Civilian Casualties That Don’t Get Counted

One of the great myths of the current conflict is that, thus far, there have been relatively few civilian casualties in Israel.

On Tuesday, Israel recorded its first fatality since the start of hostilities over a week ago, as shrapnel from a mortar shell killed a civilian who had volunteered to distribute food to soldiers at the Erez Crossing.

On Friday night, Mrs. Faiga Esther Finkel, a”h, of Boro Park, who was making her annual visit to Eretz Yisrael on behalf of an organization she had founded to distribute clothing to needy families throughout Israel, passed away after suffering a heart attack following the shock of experiencing an air raid siren.

While it’s true that Iron Dome has succeeded, b’ezras Hashem, in knocking down many of the rockets aimed at population centers, millions of people have had their lives seriously disrupted.

The entire country is in trauma. Something as simple as sending the children to play in the park on Shabbos afternoon turns into a panic attack when the sirens go off, as they did this week in Yerushalayim.

When the figures are eventually released summing up the casualties of this war, they won’t include the number of frightened children who suffered physical ailments brought on by stress and trauma, the number of family disputes that erupted because of the anxiety and tension, the number of students who failed exams because they couldn’t concentrate, the number of businesses that were brought to the brink of ruin because workers and shoppers stayed away. But in missile warfare, which turns the home front into the front lines, these are also casualties.

(A sign of the times is the recording that answers callers to the Meuchedet Health Fund, one of Israel’s largest: “Because of the stressful situation in the south, Meuchedet is offering its members psychological counseling by phone. For information, press 6.”)

But in accepting the ceasefire that Hamas ultimately rejected — at least for now — Israel took into account a number of important considerations.

One, how much more damage could Israel inflict on Hamas by prolonging the operation for another day or two? Would it be enough to justify taking a chance that one of the Hamas missiles would, R”l, exact a high price in human losses? Would it be enough to justify one errant Israel Air Force missile hitting Palestinian civilians and earning Israel, and the Jewish public abroad, the wrath of the world?

Second, if the Egyptian-brokered deal offered, as Prime Minister Netanyahu contends, “an opportunity for the demilitarization of the Strip — from missiles, from rockets and from tunnels — through diplomatic means,” it would have been foolish for him not to give it a chance.

Finally, by accepting the ceasefire offer, even in the face of stiff opposition from his own party, Netanyahu was looking to gain international legitimacy to broaden Operation Protective Edge.

Now that Hamas has rejected the ceasefire, thereby granting Israel international legitimacy for an expanded military operation, what comes next?

There are a number of options, all of them risky. One is to continue the operation from the air, but not to send in ground troops. This is what Netanyahu did a year and a half ago in Operation Pillar of Defense. It has the advantage of not risking soldiers’ lives, but is limited in the damage it can do to Hamas (you can’t destroy tunnels from the air).

The other extreme is to “go all the way,” as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it in a press conference Tuesday. His plan calls for sending in huge numbers of troops, evicting Hamas, and taking control of Gaza for an unlimited period to prevent the terror group’s return. This option offers the best chance of permanently ending rocket fire on Israel from Gaza, but runs the risk of losing many soldiers’ lives, R”l, and incurring international wrath.

The third option, the one the military has recommended to the political leadership, is something in the middle. “A ground maneuver to destroy the tunnels will take somewhere between a week and two weeks, and the troops deployed to the border are trained for this and prepared for this,” a senior military official told Yediot Aharonot. “There is a small but significant amount of tunnels that we’ve yet to expose, and they’re targets in this maneuver.”

This option not only offers the possibility of trying to reach tunnels, but also missile storage depots that are hidden under schools, mosques and hospitals.

While this may be a safer alternative than an all-out ground invasion, this too puts Jewish lives in great danger, with no guarantee of success.

One thing is certain. The danger to millions of Jews in Israel hasn’t passed and they are in desperate need of Rachmei Shamayim, to protect them from all harm.