March 7, 2008.
As the latest IDF operation in Gaza ended, Defense Minister Ehud Barak began
consulting Israel’s topmost legal authorities about how to respond to rocket
assaults launched on Israeli civilians from areas with large numbers of civilians
Not every state under attack would evince such extraordinary care regarding
the lives of populations in enemy entities, especially when the enemy has made
noncombatants its primary target. This, more than all else, underscores the
injustice inherent in the widespread condemnation overseas of Israel’s
self-defense. Israeli policy-makers are extremely sensitive to the moral bind in
which Gazan terrorists unconscionably place Israel.
Hamas tacticians cynically exploit Israel’s humanitarian predisposition, trusting
it to be too decent to discard its concern for the lives of Gazans – a concern
that is the direct reverse of the willful intent of Gazan terrorists to cause as
much death and destruction to as many Israeli civilians as they can.
This underlying moral disparity between the sides – all too often completely
ignored by Israel’s critics abroad – takes on particularly sinister attributes when
terrorist rockets are purposely launched from crowded civilian sites to deter
Israel from striking back at the rocket cells.
This makes it a lose-lose situation for Israel. If it responds vigorously, it will be
censured for the likely loss of life. If it doesn’t respond, it abandons increasingly
larger numbers of its own civilians to “the Palestinian roulette.” On Monday, for
instance, a Grad missile exploded outside a day care center in Ashkelon. Only
by a miracle did scores of babies and toddlers escape grievous harm.
Simultaneously, Israel’s predicament constitutes a win-win situation for Gaza’s
Hamas overlords. If they cause casualties to their own civilians, Israel will be
pilloried by world opinion. If Israel is daunted from defending its own
population, Hamas can continue its rocket barrages with impunity.
Hamas’s brazen use of human shields is directly facilitated by the international
community’s reluctance to address the issue and denounce the premeditated
endangerment of ordinary people. According to all rules of warfare, including
the Geneva Convention, this is nothing short of a war crime. When the crimes
of Gaza’s terrorists against their own people are consistently overlooked around
the world, it can only encourage the Islamists’ immorality.
By staying silent on this fundamental moral issue, the international community
becomes an accomplice to bloodshed both among the directly targeted Israelis
and the unintentionally harmed Gazans.
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Arab terrorists have a long and dishonorable
history of hiding behind women and children and of using even schools and
houses of worship to protect themselves.
Back in November 2006, Gazan women were used as human shields to allow
besieged Hamas gunmen to flee from Israeli forces in Beit Hanun. Armed
terrorists barricaded themselves in a mosque that was surrounded by IDF troops
and tanks. Women gathered outside in response to an appeal on the local radio
station for females to protect Hamas fighters. The terrorists managed to escape
in women’s garb by blending in among those they knew Israeli soldiers
That same month, the IAF warned Muhammad Weil Baroud, responsible for
firing Kassam rockets at Israel, to evacuate his home in Beit Lahiya in advance
of an air strike. Instead, hundreds of locals, mostly women and children, were
recruited to Baroud’s house. Israel suspended the air strike, lest these human
shields be harmed. In response to the incident, Hamas crowed: “We won. From
now on we will form human chains around every house threatened with
The above episode illustrates the potential problems with Deputy Defense
Minister Matan Vilna’i’s proposal to bulldoze houses from which rockets are
fired. The same goes for suggestions such as warning systems giving Gazan
civilians time to get out. Even smoke bombs directed at precise coordinates to
further warn civilians to depart – in advance of live fire and the destruction of
launch sites – could be thwarted by human shields.
Principled despite its vilified reputation, Israel wrestles with a wrenching
quandary callously imposed upon it. But Israel shouldn’t be the only one to
grapple with the ruthlessness of terrorists toward their human shields.
Democracies the world over need to internalize what is taking place here, to pin
blame where it is due, and to condemn Hamas for its heartlessness toward its