A Response to the Los Angeles Times Call for a Cease-Fire in Gaza

This column was submitted to the Los Angeles Times by the author on Sunday, November 19 in response to the Times’ editorial two days earlier calling for a “cease-fire now.” The Times did not respond to the author.
November 28, 2023
Members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) work at a staging area near the border of Gaza as a six day cease fire between Israel and members of Hamas holds for the release of prisoners and hostages on November 28, 2023 in Sderot, Israel. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial on November 17, 2023, stating its position: “Cease-fire now: The killing of civilians in Gaza must stop.” Let us evaluate the morality and logic that the editors invoked as the basis for their position. In order, its propositions are:

  • The U.S., Israel’s chief ally and weapons provider, needs to assert strong pressure on Israel to stop its attacks that have “reportedly killed more than 11,000 Gazans.”
  • Admittedly, Hamas murdered 1,200 people and continues to hold “more than 200 hostages—Israelis, Americans, and others.”
  • In addition, Hamas treats Palestinian civilians as human shields.
  • Israel is stepping up its assault in southern Gaza, whose residents “will not be permitted to enter Egypt on Gaza’s southwestern border.”
  • S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken testified that a cease-fire would “simply consolidate what Hamas has been able to do and potentially repeat another day.”
  • But the problem is that “neither Israel nor the U.S. has explained how Hamas can be eradicated or removed from power without an unacceptable level of civilian deaths and casualties. Nor have they set forth what they intend to happen next.”
  • It is therefore imperative to adopt a cease-fire forthwith.

All decent folks share the editors’ imperative to end war crimes immediately. Yet, given the fog of war, it is difficult to know many aspects of what is currently unfolding. That admitted uncertainty extends to the very basis for the editorial’s position: Has there been disproportionate loss of civilian life compared to Israel’s military objectives? The editorial’s statement that Israel’s campaign has “reportedly killed more than 11,000 Gazans” emphasizes that lack of knowledge—its qualifier “reportedly” not only means that the Times simply does not know, but also that it is citing statistics compiled by a terrorist organization as the basis for its position.

But even apart from its unreliability, the unspecified “report” itself fails to distinguish the terrorists who are the legitimate target of Israel’s efforts from innocent civilians killed collaterally. As the editorial itself admits, Hamas uses those civilians as human shields. In the same time-frame, The New York Times mooted the figure of 5,000 dead militants. That figure, like every other one, represents only speculation, as does any number that is assigned for civilian deaths. It is a tragedy whenever innocent civilians die, but the number killed in this war (which is currently unknown) may result more from their use as human shields than any culpability on Israel’s part. All we can conclude today is that Israel (like every country) must be held to account if it turns out that it has violated the laws of war—but we have no basis to reach any such conclusion today, either pro or con.

On the other hand, there is no doubt whatsoever that over 200 war crimes are occurring every single day in Gaza—by virtue of the hostages that Hamas is holding without even allowing the Red Cross to visit them. If there is to be a target of righteous indignation, surely its locus must be on the ongoing war crime that is apparent and undeniable.

Amazingly, though, the Los Angeles Times focuses 100% of its attention on only one of the international players that it cites. After referencing Israel, Hamas, Egypt and the United States, it places the entire burden as to future conduct on Israel alone. Pointedly missing from the editorial are any suggestions along the lines of:

  • Taking forceful international steps to compel Hamas to release the hostages.
  • Demanding that Egypt open its southwestern border with Gaza in order to permit civilians to enter Egypt, so that Israel can concentrate its forces on the terrorist regime that rules there.
  • Urging the United States to make surgical strikes into Qatar to detain the Hamas leadership as a way to end the war.

Not being a geopolitical strategist, I have no pretense of being able to offer assurances of how those alternative courses would play out. But I do not set myself up as an expert as to how the situation on the ground must change. By contrast, the Los Angeles Times is portraying itself as the expert, which makes its silence on the above matters—or any other variant—deafening.

These considerations lead to the editorial’s most glaring contradiction. The linchpin of the presentation is that Israel has failed to explain either how it intends to achieve its goals or what will happen next. A little reflection reveals that its government, for better or worse, is expending all its efforts on fighting a war that was thrust upon it rather than articulating goals. It may be suboptimal, but is certainly understandable, why in the midst of an ongoing crisis it would focus on military objectives rather than public pronouncements.

On the other hand, if we are talking about communications media, it is fair to ask how they intend to achieve the goals they outline and to ask what will happen next. By the very standards that it has erected, the Los Angeles Times must specify what will happen next, after its proposed cease-fire is implemented. Here, we do not need to guess, as the editorial quotes the chief American diplomat: A cease-fire would “simply consolidate what Hamas has been able to do and potentially repeat another day.”

In other words, the editorial asks Israel to tell its citizenry, “We have decided to leave in place all the genocidal murderers a few miles away, who will continue to maraud and kill your families, raping your women, cutting up your babies, and exulting in mass murder.” No sane person would continue to live in that country.

Crowds at the Sydney Opera House reacted to the Hamas atrocities with chants of “Gas the Jews.” Albeit not as vulgar, the Times’ editorial leads to the conclusion that the only Jewish country on earth is also the only country on earth that is denied the right to protect its citizens from wholesale slaughter. It is disheartening, to say the least, that the editors would adopt such a stance.

Former president of B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, David Nimmer is a legal scholar who has written numerous books.

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