Over the last several weeks, various politicians and pundits have condemned Israel as committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during its campaign against Hamas, but this is simply not true. Whether these allegations are the product of ignorance about international law or of knowing malevolence against Israel, this steady drumbeat of false accusations corrodes support for Israel to pursue its legitimate war on the terrorist organization Hamas.
Experience tells us that most journalists do not consider intent in judging the morality of an action, but rather only the outcome. Thus, the death of 18,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, is prima facie far more morally repugnant than the death of 1,400 is far less so, but this is absurd. Whether someone dies naturally, from a natural disaster, or at the hands of another matters far more in the determination of moral responsibility than numbers alone. While 18,000 Gazans may have died during Israel’s military strikes against Hamas, the intent of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is of fundamental and determinative importance with regard to the question of violations of the laws of war.
In its efforts to reduce civilian casualties, the IDF warns civilians of areas where airstrikes may soon occur. Such action puts Israel’s own forces in greater peril, which is not a condition imposed by the laws of armed conflict. It is also not the conduct of an armed force striving mightily to respect its obligation to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible while still pursuing its legitimate war aims of eradicating the threat to Israeli citizens.
We also must examine why there are so many civilian casualties (assuming for the moment that Gazan medical services are not inflating the numbers for propaganda purposes at the behest of their masters in Hamas). The rulers of Gaza, Hamas, have deliberately placed their military assets in civilian areas and structures, which is a war crime. Hamas uses its own people as human shields, hoping to engender confusion in the world community about who is responsible for those civilians’ deaths. Such behavior was documented by Amnesty International in 2014 – it is unlikely to have changed.
Even more bizarre, international organizations now claim, contrary to all available evidence, that Israel is occupying Gaza and is thus responsible for the protection of all Gazans. Going from bizarre to disgusting, some journalists claim that Israel bears the responsibility for the deaths of any hostages that Hamas has taken because Hamas does not exercise control of “occupied Gaza”. The unreality and nonsensical “thinking” of the anti-Israel punditry class is gobsmacking.
Sadly, the infection of irrationality and the construction of false narratives spreads. In a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, Yaroslav Trofimov raised the question of whether the West was applying a double standard in its condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its continued support for Israel against Hamas given the high number of civilian casualties.
The essay, either in the voice of the author or of some of those he interviewed, makes the assertion that the Russians unleashed sustained air strikes against only one city in Ukraine, Mariupol. It blithely passes over unmentioned the numerous Russian airstrikes targeting civilian gatherings residences, hospitals, theaters, etc. In comparison, it implies that the Israeli air strikes in Gaza that target Hamas installations are much worse, failing to mention, that the number of civilian casualties are much higher than they would be otherwise due to Hamas’s use of civilian facilities and persons as shields.
Also in the essay, one of the interviewees asserts that the U.S. military would not be as “loose” as the IDF in its interpretation of what measures can be employed in a military strike that might affect civilians. This is a subtle smear of the IDF, contrary to the evidence of the IDF’s conduct of military operations, both over the last twenty-five years and since October 7th. Its willingness to increase the risk to its personnel to avoid civilian casualties remains an extraordinary standard to which few (any?) other countries adhere.
This brings us back to the key question: is there any evidence that the IDF in particular is violating the laws of war and armed conflict in its war against Hamas? The answer is clearly “no.”
Israel is strenuously avoiding civilian casualties, even to the point of increasing the risk to its own forces, which it is not required to do. It is not “loose” in its interpretation of what measures can be taken if there are civilians at risk of harm in a military operation against an enemy that uses its own people as human shields. Most importantly, the IDF does not intentionally target civilians but rather attempts to avoid non-combatant casualties, bringing the war to a conclusion as quickly as possible by either destroying Hamas or forcing them to capitulate.
A final point: Israel is not a threat to its neighbors; Israel does not oppress its citizens, whether Jews or non-Jews; Israel observes the rule of law; and, most importantly, Israel follows a moral code that treasures all human life. Hamas does none of these. To end the commission of war crimes and to restore justice and peace from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, Hamas must be destroyed.