Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Hamas makes civilian casualties a tragic certainty

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By Glen Falkenstein

 

ABC "The Drum" - Fri 25 Jul 2014

Hamas deliberately enmeshes itself within the civilian population, which means that innocent people will die despite Israel's best efforts to take precautions, writes Glen Falkenstein.


More than 2,200 rockets have been fired by Hamas and other terrorist groups from the Gaza Strip into Israel since July 8, and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have responded by attacking terrorist targets in Gaza.

Israel initially countered the rocket fire by telling Hamas, "quiet will be met with quiet", yet Hamas continued to fire rockets. Israel also accepted a ceasefire proposal by Egypt, backed by the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which on July 15 was rejected by Hamas.

When PA president Mahmoud Abbas pleaded with Hamas to accept the ceasefire, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, stated "what are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?"

Here, it's crucial to fully comprehend what "lifting the siege" means to Hamas, behind their demands and inflammatory rhetoric. What it is actually seeking is the means to rearm and vastly expand Hamas' military capabilities. This is a demand that the world should never accept, and would only guarantee another bloody war in the near future.

Hamas knows that if it stopped firing rockets into Israel, Israel would have ceased its operation in Gaza. Yet, Hamas combatants have increased their firing range to over 160km, which means rockets have been fired at Israeli cities as far north as Haifa, Hadera and Zikhron Ya'akov, as well as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This rocket fire is indiscriminate and targeted at the civilian populations. On July 15 alone, 122 rockets hit Israel, with 26 being intercepted by the "Iron Dome" missile defence system.

The IDF's ground operation has targeted Hamas rocket launching sites in Gaza, command facilities and weapons caches, and in particular an unexpectedly vast "terror tunnel" network. Hamas built these multi-million-dollar tunnels, using concrete smuggled and legally imported under the ruse of "humanitarian" purposes, to hide artillery and infiltrate terrorists into Israel to massacre Israelis. Many Hamas militants have been killed in hard-fought street battles, and tragically, many civilians have also lost their lives.

The "Iron Dome", together with Israel's advanced warning system for rocket fire, is responsible for saving many Israeli lives. Warning sirens are going off all over Israel; those living in Sderot, close to Gaza, have only up to 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter before the rockets hit.

Before firing on Hamas targets, the IDF has telephoned the civilians at the site and warned them to vacate so they will not be harmed in the strike. The IDF has also fired flares above buildings prior to the attack, to warn civilians nearby, and used a method called "knock on the roof", where it fires missiles without explosive warheads at the site as a warning to those present. In areas where even pinpoint strikes are deemed too risky, the IDF has dropped leaflets warning residents to temporarily flee their homes and provided information about safe havens.

Despite this, a number of civilians in Gaza have been seen massing on the rooftops of Hamas sites, with a Hamas spokesman stating, "We in the Hamas movement call on our people to adopt this procedure." Hamas has used the "human shield" tactic in previous escalations and stands condemned by the international community for its clear violation of humanitarian law.

The law of armed conflict requires combatants to distinguish themselves from non-combatants, or the civilian population. This is known as the principle of distinction - a principle flouted by Hamas.

Last week, Hamas' Interior Ministry ordered residents in Gaza to remain in their homes if they are about to be bombed, urging civilians to ignore the Israeli warnings. This obviously increases Palestinian casualties, with Hamas publicly attempting to use the loss of life to increase international pressure on Israel.

However, if, following these warnings, it appears that there will be excessive collateral damage, including in instances where civilians have been urged by Hamas to act as human shields, Israel has been known to abort attacks, even when it means that those Hamas targets still have the capability to launch attacks on Israeli civilians.

Moreover, the principle of distinction requires a ban on the use of weapons that are incapable of being properly aimed at legitimate targets. In violation of this law, thousands of rockets have been indiscriminately launched by Hamas over the past weeks, targeting the Israeli civilian population.  

Hamas' military wing, a proscribed terrorist organisation in Australia and other countries, maintains an arsenal of thousands of projectiles. Its practices of hiding itself and weaponry within homes and UN schools, launching attacks from civilian areas, and setting up its de facto headquarters in hospitals have been widely documented. Hamas has broadcast a number of videos in Hebrew threatening among other things: "Zionists, wait and see terror attacks, stabbing everywhere. Wait for suicide attacks on every bus, cafe and street... we can reach you above ground and below it. So start counting the number of coffins you'll need in these months."

The strikes have continued, with the IDF stating, "No nation would accept constant rocket fire, neither will we." Hamas has stated that "all Israelis" are potential targets for retaliation.

The difference between Israel and Hamas is that Israel judges the success of a mission by how few civilians are killed, while Hamas deliberately courts civilian casualties on both sides.

Glen Falkenstein is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. View his full profile here.

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