Israel launched Operation Protective Edge after showing restraint for a number of weeks in response to the insufferable firing of rockets on its southern residents, which continues and has even spread to the center of the country. But, the response must not be mass killing of innocent civilians.

Abdullah Abu Ghazal, 5, became the 77th Palestinian fatality of Operation Protective Edge yesterday morning . He died in an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia. His death was preceded by that of dozens of other civilians in the Gaza Strip, including women and other children.

Eight members of the Hajj family were killed in Khan Yunis yesterday. Before that, nine Palestinian civilians were killed in Khan Yunis while watching the World Cup, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an. Three women were killed when the Israel Air Force bombed the Beit Hanun home of Islamic Jihad operative Hafez Hamed. The Shalat family, parents and two children, were killed in their home in al-Zawayda.

Nearly the entire Kaware family, of Khan Yunis, was wiped out on Tuesday – eight family members, including six children, were killed in what the IAF termed “a mistake.” The family left their home after the IAF warned it of an impending strike, but after the house was hit by a small “warning” missile they returned and went up to the roof, on the assumption the IAF pilot would hold fire if he saw them there. Their hopes were dashed, in a horrifying fashion.

The longer Operation Protective Edge continues, the clearer the nature of the IAF’s targets become. This time they include the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives. Israel’s B’Tselem human rights organization said yesterday that this violates the international humanitarian law, which permits attacks only against targets that effectively assist military efforts. The homes of people involved in the fighting against Israel do not meet this definition. Nor is killing their relatives a military necessity.

After Operation Cast Lead in early 2009, during which hundreds of innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip were killed, Israel paid a heavy price in the form of international censure, which reached its peak in the Goldstone report. Israel should have learned its lesson and been as careful as possible to avoid harming civilians. But the first few days of Operation Protective Edge make us fear that Israel hasn’t learned anything. The growing body count not only damages its international standing, it is first and foremost a corruption of its own moral character.