Is Israel Guilty of War Crimes?

by Denis MacEoin

Can the International Criminal Court [ICC] even be considered an impartial legal body, any more than a Jim Crow court in America’s old South?

The supporters of this repackaged anti-Semitism always seem perfectly comfortable “forgetting” that Hamas offers its people no human rights. Thus is a liberal democracy, Israel, maligned by a theocratic tyranny.

It is clear that these illustrious members of the international community are secretly hoping that if they can rig the system so that the Arabs can finish off Israel, they, in the international community, will still be able to preen and congratulate themselves that the obliteration of the Jewish state had nothing to do with them.

Groups such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Hizbullah or Hamas are considered terrorists because they do not abide by the principles of international or domestic law. That, as well as the acts they commit, is what identifies them as terrorists. The differentiating factor with Islamist terror organizations is that they do not recognize international law at all.

Islamic law frees Hamas and other such groups from any obligation to abide by international standards, which they demonize as “Western” or “Christian” and therefore “Satanic.”

As stated by an official UN report of 2009, among others, systematic and deliberate targeting of civilians violates International Humanitarian Law and amounts to a war crime.

Any movement, such as Hamas, that is openly determined to bring about the abolition of a sovereign state and the genocide of its citizens, breaks every clause in every charter of international law.

On November 4, 2014, Amnesty International published a scathing report on Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza during the war between Hamas and Israel last year. Entitled, “Families under the rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes,” the report accuses Israel of displaying “callous indifference” in launching attacks on family homes in the densely populated coastal strip, and argued that in some cases the conduct amounted to war crimes. The report makes difficult reading. The toll of human tragedy in the conflict was enormous. Over 2,100 Palestinians were killed, about 1000 of them civilians. But did Israel commit war crimes? And is Amnesty reading war crimes legislation in a balanced way?

The following day, the recently retired UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, published an article in the New York Times, in which she calls for Europe to allow “Palestine” to be admitted to the International Criminal Court [ICC], a body to which neither Israel nor the United States is party.

One day later, November 6, 2014, the chief military commander of the U.S., General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a man with lifelong military experience, including senior service in Iraq, flatly contradicted both Amnesty and Pillay in an outspoken insistence that Israeli troops had behaved in an exemplary fashion. “I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said. “They [the IDF] did some extraordinary things to try and limit civilian casualties to include … making it known that they were going to destroy a particular structure”.

Dempsey’s remarks are a direct echo of sentiments expressed (and not for the first time) by a former British commander in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “The way that this conflict [Operation Protective Edge] is being portrayed in many, many media outfits by many reporters, by some politicians round the world, is the mirror opposite of reality. Israel has been demonized, Israel has been accused of committing war crimes. The real war crimes have been committed by Hamas.”[1]

It is, surely, quite clear that the debate about the ethics, policies and actions of the IDF could not be more polarized — not least between amateurs who have never been in combat, and professional soldiers who have fought against Islamist foes for many years. Either the IDF is made up of war criminals or, as Kemp has said, “the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

Already during the conflict between the Jewish state and Hamas, on July 23, 2014, Pillay was accusing Israel of possible war crimes: “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Ms. Pillay said. Already well known for her anti-Israel views, her comment was hardly surprising; nor was hers the only voice to issue this claim. Speaking earlier in the year, Human Rights Watch had already said much the same in a public statement.

A few months later, at the end of December, Mahmoud Abbas, acting as president of a joint government between the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria and Hamas in Gaza, signed the Rome Statute in order to join the International Criminal Court. On January 6, 2015, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced that the Palestinians could do so on April 1. He based eligibility on a majority vote of the General Assembly, on October 30, 2014, to recognize “Palestine” as a state. This decision came in spite of a vote against recognition of a full-fledged Palestinian state by the UN Security Council, on 30 December 2014.

There is an ongoing debate about all of this: whether “Palestine,” which has few of the characteristics of a sovereign state, can legitimately join the ICC and launch war crimes accusations against Israel; whether the ICC will consider itself legally empowered to take on such a case, whether the Palestinians may not risk being investigated for war crimes themselves, and not least whether the ICC can even be considered an impartial legal body, any more than a Jim Crow court in America’s old South.

It is clear that, should the Israeli Supreme Court prosecute individual Israeli citizens for crimes during the last Gaza war, the ICC would automatically need to recuse itself from a broader prosecution, as attorney Alan Dershowitz has written.

The fundamental issue is whether any of the accusations against Israel are true. Has Israel been committing terrible crimes in Gaza? Or were the war crimes in this conflict actually committed by Hamas, while Israel and its armed forces behaved in an exemplary fashion, in hard-fought battles, to minimize civilian casualties? Further, are the claims of war crimes and indiscriminate killing born, not from humanitarian anxieties, but from a recrudescent anti-Semitism? It often seems as if your grandmother’s old-fashioned anti-Semitism has merely morphed and been repackaged as anti-Israel invective and rallies that call on Hamas to rise up for human rights. The supporters of this repackaged anti-Semitism, however, always seem perfectly comfortable “forgetting” that the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] offers its people no human rights, and often liberal helpings of human wrongs. Thus is a liberal democracy maligned by a theocratic tyranny.

It is time that Israel’s harsher critics, politicians, and the media acquainted themselves with the physical and legal facts of this conflict. Their goals may be admirable, even if their motives are not; for which of us does not wish to minimize the deaths of innocents? But, sadly, they seem have taken precisely the wrong side of the moral argument.

Rather than help save innocent lives, they seem actually to relish putting Israel into the dock. They promote incessant rounds of boycotts, divestments and sanctions, mounted against Israel and no other nation. At the UN, they continually vote lopsided for sanctions against Israel and no other nation — not Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Pakistan or the Sudan. They will, if they are successful, merely bring about another round of fighting, which will be followed by another round and so on, with thousands of civilians and soldiers dying in the process.

It is clear that these illustrious members of the International community are secretly hoping that if they can rig the system so the Arabs finish off Israel, they, the illustrious members of the international community, will still be able to preen and congratulate themselves that the obliteration of the Jewish state had nothing to do with them.

Israel is not mankind’s enemy; it is not even an enemy of the Palestinian people. Hamas, on the other hand — a brutal, internationally-recognized terrorist organization — is the greatest threat to, first and foremost, Palestinians.

Western attempts to weaken Israel only serve to strengthen its enemies. Hamas is explicit in its 1988 Charter that its long-term goal is to commit genocide, not only of all Jews in Israel, but of all Jews everywhere. It could not be plainer. Cries that Israel deliberately commits war crimes just support this genocidal intent. That alone will encourage even wider genocides in Syria and Iraq, or massacres of Christian infidels in Europe — something that has already started to happen in earnest. Is this what the anti-Israel marchers, the sloganeers and the NGOs really want?

Most people know and agree that Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State [IS, Da’ish, ISIS], Hizbullah, or Hamas are considered terrorists because they do not abide by the terms of international or domestic law. That, as well as the acts they commit, is what identifies them as terrorists rather than “freedom fighters” or “militants.” Like the German Red Cells or the Italian Red Brigades and other European terrorist bodies in the 1970s, a terrorist’s job is to terrorize: they use terror to achieve their ends, and this comparison helps us place Hamas within that category. But there is a differentiating factor with the Islamist terror organizations, and that is that they do not recognize international law at all.

All the norms of the Geneva Conventions, UN resolutions, international treaties, the protection of refugees, all other things that govern military action and aspects of internationally accepted norms of law, they reject because they only recognize one legal system, namely Islamic shari’a law. And the aspect of shari’a law in all the five law schools (four Sunni and one Shi’i) that applies to international relations, the fighting of war, and the making of truces and treaties, is the law of jihad. It has a special section in all books of general shari’a law.

A dependence on Islamic law frees Hamas and other such groups from any obligation to abide by international standards, which they demonize as “Western” or “Christian” and therefore “Satanic.” When the Islamic State gives Christians or Yazidis a choice between conversion, payment of protection money (jizya), or death, they abide by the strict terms of jihad law as it has been practiced for fourteen centuries. When they kill without offering a subordinate status in return for the annual jizya payment, they breach Islamic law in the case of Christians, but not in the case of Yazidis (or Hindus or other “pagans”). Therefore, calling on Hamas to abide by recognized conventions is pointless.

To illustrate this, let us just examine three passages from Article 13 of the Hamas Charter[2]:

“(1) Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion…. (2) Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Moslem problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realizing the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbiters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?…. (3) There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.” (Italics added)

Hamas’s statement of purpose reads: “Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.” (Article 8).

It is inevitable that any movement, such as Hamas, that rejects peacemaking outright, and is outspokenly determined to bring about the abolition of a sovereign state and the genocide of its citizens, breaks every clause in every charter of international law. Thus, from the Introduction of the Hamas Charter: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it;” and from Article 7: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews and kill them (hatta yuqatil al-muslimun al-yahud fa-yaqtuluhum al-muslimun[3]), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him”.

It is this assumption of superiority to international legal norms, and complete indifference to their demands, that makes Hamas, like all other jihadi movements, such formidable enemies. Glorification of suicide also increases their alienation, not only from legal standards in warfare, but from the ethical standards of civilization. It is not only their own thirst to die that marks these extremists out, it is that they wish for the deaths of their own people, whether as suicide bombers or as casualties of a conflict started by Hamas itself.

The spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, said on July 13, 2014, in an interview on Al Aqsa TV (Hamas’s TV network), “We aren’t leading our people today to destruction. We are leading them to death.” Several basic elements should be taken into account:

  • Israel has never initiated any of the conflicts in which it has been engaged. Not the 1948 war, when seven Arab armies from five countries invaded it. Not the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel found itself surrounded by armies from Egypt, Syria and Jordan about to invade. Not in 1973, when a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria with Jordan again invaded Israeli territory and were fought off at great cost. Not the first Gaza war, the second Gaza war, or the 2014 conflict. All Israel’s actions have been defensive, all Arab actions offensive. This has a serious bearing on the issue of which side has acted legally within the confines of international law. This is not a matter of opinion, but of history: of plain, verifiable fact.
  • Since 2002, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have bombarded southern Israeli towns and villages with rockets and mortar fire. Over the years, those rockets have become larger and more accurate, with supplies of advanced rockets from Syria and Iran. Over 15,000 missiles have struck Israel during that period. During 2014, strikes were made across most of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. All of these attacks have been offensive and indiscriminate.
  • Israel has taken the defense of its citizens seriously, providing them with bomb shelters, ordering all houses to be equipped with secure rooms, creating an extensive alarm system to warn of incoming rockets, and building the very effective Iron Dome missile defense system. This has meant that Israeli casualties have been few, while defensive measures have never hurt a single Palestinian. Israel’s defensive measures have also protected its own Arab population, which has a direct bearing on the spurious claims of “disproportion” in fighting.
  • Hamas provided absolutely no defenses for its civilian population. There are no bomb shelters, no secure rooms, no alarm systems, and no anti-missile installations in the Gaza Strip. On the contrary, Hamas has spent billions of dollars of aid money to supply itself with a vast array of rockets, only used in offensive attacks, as well as on underground tunnels designed to import weapons, to protect the Hamas military forces, and to serve as conduits for attacks on Israel civilians during Gaza-Israel cross-border kidnapping and murder attacks. (The tunnels are now being used to allow Hamas to launch attacks into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and it is thought that Hizbullah is digging similar tunnels into Israeli territory in the north.)
  • Hamas has, as mentioned, fired thousands of rockets onto Israeli civilian centers, including several thousand before and after the latest conflict. Its firing has been indiscriminate and has impacted on civilian areas only. This is a war crime, as indicated in paragraphs 4-5b of Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.

Hamas boasted that Palestinian civilians were killed while Hamas’s terrorists remained alive, hiding in their underground bunkers and tunnels. (Image source: Hamas video screenshot)

As stated by several sources, including the official UN report published in August 2009, deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians and civilian objects in southern Israel since 2001 by Palestinian armed groups’ rocket attacks violates International Humanitarian Law and amounts to a war crime. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center [ITIC] notes that such attacks contravene the Principle of Distinction, as encapsulated by Article 48 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Former Canadian justice minister and McGill University law professor Irwin Cotler and ITIC both point out that a violation of this prohibition also amounts to a war crime as defined in the Article 8(2)(b)(i), p. 9 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

With respect to Palestinian terrorist acts and the discovery of armed Hamas operatives entering Israeli civilian areas through tunnels, it is also worth noting that this is also a war crime according to Article 8(2)(g) of the same Statute.

Human Rights Watch and the pro-Palestinian Israeli rights group B’Tselem have both issued reports stating that, even had the above attacks been directed at a specific military objective, they would still be unlawful, since the types of rockets used by Palestinian armed groups are imprecise and cannot be directed in a way that discriminates between military targets and civilians. A Human Rights Watch report, “Rockets from Gaza,” on the 2008-2009 Gaza war (but no less true last year), stated that, “Palestinian armed groups unnecessarily placed Palestinian civilians at risk from retaliatory attacks by firing rockets from densely populated areas. Additionally, reports by news media and a nongovernmental organization indicate that in some cases, Palestinian armed groups intentionally hid behind civilians to unlawfully use them as shields to deter Israeli counter-attacks.”

The use of human shields

There is overwhelming evidence that Hamas used human shields in various ways. Children have been used to protect fighters, who physically hold them. Numbers of civilians have been ordered into buildings containing military emplacements, against which Israeli attacks are likely or planned. More broadly, there is evidence that Hamas military structures, rocket launch pads, and command centers have been situated directly in or next to civilian dwellings, hospitals, mosques, and schools. This is historically a deliberate Hamas policy, as is clear from a 2008 video of a speech by Fathi Hammad, the Hamas Interior Minister:

“The enemies of God do not know that the Palestinian people have developed their methods of death and death-seeking. For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, as do all the people living in this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahidin [i.e. the jihad fighters] and the children. This is why they have formed human shields [duruq bashariyya] of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahidin, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: ‘We desire death, just as you desire life.'”

How does Hamas’s use of human shields potentially play out in legal terms? According to the conclusions reached during and after the 2008-09 Gaza War, in which Hamas used tactics similar or identical to those it has used in 2014, the BBC reported on January 5, 2009 that “Witnesses and analysts confirm that Hamas fires rockets from within populated civilian areas.” Amnesty International, which now condemns Israeli “war crimes,” earlier assessed that Hamas fighters put civilians in danger by firing from homes. UN Humanitarian Affairs Chief John Holmes accused Hamas of war crimes, saying “The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas, and the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations, are clear violations of international humanitarian law.”

In the course of the fighting in Gaza in 2008 and 2009, purported evidences of Hamas’s exploitation of civilian infrastructure were recorded in reports from the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center: “Civilians as Human Shields“, “Evidence of the Use of the Civilian Population as Human Shields“, “Using civilians as humans shields.”

A study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS] suggests that Hamas must share responsibility for the effects on Gaza’s civilian population, as it seems to have relied on the population density of Gaza both to deter Israeli attacks and as a defense against Israeli offensives. Irwin Cotler has said that attacks from within civilian areas and civilian structures — such as apartment buildings, mosques or hospitals — in order to be immune from a response, are unlawful. He argues that in these cases, Hamas bears legal responsibility for the harm to civilians, as enshrined in general principles of International Humanitarian Law.

ITIC accused Hamas of making systematic use of protected civilian areas (including homes and mosques) for hiding and storing rockets, explosives and ammunition; the use of civilian facilities (such as universities) for developing weapons, and calling on Palestinians to flock to targets expected to be attacked in order to form human shields. Such conduct contravenes the Laws of Armed Conflict, and some of the practices above amount to a war crime under, for example, Art. 8(2)(b)(xxiii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.’

It is obligatory, under international law, to distinguish between military and civilians. This is a major theme in international law protocols. Article 51 of the protocol additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions makes this clear.

That human shields are used by Hamas is self-evident from detailed maps, which show how totally embedded Hamas military forces were within the public and private buildings across the Strip, but mainly in Gaza City, where entire neighborhoods are as much military bases as residential sectors. This is also illustrated in a report released by the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] Military-Strategic Information Section on August 9, 2014, under the title “Hamas War Tactics: Attacks from Civilian Centers.”

That document provides a table showing, among other things, that Hamas fired rockets from 31 UN facilities, 41 hospitals, 50 children’s playgrounds, 85 medical clinics, 248 schools, 331 mosques, and 818 other civilian sites. On the next page, we read that, “Hamas uses UN facilities, schools, children’s playgrounds, water towers, mosques and countless other active civilian facilities as launching sites for rockets and attacks. In this operation alone, Hamas has launched above 1,600 rockets from civilian sites.”

The report continues:

“Additionally, Hamas purposefully engages IDF troops in conflict in urban areas. For example, in Shuja’iyya and in Jebaliyya, IDF troops have come under intense attack by terrorists in highly populated areas, and have been forced to defend themselves.

“Hamas also uses civilian infrastructures for other military purposes, and places weapon caches and C2 [command and control] centers in civilian places. Hamas’s tactic serves two purposes. Firstly, because the IDF responds to attacks with acute concern for innocent lives, attacking from these sites gives Hamas a major strategic advantage. Secondly, any civilian casualties that are incurred from these attacks are used to create international pressure against Israel, even though it is ultimately Hamas that is to blame for these deaths.

“Such tactics flagrantly violate international law and the most basic of moral precepts.”

The report provides links to videos showing Hamas firing from civilian areas, placing civilians in the line of fire, and admitting that they do this. It shows detailed aerial reconnaissance maps, which provide overwhelming evidence of the extent of launching sites in Gaza north, central, and south. Further maps and videos show launches from educational facilities, from UN and Red Cross facilities, from mosques, from power plants, hospitals and hotels, with the maps delineating rocket trajectories towards Israeli towns and villages.

A detailed map of Gaza City’s Shuja’iyya district shows the area peppered with terrorist locations of every size. In the accompanying text, we read:

“The UN recently published a map that marks areas of Shuja’iya damaged during IDF strikes. A comparison of the two maps clearly demonstrates that the areas targeted by the IDF are the same areas that the UN marked as damaged. The conclusion: the IDF distinguishes between structures used for terror purposes and structures used only for civilian purposes.”

A few things emerge from the above statements. First, Hamas has done its level best to avoid distinguishing its fighters from the civilian population. Not only do they hide among that population, they do not wear distinctive uniforms; and as often as not, they play dual roles as fighters and civilians. This makes it difficult if not impossible for the IDF to make that essential distinction. Second, it is legitimate to attack embedded military sites. And third, such attacks on undistinguished sites are subject to the condition that injuries and damage to civilians and their property should be proportionate to the damage that could be inflicted by the targeted site.

The prohibition of using human shields is contained in countless military manuals. Using human shields constitutes a criminal offence under the legislation of many states. This practice includes that of states not necessarily a party to Additional Protocol I or to the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Many say the casualties from last year’s fighting in Gaza were disproportionate because some 2,100 Gazans died in the conflict, as opposed to 66 Israeli soldiers and a mere 5 civilians. But this apparent disproportion is simplistic as well as incorrect. Gatestone author Shoshana Bryen has written in some detail about the principle of proportionality in international law. She argues that “Proportionality in international law is not about equality of death or civilian suffering, or even about firepower returned being equal in sophistication or lethality to firepower received. Proportionality weighs the military necessity of an action against the suffering that the action might cause to enemy civilians in the vicinity.”

The claim that Israel’s response to Hamas attacks was disproportionate also ignores that 50% or more of the Gazan casualties have been among men of fighting age — a statistic detailed in several places. Both the BBC and the New York Times, neither remotely friendly to the Israeli narrative, have pointed out the enormous discrepancies in the figures provided. “If the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate,’ as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women,” the BBC’s Anthony Reuben wrote in “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures.”

The New York Times reached much the same conclusion. Jodi Rudoren describes the issue in “Civilian or not? New Fight in Tallying the Dead From the Gaza Conflict,” where the names of 1,431 casualties were reviewed. The report showed that “the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most over-represented in the death toll. They are 9% of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34% of those killed whose ages were provided.” Women and children form 71% of the population yet a mere 33% of casualties. That is also a discrepancy.

Anthony Reuben of the BBC quoted IDF Spokesman Capt Eytan Buchman, who said that “the UN numbers being reported are, by and by large, based on the Gaza health ministry, a Hamas-run organisation.” Buchman added that we should keep in mind that “when militants are brought to hospitals, they are brought in civilian clothing, obscuring terrorist affiliations,” and that “Hamas also has given local residents directives to obscure militant identities.”

As no independent investigations were carried out in Gaza during the last war, and as Fatah, Hamas and other groups have a long-standing history of falsifying figures and filming fake scenes of carnage, it is highly likely that the true civilian casualty figures will prove to be much lower than claimed.

The sense of a discrepancy in the number of casualties dwindles to almost nothing when we consider the contrast, already noted, between Israeli defensive measures to save lives, compared to Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields. It should also be noted that claims that Gazan civilians were killed and injured because they had nowhere to run to are simply laughable: there are vast open areas in the Strip in which Hamas fighters might have placed military infrastructure or to which they might have directed civilians in the event of war (since it was Hamas that started the war in the first place). Gatestone author Alan Dershowitz has demonstrated in detail that Gaza’s population density is not a source of vulnerability for its civilian population.

It is also is highly irresponsible to speak of Israeli attacks as “indiscriminate.” No army in history has fought with as great a concern to avoid civilian casualties, as has the IDF. It is Israeli policy to warn civilians of impending attacks by dropping thousands of leaflets, making telephone calls, sending text messages, and even dropping projectiles called “knocks on the roof” to give residents advanced warnings to evacuate the premises. This alone makes Amnesty International’s accusation of “callous indifference” to civilian deaths utterly indefensible. Giving advance warning of attacks is disadvantageous for the Israeli Air Force in two ways: it warns Hamas fighters and rocket-launching teams that they have been spotted and designated as targets, and it allows Hamas to order civilians to remain in buildings or go onto flat roofs to dissuade Israelis from firing. This policy of warning civilians of a coming attack is stated clearly in Israel’s Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006).[4]

When Hamas fighters fire from near or inside a school, mosque or hospital, and civilians are killed in the return fire, Hamas benefits by parading dead civilians, dead children (and dead fighters dressed as civilians) before the eyes of the world media.

Those who condemn Israeli actions in war should first read this useful article which argues that every IDF officer receives detailed and ongoing training in international law relating to combat; that the IDF has a website devoted to international law issues; that there is a legal expert in every IDF division; that Israeli assaults are either called off or adapted to avoid illegal action; that every single shell shot by Israeli artillery or the air force was thought about in advance, and that targets were vetted in advance, after being visually identified by one or more of the technical layers of “eyes” the IDF had over Gaza — satellites, drones, and radar.

Israel, more than any other nation, doubtless understands the need to stay on the right side of the law and knows that the eyes of the world are on it, while Hamas sneers at the Geneva conventions and seems to disregard international law in every way. That disparity leads one to ask why the world condemns Israel yet gives Hamas billions of dollars to build more missiles and tunnels.

To speak of “indiscriminate” attacks by Israel mocks understanding that Israel’s military equipment is second to none with regard to its technological sophistication. Given Israel’s international reputation as one of the most technically advanced countries in the world, this hardly surprising. We can expect an Israeli aircraft to hit its target with precision. As every civilian casualty is detrimental to Israel’s standing in the world, it makes no sense at all for such a technically savvy country to fire indiscriminately on civilians — a move that would only help Hamas to win the war through media coverage alone.

If that is so, some may ask, why did Israeli attacks kill so many civilians? The answer is simple: first, as discussed, many civilian deaths may not even have been civilian deaths, as in previous conflicts. Second, the primary cause of many of those deaths may have been Hamas’s use of human shields, and the proximity of firing sites, command centers and munitions stockpiles to every sort of civilian location. Casualties did not come from an irresponsible and self-defeating lack of discrimination or incompetence on Israel’s part.

Going forward

It seems that half the world supports demands for Israel to lift its entirely legal weapons and dual-use materials blockade of Gaza, so that Hamas can get down to seriously importing long-range missiles from Iran and its other allies, as well as large quantities of cement to build more terror tunnels. In a recent interview between a Reuters reporter and a Hamas leader, the Hamas official stated openly that “the group would press on with restocking its arsenal or [sic] rockets and other weaponry and shoring up its underground network. In peace we make preparations, and in war we use what we have readied.”

Calls for an end to the blockade (which does not block the import of genuine humanitarian goods at all) amounts to a policy of arming terrorists. Hamas has already diverted billions of dollars of aid money to build concrete-lined tunnels and purchase missiles and other arms, leaving ordinary Gazans without the basic necessities of life, while the Hamas elite drives expensive cars, shops at a mall selling designer goods, and builds luxury apartments.

After the premature end Operation Protective Edge, the international community promised to pour in more billions to rebuild Gaza. If there is no blockade, those billions will build another arsenal, and with that arsenal, Hamas will start another war in which even more Gazans and Israelis will die or fall injured.

The simple solution to this is peace — which Israel has always asked for. But Hamas, as stated in its Charter, rejects peace out of hand and for all time. What is needed is a government in power in Gaza that cares about the well-being of all its citizens, and that might see permanent peace with its neighbours as the right way forward for everyone.

Denis MacEoin is a former university teacher in Arabic and Islamic Studies and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

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