Today, a reported 30 Palestinians were killed in a heartrending tragedy at a school in Jebaliya. Initial investigations indicate that Hamas terrorists fired mortar bombs from the area of the school towards Israeli forces, who returned fire towards the source of the shooting. The Israeli return fire landed outside the school. Intelligence indicates that among those killed were Immad Abu Iskar and Hassan Abu Iskar, two known Hamas mortar crewmen.
Innocent civilians should not have died. However, it is vitally important to understand how this horrific incident occurred and who truly bears the responsibility for it.
Hamas began the current conflict when, three weeks ago it unilaterally violated the state of calm, and launched unprovoked rocket and mortar barrages on Israeli cities. This act of aggression was a clear violation of international law, and highlights a basic fact - not a single Israeli nor a single Palestinian would have been hurt had Hamas not launched its brutal attacks.
Israel had to respond. No government would stand idly by while its citizens are subjected to rockets and mortar attacks. Self-defense is an inherent right, and responsibility of every state. It is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and remains a cornerstone of international law.
While the investigation of the incident continues, one crucial detail is already apparent: this tragedy occurred because Hamas consistently uses its own population as human shields. While betting that Israel will hesitate to strike back at areas with civilians present, Hamas covers its bet with the knowledge that should civilians be harmed, Hamas still wins since Israel will be censured by the world's media.
The best way to avoid the use of Palestinians as human shields is for the international community to begin to place the blame where it truly belongs - on the Hamas terrorists who exploit the suffering of their own people for political gain. Only the consorted international censure of Hamas will cause that terrorist organization to stop this perverted practice.
While Hamas exploits its own civilians as human shields as it deliberately targets the civilians of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) do their best to avoid harming civilians on either side. Many Israeli anti-terrorists operations have been aborted at the last minute, due to the untimely presence of civilians in the target area. Unfortunately, tragedies happen in wartime, particularly when one side violates international law by firing while hiding behind civilians.
During its operations in Gaza, the IDF is making every effort to comply with the two basic legal tests of international humanitarian law: (1) are the targets legitimate military objectives and (2) is an action likely to cause disproportionate damage to the civilian population and their property.
Israel faces a particular challenge with regards to determining the legitimacy of intended targets. The presence of civilians in an area of conflict does not stop a military objective from being a legitimate target. This is both the letter of international law and a reflection of state practice. The deliberate positioning of Hamas military targets among Palestinian civilians presents a problem with which Israel must consistently contend.
The Iranian-backed Hamas, as a matter of strategy, refuses to uphold one of most fundamental requirements of international humanitarian law - that of distinguishing between combatants/military instillations and civilians/civilian properties. It follows therefore that while Israel does all it can to avoid harming non-combatants, under international law, any collateral injury to them is the responsibility of the Hamas, which deliberately chooses to operate from civilian structures and fire behind human shields.
See Israel Air Force footage of a Hamas mortar crew operating inside a Gaza school compound and a Hamas rocket salvo being fired at an Israeli city during the three hour humanitarian respite on 8 Jan 2009.
Using the Civilian Population in the Gaza Strip as Human Shields:
Aerial photographs show locations of terrorist bases and weapons in the heart of civilian neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip
(IICC report, January 2009)
Jebaliya is a village and Palestinian refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. The aerial photograph shows that Hamas situated many of its military facilities in Jebaliya, including a post and firing range. Tunnels were dug between civilian houses and exposed areas were mined. Many places in Jebaliya served as rocket launching sites both before and during Operation Cast Lead, including places close to mosques and UNRWA schools.