home of a highly regarded Palestinian doctor killed his three daughters and his niece and wounded other family members. Israeli troops had determined that an observation post in the building was being used to direct sniper fire against them and had just fired two artillery shells in response. There were thus naturally blamed for the deaths, and the incident soon became a symbol of the IDF’s supposed brutality, especially after the doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, wrote a book about it. But a month afterward, laboratory tests confirmed that at least some if not all of the casualties were caused not by the IDF but by Hamas explosives. Evelyn Gordon writes:
The evidence . . . indicates that Hamas or a smaller Palestinian organization was using the house as a weapons cache. . . . This in no way implies culpability on Abuelaish’s part; Palestinian terrorists routinely store weaponry in civilian houses without the owners’ consent or even knowledge. But it does raise the possibility that the Israeli shells, which were intended to take out the observation post without significant damage to the house, would not have caused such extensive casualties had the house not contained a concealed weapons cache—something the soldiers couldn’t have known—which exploded when the shells hit. . . . .
[N]o matter how carefully Israeli troops choose their munitions, they have no way to protect against the possibility that an arms cache they didn’t know about will set off secondary explosions, resulting in far more extensive damage than they intended.
This fact is essential to understanding why the blame for most civilian casualties actually rests not with Israel, which does try hard to use proportionate military force, but with Hamas, which deliberately endangers its own civilian population by hiding weapons in their houses. Yet since it is frequently not well understood overseas, Israel has every interest in publicizing high-profile examples as heavily as possible.
Instead, it sat on its information about the Abuelaish case for eight years. . . . [I]nformation like this won’t change a single Israel-hater’s mind. But there are many people of goodwill, especially overseas Jews, who sincerely want to believe that the IDF strives to avoid civilian casualties, but can’t understand why, if so, they nevertheless keep occurring.