Following the horrendous terrorist attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas, Israel has declared war not on Gaza, not on Palestinian civilians, but on Hamas. Waging war on Hamas, ensconced in a built-up city surrounded by Palestinian civilians, presents very serious military challenges.
At the same time waging a war against a foe that has no ethical constraints also presents a different set of ethical challenges. Hamas has perpetrated the most horrendous atrocities in their attack on civilians. They raped, burnt, decapitated, over 1000 women, children, the elderly, and even babies. They have taken hundreds of Israeli civilians as hostages, and will again use their own population as hostages, and human shields. Many Western Leaders, including Joe Biden and Anthony Albanese, remind Israel to obey the 'rules of war'. Yet Hamas has absolutely no intention of following any such ‘rules of war”. Hamas has built its infrastructure in schools, mosques and hospitals, and uses the media to claim Israel perpetrates war crimes even when Israel targets the very launch points of terrorist rockets.
This strategy has worked for Hamas well in the past. It only takes a bombing of a hospital together with a few pictures or videos of victims to mobilize a worldwide outcry condemning Israel.
This was demonstrated just this week when Hamas claimed that Israel had bombed a hospital and killed 500 people. This led to immediate widespread condemnation of Israel, even before the facts could be fully uncovered. Jordan cancelled a meeting with Biden, Trudeau denounced Israel, and even Albanese again reminded Israel of the rules of war. However, evidence clearly shows that rather than being an Israeli bomb, the explosion was caused by a missile launched by Islamic Jihad that misfired and fell on the hospital parking lot. Interception of communications between Hamas operatives also proves that Hamas knew this even before it called in its media supporters to spread the lie.
So how does Israel follow the rules of war? What is a proportional response? How does Israel protect its citizens, free the hostages, and eliminate Hamas while minimizing the loss of life of Palestinian civilians?
Difficult questions. But who better to shed some light than Alan Dershowitz, emeritus law professor at Harvard? Dershowitz recently posted a discussion on this very subject on an episode of his ‘Dershow’ titled Hamas, Human Shields and Civilians.
I recommend you watch the episode yourself, but here are some of the key points; -
- The rules of war do not restrict a military's response to any attack as long as it is directed at the military of the attacking force.
- The right to self defence allows a disproportionate response, an overwhelming response, as long as it is directed at the opposing military and military targets
- The principle of proportionality requires that any attack against a military target must be evaluated taking into account the likelihood of collateral damage on civilians.
- An attack on a hospital operating as a hospital with possibly hundreds of civilians and several enemy militants and arms would not pass this principle.
- At the same time, an attack on a mosque with multiple enemy combatants with just a few civilians would be acceptable, despite the collateral harm to civilians.
- The judgement is made by the military.
Of course, this is a very short summary, I suggest you watch the video.
In response to Hamas' attack, Israel has closed its borders to Gaza and stopped supplying it with water and electricity. (One could of course ask why doesn't Gaza have its own sources of both. After all, it has received substantial aid over the years and it could easily have built desalination plants and power stations. But it seems they have used all their aid money to build rockets and terror infrastructure. ) Israel has called up reservists and stationed a large ground force ready for a ground attack. It has urged the civilian population to leave Gaza City. This is no easy task of course, and Hamas is telling the population to stay put. Nevertheless, large numbers have left the city.
Israel has committed to turn on both electricity and water once the hostages are returned. They have also been asking Egypt to open its border with Gaza to allow humanitarian aid into the city.
Certainly, the civilians in Gaza have experienced massive upheaval in their lives. No doubt there have been civilian deaths as the extensive bombing will have consequences. And I have total sympathy for them, for they are also victims. Victims of their Hamas leaders.
Disappointingly but not surprisingly it has only taken one week for the sympathy of the world to be washed away by a whole sea of Palestinian supporters. Supporters who seem to have lost their moral compass. They march, shouting antisemitic tropes and denouncing Israel and all Jews. It is unseemly and dangerous. They empower the terrorists when they should be doing the opposite.
What would they do if they were in Israel's position? What do they think Israel should do to protect its citizens? What would they think was reasonable?
Given that none of this would have happened to Gazan civilians if Hamas had not launched its attack, if you need to blame anyone it should be the aggressor. After all, whose fault is it if your own citizens die as a result of the war you started?
Despite the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli mob blaming Israel for the death of Gaza's civilians, that view is morally bankrupt. Each and every death resulting from Hamas' direct attack, and Israel's response to prevent such attacks must be blamed on Hamas. It is as simple as that.