The Fine Print of Gaza

Print and digital media and the airwaves are saturated with reporting the plight of Gazan civilians (“noncombatants”). The accusations hurled at Israel are outrageous, with war crimes being among the more subtle. Israel is pictured as the villain, the aggressor, the nation that places no value on human life, but cavalierly murders innocent women and children.

It seems that the issue of over 1,000 Palestinian vs. fewer than 100 Israeli casualties has garnered more media attention than the unprovoked and merciless slaughter of 6 million Jews did 70 years ago. Even allowing for the monumental change in the dissemination of information in the intervening years, this is dumbfounding.

It might be useful to define “war crimes.”

International law concerning acceptable wartime conduct is essentially an agreement between nations to adhere to certain humanitarian values even during hostilities. Failure to do so constitutes a war crime. Some categories are how noncombatants (civilians) are treated, protected zones and the treatment of prisoners of war.

The first “law” is distinction: giving the enemy the ability to distinguish between combatants (soldiers) and noncombatants (civilians). It is self-evident that any attempt to protect noncombatants means that soldiers have to wear uniforms; failure to do so makes killing civilians inevitable. While this basic way of protecting civilians has been deliberately violated by Hamas, the egregious violation is ignored by the media.

When the civilian noncombatants that Hamas has failed to allow Israel to identify are killed, Israel (read “the Jews”) are to blame.

What shall we say about combatants dressed as women … combatants who insert themselves into civilian enclaves … combatants holding babies while shooting at Israeli soldiers? The disregard for the value of Gazan life by Hamas is beyond deplorable. Their playing on world sympathy is reminiscent of the person convicted of murdering his parents who seeks the court’s compassion because he is an orphan.

The second law is proportionality, which means that an attack must target a military objective, and any harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the military goal. War, by its very definition leads to property damage and loss of life — yes, even civilian loss of life. However, civilian loss of life may not be the primary objective.

Yet surely the loss of civilian life is the primary objective of shooting thousands of rockets into Israel, of suicide bombers, and of the kidnapping and murder of three yeshivah students (which was celebrated by the Muslim populace as a military victory), would be.

Locating and destroying the rockets being fired into Israel and their launching mechanisms, or the cross-border tunnels designed for kidnapping and murder of civilians, are clearly legitimate military goals. The fact that noncombatants may be killed during these operations is unfortunate, but inevitable if the rockets are cached in and fired from populated areas.

A third law, “safe zones,” in part set forth in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, includes prohibitions on attacking hospitals, doctors, and ambulances. Hamas has precluded Israel from respecting those rules. When they use ambulances to transport combatants, United Nations safe zones to store rockets, and the areas around hospitals as rocket-launching sites, Hamas surrenders those protections.

It should be evident to the world’s press that, at a minimum, Hamas has placed their fellow Gazans in harm’s way and is therefore culpable for the resulting inevitable harm.

A recent article in The Washington Post set forth the great lengths Israel went to in an effort to forewarn Gazans of impending missile strikes.  Text messages, phone calls, airdrops of leaflets and warning shots were given. Then Hamas warned the populace not to dare move out and abandon the buildings. Does remaining in a war zone after being warned to leave turn civilians into combatants within the meaning of the rules?

In war, is one forced to deal with what is happening rather than why it is happening? It seems plain to any unbiased observer that Israel, like any country in the world, may defend itself; and is not obligated to limit its ability to do so because the terrorists have placed possible noncombatants in the line of fire, although they often do so, absorbing casualties as a result.

Hamas is gambling on a “heads I win, tails you lose” strategy. Putting the women and children of Gaza in the line of fire gives Israel the Pyrrhic choice of either engaging Hamas or remaining the victim of constant rocket fire. If Israel backs down and the IDF is rendered ineffectual, Hamas wins. If Israel engages Hamas, noncombatants die and Israel loses. Unfortunately, this gambit has meant victory for Hamas for years. But maybe the world is waking up to it.

Golda Meir said there would never be peace in the Middle East until the Arabs loved their own children more than they hated Israel. Apparently that time has not yet come.