Hillary Clinton Twists Herself In Knots To Avoid Blaming Israel For UN Bombing

08/13/2014 09:53 am ET
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

The fog of war may be more of a Rorschach test, it turns out.

Here's Hillary Clinton, on the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane in Ukraine: "I think if there were any doubt it should be gone by now, that Vladimir Putin, certainly indirectly ... bears responsibility for what happened."

And here's Clinton, on the bombing of a United Nations facility in Gaza: "I'm not sure it's possible to parcel out blame because it's impossible to know what happens in the fog of war."

The two remarks were made less than three weeks apart, and offer a window into how one's view of how the world should be can color how it's seen -- or at least how it's relayed to the public.

In her July interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Clinton forcefully implicated the Russian leader in a strike that claimed the lives of 298 passengers after overwhelming evidence indicated that Russian-supplied rebels shot down passenger liner MH17.

A few weeks later, on July 30, five Israeli shells rained down on a U.N. school at the Jabalia refugee camp, killing more than 15 people, mostly women and children. The attack, which also wounded more than 100 civilians, marked the second time in a week that a U.N. school housing hundreds of homeless Palestinians had been targeted.

In an interview with The Atlantic on Sunday, Clinton argued that the "fog of war" made accountability over the Israeli attacks impossible to determine.

"I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets," Clinton explained. "Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult."

jabaliya refugee camp attack
Displaced Palestinians wait for water as they shelter at the Abu Hussien United Nations school in the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit earlier in the morning by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. (Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Christopher Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, the main United Nations agency in Gaza, came out forcefully against the Israeli army in a statement following the attacks, calling the incident a "source of universal shame."

"We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge," Gunness said in July, noting that U.N. representatives had informed Israeli forces of the school's exact location 17 times. "I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces. I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage."

Asked if Israel had undergone sufficient measures to avoid the deaths of innocent civilians and children, Clinton argued that no one's perfect.

"[J]ust as we try to do in the United States and be as careful as possible in going after targets to avoid civilians," mistakes are made, she told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. "We've made them. I don't know a nation, no matter what its values are -- and I think that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position -- that hasn't made errors, but ultimately the responsibility rests with Hamas."

"Some reports say, maybe it wasn't the exact UN school that was bombed, but it was the annex to the school next door where they were firing the rockets," Clinton continued. "And I do think oftentimes that the anguish you are privy to because of the coverage, and the women and the children and all the rest of that, makes it very difficult to sort through to get to the truth."

Also on HuffPost:

Israel-Gaza Conflict

CONVERSATIONS