"Hamas uses civilians"
"Hamas uses civilians"Flash 90

Proportional Response

No charge resonates more than the charge that Israel’s response is disproportional to the provocation which forced Israel to prepare for being accused of committing war crimes, according Marvin Kalb and Carol Saivetz of the Shorenstein Center of Harvard University. [1]

“Proportionality is not… a relationship between the numbers of casualties on either side in a conflict,” noted Richard Kemp, the former commander of Britain’s military forces in Afghanistan, “but a calculation that considers whether the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in an attack. I know that their commanders place great emphasis on adherence to the laws of armed conflict. This includes the principle of proportionality, which is set out in Israel’s manual of military law and is recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.” [2]

There was “no other realistic and effective means of suppressing an aggressor’s missile fire than the methods used by the IDF,” he said, “namely precision air and artillery strikes against the command and control structures, the fighters and the munitions of Hamas and the other groups in Gaza. Nor have I heard any other military expert from any country propose a viable alternative means of Defence against such aggression.” [3]

Though many politicians, U.N. officials, human rights groups and NGOs demanded Israel do more to minimize civilian casualties, not one of them advised how this might be accomplished.
With regard to adhering to the Laws of armed conflict [LOAC] and minimizing civilian causalities in Gaza, he found the IDF took exceptional measures to do so. Though many politicians, U.N. officials, human rights groups and NGOs demanded Israel do more to minimize civilian casualties, not one of them advised how this might be accomplished. Kemp claimed “Israel to be world leaders in actions to minimise civilian casualties; and this is borne out by the efforts made by the US Army, the most sophisticated and powerful in the world, to learn from the IDF on this issue.” [4]

Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with Kemp. At a meeting of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York on November 6, 2014, Dempsey said: "I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.”

He added, "In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you're going to be criticized for civilian casualties….The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They're interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel." [5]

Dempsey revealed that three months earlier, the Pentagon sent a "lessons-learned team" of senior officers and non-commissioned officers to consult with the IDF to determine what could be learned, that would “include the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties and what they did with tunneling." [6]

Other military leaders reached the same conclusion as General Dempsey. From May 18-22, 2015, the High Level International Military Group, composed of 11 former chiefs of staff, generals, senior officers, political leaders and officials from the U.S., Germany, the United Kingdom, Holland, Spain, Italy, Australia and Colombia visited Israel to study the 2014 Gaza conflict. [7]

They were led by General Klaus Naumann, former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the most senior officer in the Alliance, and Giulio Terzi, former Foreign Minister of Italy. Also accompanying the delegation were Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, formerly U.S. State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues; and Mr. Rafael Bardaji, former National Security Adviser to the Government of Spain. [8]

The delegation included: Giulio Terzi – former Foreign Minister of Italy; General Klaus Naumann – former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee; General Vincenzo Camporini – former Chief of the Defence Staff of Italy; Admiral Jose Maria Teran – former Chief of the Joint Staff of Spain; Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper – former US State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues; Mr. Rafael Bardaji – former National Security Adviser for the Spanish government; Lieutenant General David A Deptula – former Standing Joint Force Air Component Commander, United States Pacific Command; Major General Jim Molan – former Chief of Operations, Headquarters Multi National Force, Iraq and Commander of the Australian Defence College; Colonel Eduardo Ramirez – Member of Colombian Congress and former Chief of Security, Colombia; Colonel Vincent Alcazar – former senior United States Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan; Colonel Richard Kemp – former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan.[9]

Their report stated that, “We agree with…General Martin Dempsey, who…went on record… as saying that in the 2014 Gaza conflict, ‘Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.’”

Furthermore, “Our overall findings are that…in the air, on the ground and at sea, Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard. We saw clear evidence of this from the upper to the lower levels of command. A measure of the seriousness with which Israel took its moral duties and its responsibilities under the laws of armed conflict is that in some cases Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives.” [10]

JINSA Report: An Analysis of Hamas’s strategy and Israel’s Response

A Task Force of former senior U.S. military leaders included General Charles Wald, USAF (ret.), Former Deputy Commander of United States European Command; Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV, USA (ret.), Former Commander, U.S. Army North; Lieutenant General Richard Natonski, USMC (ret.), Former Commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command; Major General Rick Devereaux, USAF (ret.), Former Director of Operational Planning, Policy, and Strategy - Headquarters Air Force; Major General Mike Jones, USA (ret.), Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Central Command) were commissioned by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) to evaluate Hamas’s strategy and Israel’s response. [11]

They found that Hamas “pursued ‘unrestricted warfare,’ defined as the ability to blend technologies with military actions and political-influence activities, seeking victory not on the battlefield but through pressure on Israeli decision-makers.” Hamas used Israel’s citizen’s “aversion to excessive or unjustified casualties” in an attempt to undermine the war effort by describing the IDF’s tactics as “indiscriminate and disproportional.”

Furthermore, “Contrary to accusations of widespread unlawful military conduct,’ the Task Force “observed that Israel systemically applied established rules of conduct that adhered to or exceeded the Law of Armed Conflict in a virtually unprecedented effort to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, even when doing so would have been lawfully permitted, and to satisfy the concerns of critics. However… Israel’s military restraint unintentionally empowered Hamas to distort both the law and facts for their own purposes to the ultimate detriment of civilians’ safety, for which Hamas bears sole responsibility.” [12]

Israel’s Level of Restraint

Significantly, the Task Force opposed this level of Israel’s restraint, which they said should not become the standard of U.S. armed forces. “The ever-increasing level of restraint implemented by the IDF reflects the inherent risk in conflating law and policy,” they concluded. “Unless there is a clear demarcation between law and policy-based restraints on the use of combat power, raising standards in one instance – even if done as a matter of national policy and not as the result of legal obligation – risks creating a precedent to which military forces will likely be expected to adhere in the future. The result will not only be a greater danger to national security, but also an increased risk to civilians, since unconventional enemies will (like Hamas) deliberately seek to instigate civilian casualties in order to portray them, usually erroneously, as the result of unlawful attacks by their opponents.” [13]

Increasingly, the IDF, and especially Dabla, the IDF’s international law department in Israel’s equivalent of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, have been criticized for their unique guidelines on preventing civilian injury: scholars and lawyers who are generally supportive of the IDF, or at any rate not overtly antagonistic.

Willy Stern, an adjunct faculty member at Vanderbilt Law School, notes that an example of these critics is Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg, an eminent military law expert at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt. Dabla invited von Heinegg, and other leading non-Israeli military law authorities to meet with IDF combat commanders. [14]

Speaking at an Israel military base, he conceded that the IDF goes to “great and noble lengths” to avoid civilian casualties. However, von Heinegg said the IDF is taking “many more precautions than are required” and as a result, the IDF “is setting an unreasonable precedent for other democratic countries of the world who may also be fighting in asymmetric wars against brutal nonstate actors who abuse these laws.” [15]

When Pnina Sharvit Baruch, a former Dabla chief, attends legal conferences outside of Israel, she encounters “recurring claims” from other militaries’ legal advisers that the IDF “is going too far in its self-imposed restrictions intended to protect civilians, and that this may cause trouble down the line for other democratic nations fighting organized armed groups.” Today, Baruch is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. [16]

The widespread misunderstanding of LOAC, the JINSA sponsored Task Force concluded, is a major issue with opposing warring parties, the media, observers and the international community – founded on the erroneous notion that “the law prohibits the infliction of any and all civilian casualties. LOAC tolerates the infliction of harm to civilians and destruction of civilian property during armed conflict, prohibiting such harm only when it is inflicted deliberately, or when it is assessed as an excessive incidental consequence of a deliberate attack on a lawful target.” The persistence of misconceptions about LOAC… facilitates continued manipulation of legal arguments, risks providing an incentive for “further exploitation of civilian populations and thereby risk greater civilian deaths in future urban conflicts.” [17]

Additionally, the Task Force found extensive confusion about LOAC among many “individuals claiming to be experts in the relationship between law and military operations quickly seemed to accept Hamas’s

LOAC tolerates the infliction of harm to civilians and destruction of civilian property during armed conflict, prohibiting such harm only when it is inflicted deliberately...
assertions of unlawful IDF operations. On July 23, 2014, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated: ‘There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.’ The U.N. Human Rights Council subsequently issued a resolution condemning ‘in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations’ in Gaza.” [18]

The disinformation campaign also influenced the American and British public. A March 2014 Gallup Poll in the U.S. found 64 percent of Americans sympathized with Israel and 12 percent backed Palestinian Arabs. A July 2014 Pew Research Center poll revealed that just 40 percent of Americans condemned Hamas for the Gaza War, while 19 percent held Israel responsible. In 2012 merely 17 percent of Britons said they “feel especially unfavorable towards” Israel, an August 2014 survey showed that figure had increased to 35 percent, making North Korea the only country more despised by the British. [19]

The success in distorting interpretations of international law to discredit legitimate military operations is precisely what Hamas hoped to achieve the Task Force claimed. This type of distortion is an example of “lawfare.” In this situation, “Hamas and its supporters engaged in lawfare by substantially manipulating LOAC to allege that collateral damage resulting from Israeli attacks against lawful military objectives was actually illegal, while concealing the fact that Hamas simultaneously encouraged that collateral damage by virtue of their deliberate and systematic LOAC violations.” Rather than abandoning these legal principles, the Task Force urged defending the lawful conduct of professional military forces. [20]

The IDF is at a disadvantage in refuting Hamas’s claims. Videos and other evidence that can be used to verify Israel’s version are classified documentation. Some incidents are either in the process of being investigated or maybe subject to future inquires, which would compromise the due process rights of IDF personnel. IDF generals are resolute in protecting the rights of their soldiers, even though Israel’s reputation is harmed as a result. [21]

Although Hamas is free to promote outrageous and unsubstantiated claims, Israel is expected to provide exact and accurate information. By the time the IDF exposes the truth, the media is focused on the next sensational front-page event. Often this means stories that follow the adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The success of Israel’s Iron Dome guaranteed the majority of causalities would be in Gaza.

Using social media to explain complex military actions and Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) compliance is a daunting mission at best, which the Israelis have yet to master. [22]

Many IDF officers, including senior staff, believe that countering Arab lies is futile, even when compelling evidence is provided. One general sarcastically suggested that “It would sell better if we allowed them to kill fifty of ours.” Another asked why must Jews always have to express regret at not having more Israelis killed?” [23]

The Task Force urged Israel not to cede control of information to Hamas. Having official Israeli spokespeople, even though not directly involved in the war, provide context and perspective. Interviews with men and women soldiers especially attract significant interest and have greater credibility with the general public.

Israel’s “Lone Soldiers,” living in Israel without their parents, and/or Arab or Druze soldiers can be used to highlight the diversity of Israeli society. Embedding journalists into IDF units guarantees military control of their message, but at a price. Increasing the number of combat cameras, which are currently one per battalion, adding body cameras or other methods of recording the extensive Hamas booby traps in residential neighborhoods or other LOAC violations is also suggested. [24]

To respond to Hamas fabrications, the IDF collects a vast amount of data to analyze and evaluate. Historian Yaacov Lozowick cautioned that any group attempting to investigate Operation Protective Edge without complete access to all of the IDF documents and evidence, will have nothing substantive on which to base their conclusions. The process will be “like trying to figure out how an American presidency functioned based only on contemporary newspaper reports from the Russian media.” [25]

The Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the Military Advocate General's office, assembled a team of experts to conduct a continuing independent analysis of Palestinian Arab fatalities. Lozowick recognized what actually transpired “is completely, totally and irrevocably incompatible with roughly 100 percent of the international media reports over the past month. But you see, the thing about truth is that it isn't effected by media reports one way or the other. People's understanding of reality is; their ideologies and Weltanschaungen [worldview] can be, but hard facts aren't.” [26]

Not long after a cease fire began, The New York Times reported there were calls for Israel to initiate criminal investigations into possible military misconduct. [27] Complaints are rigorously reviewed regardless of who submits them, even if it is an anti-Israel NGO or a pro-Palestinian Arab TV crew. Whenever feasible, a report is prepared and released to the public. One example Willy Stern explained, involved the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which claimed IDF forces shot at a Gaza mosque in Jabalia and that shrapnel had struck a U.N. school, wounding 10 civilians. [28]

The IDF determined that Hamas, or some other terrorist faction, had fired the rocket from an area in which the IDF was not operating. (The IDF can identify in real time where rockets and mortars are being launched.) The Palestinian Arabs attacked a U.N. school and then attempted to blame the IDF. [29]

Initial findings in some cases showed sufficient evidence of possible misconduct by Israeli military units to refer the cases for criminal investigation. But they are “a mere handful of the 126 so far under review.” [30]

One of the most publicized incidents involved an air force attack on a Gaza beach in which four boys were killed. As Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner, IDF Spokesperson for foreign press and commander of the IDF social media platforms explained, the four were in an area widely known as a compound for Hamas's Naval Police, Naval Force, and naval commandos, exclusively operated by Palestinian Arab terrorists. The area is blocked off by a fence and is visibly separated from the public beach. [31]

Days before the incident, Lerner said the IDF initiated several attacks against the military compound. Israeli intelligence had determined that Hamas's Naval Forces were planning to use the compound to prepare for assaults against the IDF. On July 16, aerial surveillance identified a number of individuals, believed to be Hamas's Naval Forces, running into the compound, and entering a shed adjoining the container which had been struck the previous day. At no point, were these figures identified as children. [32]

After an extensive review of the incident, the Israeli Military Advocate General concluded that the attack had conducted in accordance with Israeli domestic law and international law. No additional criminal or disciplinary proceedings were warranted. [33]

B’Tselem added to the problem by posting questionable fatality figures on its website to inflate the number of civilian casualties.
According to journalist Benjamin Weinthal, NGO Monitor and the blogger Brian of London, B’Tselem added to the problem by posting questionable fatality figures on its website to inflate the number of civilian casualties. Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center and NGO Monitor criticized the organization’s verification procedures. “All figures or data originated from Hamas’s ministry are not reliable,” Dr. Reuven Erlich, the head of the Amit terrorism center noted, adding that one must be “suspicious of all figures from the Gaza Strip.” [34]

After conducting an in-depth study, the Meir Amit center concluded that “Almost half the names that appear on a Palestinian list of journalists killed during last summer’s conflict… actually belong to Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives and members of Hamas media outlets who were involved in Gazan terrorist organizations….To call them journalists is completely absurd,” Erlich stated. [35] The problem with these alleged Palestinian Arab “journalists” was reported by Israel journalists. [36]

Although the Meir Amit center is Israel’s premier institute on this issue, the Western media practically ignores their findings. This, in spite of the center being the only independent institution that compares the names of the dead with acknowledged terrorists. [37]

B’Tselem’s prime objective warns Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, is “not to convince Israelis to change their policies from within, but rather aiding international efforts to pressure Israel to adopt the kind of policies Israelis themselves have repeatedly rejected in elections.” [38]

For this reason B’Tselem opened an office in Washington in 2008 which, according to a press release, it “expects to become the central clearinghouse for information about human-rights conditions in the 'West Bank', 'East Jerusalem', and the Gaza Strip for Member [sic] of Congress, the State Department, and other policymakers.”

Beginning in January 2007, B’Tselem launched the Shooting Back project to record “assaults and abusive behavior,” primarily from Jews living in communities in Hebron and Northern Samaria. Approximately 100 cameras were supplied to Palestinian Arabs. The findings were documented in a biased, graphic and alarming film and in an article in the Guardian by Peter Beaumont, a British journalist. There are no explanations as to why these attacks were precipitated by Israeli civilians or the IDF. [39]

Unparalleled Investigations

Colonel Kemp remarked that he is “not aware of any nation that has conducted more comprehensive or resolute investigations into its own military activities than Israel during and following the 2014 Gaza conflict.” Many members of the media, politicians, diplomats and human-rights activists Kemp said, think there is “an equivalence between the military actions of a Western democratic nation seeking to lawfully defend its people and a jihadist terrorist group indiscriminately attacking civilians and using its population as human shield.” He never remembered this equivalence being raised “between Allied forces attacking under international law, and the rape, plunder and callous violence of Saddam's forces on the rampage in Kuwait.” [40]

Israel’s options are clear: allow terrorists to fire their missiles indiscriminately at her civilian population or risk civilian fatalities in Gaza.

Britain, France, Italy, Russia, the EU, Jordan, and the U.N. have vehemently opposed the idea of targeted killings. Former Secretary General of the U.N. Kofi Annan, declared "that extrajudicial killings are violations of international law." Yet, as former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out, not one of these countries, or any other groups or individuals condemned the targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden by the U.S. Only Israel is censured for employing targeted killings. “Suddenly targeted killing is not only legal and moral,” observes Dershowitz, “it is praiseworthy (except, of course, to Hamas, which immediately condemned the US killing of Bin Laden). [41]

When Israel accidently shelled a UN in Rafah in which 10 people were killed on August 3, 2014, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “The United States is appalled by today's disgraceful shelling….The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”[42]

The same standard is not applied by the U.S. to its own military forces, either in drone strikes or in most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This criteria did not apply either to the fighting in the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan asserted David French, a staff writer at National Review, an attorney (concentrating in constitutional law and the law of armed conflict), and an American veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. [43]

On October 3, 2015, a U.S. AC-130 gunship launched “multiple, precise and sustained” air strikes on a presumed Taliban compound in Kunduz. By mistake, the Americans bombed the hospital of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) killing at least 30 people, injuring dozens including physicians and damaging the hospital. "Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the hospital compound prior to the US air strike on Saturday morning,” the MSF declared as reported by journalist Michael Kugelman in The Wall Street Journal. [44]

When the Associated Press’s Matt Lee reminded State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner how the U.S. reacted when Israel accidently bombed the school in Rafah, Toner struggled to clarify the hypocrisy: “the facts are still emerging”, “we’ll let those investigations run their course,” and “we’re still collecting the facts.” [45].

Pressed further, Toner said: “It’s just – uh, look, Matt, um, you know, I think it’s safe to say, you know, that this attack, this bombing, was, uh, not intentional. I can’t get into what may or may not have happened on the ground, whether the coordinates were known, whether they were acknowledged. It’s just too much speculation at this point.” [46].

And then the State Department asked for a fundamental consideration it would not extend Israel, observed Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of UN Watch: “So you’ll hopefully, uh, give me a pass if we wait for the investigation to run its course.” [47].

David French contrasted Israel’s efforts to limit civilian casualties with the methods employed by the Americans. A day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sarcastically described Israel’s attacks in Gaza as a “hell of a pinpoint operation,” a U.S. drone strike killed 11 individuals in Pakistan. This occurred after another strike killed 15 people. [48]

French asked if any phone calls were made or text messages sent to warn civilians before the Americans attacked the Taliban compounds in Pakistan. Were leaflets dropped? At that point were the Taliban involved in actively fighting U.S. forces? Did they have any weapons that could immediately harm American citizens in the U.S.? Does the U.S. States believe that an “immediate ceasefire against al Qaeda is in our national interest so long as it retains the capacity and intent to strike the U.S.?” The answer is of course no. [49]

Using data from the British based Bureau of Investigative Journalism that tracks U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and Afghanistan, Reprieve, a human-rights group, reported that even when pursuing specific individuals, drone operators kill significantly more non-combatants than just their targets. Attempts to kill 41 terrorists resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of November 24, 2014. Spencer Ackerman, the national security editor for Guardian US quotes a Council on Foreign Relations report that found that 500 drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3,674 people. [50]

Aside from drone strikes, American combat forces fighting in urban areas have inflicted far greater civilian deaths and caused more property damage than have the Israelis according to French. In Fallujah, for example, cities were not only demolished, but the casualty count was far higher than Israel inflicted. The archives of left-wing blogs contain vast amounts of pictures of urban destruction in Fallujah and in other Iraqi cities and villages where Americans fought. [51]

On January 7, 2016, Ben Hubbard of The New York Times reported that after the Iraqi security forces reconquered Ramadi, a city 70 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S.-led coalition intensive bombing against the Islamic State (ISIS), left the city and other communities in Kobani, Syria, and Sinjar and Iraq, “in ruins, with few resources to rebuild.” Once a city with a population of approximately 400,000, few civilians remain in Ramadi which has no electricity and running water. Many streets have been obliterated, covered with debris or impassible by defensive trenches built by ISIS. [52]

Undoubtedly, the 630 airstrikes launched in the area by the U.S. coalition since July played a part in the devastation. Instead of assuming any responsibility, the U.S. blamed the “jihadists” for whole areas of the city being “no-go zones because they have yet to be searched for booby traps?” Hubbard recounted. [53]

Based on official Palestinian Arab statistics, journalist Evelyn Gordon calculated that during Operation Protective Edge, 9,465 homes in Gaza were totally demolished and an additional 9,644 were severely damaged out of approximately 319,000. This latter number she reached by dividing Gaza’s total population of 1.82 million by its average household size of 5.7 yields 319,000 households. Therefore, even based on U.N. statistics, “which traditionally exaggerates Palestinian casualties and damage,” just about six percent of Gaza’s homes were wrecked or practically inhabitable. “That’s a far cry from ‘more than half of the city’ in Ramadi.” [54]

Gordon argues that Israel’s airstrikes were considerably more justified than America’s were: ISIS did not launch missiles at the U.S. from Ramadi or dig tunnels to reach America. Hamas, did however, fire thousands of rockets from Gaza for more than a decade and dug dozens of cross-border tunnels to infiltrate undetected in order to attack Israeli citizens. [55]

The blogger Elder of Ziyon discovered another example of Israel being held to a double standard by Europe and the Obama administration. According to the Herald Scotland, “The British government is refusing to accept evidence of civilian fatalities in UK air strikes from human rights groups monitoring the results of bombing raids” in Syria and Iraq; asserting it will only rely on “evidence from its own internal surveillance.” One can understand British reluctance to accept figures from human rights groups, who might not be objective. Yet the British had no problem accepting, without reservation, NGO accounts claiming that almost 70 percent of Palestinian Arab casualties in Gaza were civilian, even after Israel proved that about half the casualties were acknowledged members of either Hamas’ military wing or Islamic Jihad. [56]

Amos Harel, the military and defense analyst for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said that the investigations into Israel conduct were not appreciated by many members of the IDF who felt they should be limited to criminal inquiries of certain negligence or questions of deliberate misconduct, such as looting or the intentional murder of civilians.

“I have no pangs of conscience,” said an Israeli brigade commander. “If anything, I think we were too humane. There were instances where the excessive caution caused harm to soldiers.” His forces played a key part in the war and sustained casualties, and his views echo those of most of the IDF commanders. He also criticized the decision to launch investigations claiming that the decision creates undue pressure on commanders will likely influence their performance if they asked to fight in the center of civilian populations. [57]

The brigade commander described several cases in which he made decisions during the heat of battle in crowded urbanized neighborhoods. In one incident, he said, “We discovered a tunnel 200 meters from a house. There were large, three-story villas there and the battalion commander decided, after consulting with me, not to take down the house but to take other precautions, including the building of higher embankments to protect our force. Later on a Palestinian sniper entered the house, fired from it and seriously wounded an officer. Only then did we destroy the house.” [58]

In another situation, he said, “We had five mortars fired at us from a school at a distance of 20 meters. We did not respond by firing at the school. We had ‘tracings’ [the exact locations on maps] of schools and refugee shelters and we didn’t touch them. The only time we hit a shelter was when we fired shells at a source of fire but one of the shells strayed a distance of more than 200 meters, hit an UNRWA school, and killed civilians by mistake.”[59]

Lt. Col. Matan, the commander of the Israeli Air Force's Valley Squadron, which participated in hundreds of sorties, provides insight into the efforts made to avoid civilian casualties. Writing in Israel Hayom, journalist Lilach Shoval quotes Matan as saying: "We returned to base on more than half our sorties with full weapon loads, due to the fact there were civilians at the targets we had intended to strike,” he said. "There were instances in which we saw rockets launched from the heart of populated areas and we did not receive approval to strike [the launch sites] because of the presence of civilians."

Furthermore, "The intelligence effort we made regarding every target we struck was beyond belief," he said. "All of this was done to ensure innocent people were not harmed. Our planes waited hours in the air to avoid hitting innocent bystanders." [60]

At the same time, Hamas and other groups in Gaza continually flouted “the Laws of Armed Conflict, deliberately targeting the Israeli civilian population, using their own civilian population as human shields and seeking to entice the IDF to take military action that would kill large numbers of Gaza civilians for their own propaganda purposes Richard Kemp noted. There was and is of course no accountability or investigation of any allegations against Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza.”

Though Israel is being singled out for criticism, the massacres by Assad’s regime, Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen causing extensive damage to hospitals, schools and civilians, and the massive harm caused by Russian airstrikes in Syria receive media attention, but limited condemnation

This despite Amnesty International suggesting that Russia’s killing of civilians might be a war crime. U.S. support of Saudi’s air war raises the same concern according to Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. [61]

Israel continues to be judged by standards no other nation is held to, despite her rules of engagement having been dismissed by American military experts as too restrictive. As already noted, the Task Force found that “The ever-increasing level of restraint implemented by the IDF reflects the inherent risk in conflating law and policy.”

The West has yet to learn that Israel is in the front line of defense against those who seek to destroy our way of life. The West has enabled the conflict to continue and metastasize through failed policies that embolden Israel’s enemies and punish the West’s most stable and liberal democracy in the region.

Alex Grobman, a Hebrew University trained historian is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, and a member of the Council of Scholars for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) Studies.


[1]. Marvin Kalb and Carol Saivetz, "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict," Shorenstein Center John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (February 18, 2007):10-14; David Enoch, “Opinion Dear Israeli Fighter Pilot, Now That You Know You Might Kill Innocent Children, Will You Still Obey?” Haaretz (December 4, 2019); Amos Harel, “Pinpoint Attacks on Gaza More Precise,” Haaretz (December 7, 2007).

[2]. Colonel Richard Kemp CBE, “Submission to the United Nation Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict,” (February 21, 2015).

[3]. Ibid.

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Reuters, “Dempsey: Israel Went to 'Extraordinary Length' to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Gaza,” Haaretz (November 7, 2014).

[6]. “Key Preliminary Findings of the High Level International Military Group on the Gaza Conflict,” Human Rights Council (June 12, 2015).

[7]. Ibid.

[8]. Ibid.

[9]. Ibid.

[10]. Ibid.

[11]. “2014 Gaza War Assessment: The New Face of Conflict: A report by the JINSA-commissioned Gaza Conflict Task Force,” (March 2015): 7. 8, 10, 32-33.

[12]. Ibid.7.

[13]. Ibid.12.

[14]. Willy Stern, “Attorneys at War Inside an elite Israeli military law unit,” Volume 20, Number 38 The Weekly Standard (June 15, 2015).

[15]. Ibid.

[16]. Ibid.

[17]. 2014 Gaza War Assessment: The New Face of Conflict: A report by the JINSA-commissioned Gaza Conflict Task Force March 2015,”op.cit.35-41, 43.

[18]. Ibid.42.

[19]. Ibid. 50.

[20]. Ibid. 46-47.

[21]. Ibid.51.

[22]. Ibid.

[23]. Ibid.51.

[24]. Ibid. 52.

[25]. Yaacov Lozowick, “Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: IDF and the Laws of Warfare,” (August 17, 2014); “Examination and Investigation of Allegations Arising from the 2014 Gaza Conflict,” in “The 2014 Gaza Conflict: Factual and Legal Aspects,” IDF Military Advocate General (June 11, 2015): 233-241. http://mfa.gov.il/ProtectiveEdge/Pages/default.aspx; Tamar Pileggi and Daniel Bernstein, “Israel opens first investigation of senior officer over Gaza war,” The Times of Israel (July 12, 2015).

[26]. Lozowick, op.cit; “Annex: IDF Analysis of Palestinian Fatalities,” in “The 2014 Gaza Conflict: Factual and Legal Aspects,” IDF Military Advocate General (June 11, 2015): A-10-11. http://mfa.gov.il/ProtectiveEdge/Pages/default.aspx.

[27]. Isabel Kershner, Israel, Facing Criticism, to Investigate Possible Military Misconduct in Gaza,” The New York Times (September 10, 2014).

[28]. Stern, “Attorneys at War Inside an elite Israeli military law unit,” op.cit.

[29] Ibid.

[30]. Ibid.

[31]. https://m.facebook.com/Lt.Col.PeterLerner/posts/977554298952196:0.

[32] Ibid.

[33]. Ibid.

[34]. Benjamin Weinthal, “B’Tselem’s Gaza war statistics under fire,” The Jerusalem Post (August 20, 2014; B´Tselem, NGO Monitor (January 28, 2015); Brian of London, “Orla Guerin’s Deep Disappointment From Gaza,” Israellycool (August 10, 2014).

[35]. “Examination of the Names of 17 Journalists and Media Personnel Whom the Palestinians Claim Were Killed in Operation Protective Edge,” The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (February 12, 2015); Yaacov Lappin, “'Half of names of Gaza journalist casualties are terror operatives, or members of Hamas media,'” The Jerusalem Post (February 12, 2015); for the complete study of the investigation conduction by The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center see http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/20704.

[36]. Avi Issacharoff, “Times of Israel reporter feared for his life in attack by Palestinian masked men,” The Times of Israel (May 16, 2014); Khaled Abu Toameh, “Palestinian Journalists Declare War On Israeli Colleagues,” Gatestone Institute (April 26, 2013); Khaled Abu Toameh, “The New Palestinian “‘Journalists,’” Gatestone Institute (May 19, 2014).

[37[. Behar, op.cit; Jodi Rudoren, “Civilian or Not? New Fight in Tallying the Dead From the Gaza Conflict,” The New York Times (August 5, 2014).

[38]. Noah Pollak, “The B'Tselem Witch Trials,” Commentary (May 2011).

[39]. Peter Beaumont, “Palestinians capture violence of Israeli occupation on video,” theguardian.co.uk (July 30, 2008).

[40]. “Submission to the United Nation Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict,” op.cit.

[41]. Alan M. Dershowitz, “Targeted killings and the rule of law,” Boston Globe (September 16, 2014); Alan M. Dershowitz, “If Israel Killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, Did it Have the Right To?” Huff Post World (February 18, 2010).

[42]. Doina Chiacu, “U.S. Slams 'Disgraceful Shelling' of UN School in Gaza,” Haaretz (August 3, 2014).

[43]. David French, “When Civilians Die in Drone Attacks, It’s Not ‘Failure’ — It’s War,” National Review (April 24, 2015); Scott Shane, “Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die,” The New York Times (April 23, 2015).

[44]. Margherita Stancati, “U.S. Airstrike Kills 19 at Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal (October 3, 2015); Associated Press, “No Armed Men Near Bombed Afghan Hospital: Doctors Without Borders Report,” The Wall Street Journal (November 5, 2015).

[45]. Mark C. Toner, U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing (October 5. 2015).

[46]. Ibid.

[47]. Hillel Neuer, “AP grills State Department for double standards against Israel in light of Afghan bombing,” UN Watch (October 11, 2015).

[48]. David French, “The Obama Administration Holds Israel to Stricter Standards than It Holds the U.S.,” National Review (July 23, 2014); French, “When Civilians Die in Drone Attacks, It’s Not ‘Failure’ — It’s War,” op.cit; David French, “Killing without Due Process: It’s Called War,” National Review (October 15, 2015); Scott Shane, “Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die,” op.cit.

[49]. French, “The Obama Administration Holds Israel to Stricter Standards than It Holds the U.S.” op.cit.

[50]. Spencer Ackerman, “41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground,” the Guardian (November 24, 2014).

[51]. French, “The Obama Administration Holds Israel to Stricter Standards than It Holds the U.S.” op.cit.

[52]. Ben Hubbard, “Ramadi, Reclaimed by Iraq, Is in Ruins After ISIS Fight,” The New York Times (January 7, 2016).

[53]. Ibid.

[54]. Evelyn Gordon, an Israeli journalist and commentator, concluded. Evelyn Gordon, “Ramadi, Gaza, and Western Hypocrisy,” Analysis from Israel (January 14, 2016).

[55]. Ibid.

[56]. Elder of Ziyon, “Hypocrisy alert: British gov't refuses to accept evidence of civilian casualties,” (January 10, 2016).

[57]. Amos Harel, “Israeli Brigade Commander: Excessive Caution in Gaza Caused Harm to Soldiers,” Haaretz (June 24, 2015).

[58]. Ibid.

[59]. Ibid.

[60]. Lilach Shoval, “IAF Pilot: We Did Our Best to Avoid Harming Gaza Civilians,” Israel Hayom found in Daily Alerts (July 9, 2015).

[61]. Colum Lynch,” Exclusive: U.S. to Support ICC War Crimes Prosecution in Syria,” Foreign Policy (May 7, 2014); Colum Lynch,” Document of the Week: U.N. Calls Out Syrian Propaganda Over Hospital Attacks,” Foreign Policy (August 2, 2019); Colum Lynch, “U.N. Chief Says Saudi Air War Taking Heavy Toll on Yemeni Children,” Foreign Policy (August 2, 2016).