JERUSALEM – I'm at the Israeli president's residence in Jerusalem. We've just finished a press conference for the international media.
I've never seen Israeli President Isaac Herzog as worked up, as angry as he became, when one of the CNN correspondents asked if Israel felt that it was engaged in war crimes by fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
Of course, Gaza is a very densely populated civilian population, approximately 2 million citizens live in Gaza.
But Herzog urged CNN and all media outlets to acknowledge that while Israel is doing — and will continue to do — everything possible to prevent Palestinian casualties, Hamas is using Palestinians in Gaza as human shields.
President Herzog was furious.
I mean, he's a placid guy. He's a calm man, a real gentle diplomat.
But he really, in his way, unleashed on the CNN correspondent by saying, "You're really bringing up the question of whether Israel is engaged in war crimes when you've just watched all these Israeli Jews being butchered by Hamas? Babies being murdered in front of their mothers, mothers in front of their children? It's astonishing."
And he actually swore at this and just said, "How can you be talking about Israel and being engaged in war crimes?"
It was a stunning moment.
Another international reporter told the president that he was “confused” by Herzog’s answers.
“You seem to hold the people of Gaza responsible for Hamas.”
Herzog rejected that accusation immediately, arguing he had said nothing of the kind.
Again, the terrible challenge, he stressed, is that Hamas is hiding behind civilians and shooting rockets and missiles out of schools, hospitals, playgrounds, and private apartments.
“If you have a missile in your g—d—- kitchen and you want to shoot it at me, am I allowed to defend myself?” Herzog shot back.
We'll have full coverage on ALL ISRAEL NEWS throughout the day.
CNN reporter Becky Anderson: “The collective punishment of a civilian population amounts to a war crime under international law. The U.S. has warned Israel to uphold laws of war.”
President Herzog responded: “I'm quite disappointed that that's what you're asking instantaneously. Haven't you seen you've seen [the crimes of Hamas]? You've seen, you were all there."
He continued, getting visibly angrier by the second.
"So now we're starting with the rhetoric about war crimes. Really? Truly, truly, truly? I just said that Israel abides by international law, operates by international law. Every operation is secured and covered and reviewed legally.”
“With all due respect, I truly believe that this comes totally out of context,” Herzog added.
CBN reporter Julie Stahl then asked Herzog: “So I know people have asked you, but how are you going to be able to mitigate this? Suddenly everybody switching back to Israel, [seeing it as] the powerful one.”
Herzog responded: “That's always a tragedy of short memories. I kept on saying time and again, time and again for the last few months, every day there was a terror attack. Every day. Nobody understood our situation.”
“There is a lot of anger in this country because people did not understand what we are talking about. There is no excuse to murdering innocent civilians in any way, in any context. And believe me, Israel will operate and always operates according to the international rules and will do the same in this battle too,” he added.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.