The current Hamas-Israeli conflict has claimed the lives of approximately 63 civilians — 63 men, women and children for whom I mourn equally, including seven Palestinians who have been publicly executed by Hamas for their alleged collaboration with Israel. Differing from the Princeton Committee on Palestine, who held demonstrations in front of Frist Campus Center this week, I draw an important distinction between these 63 innocent casualties and the 49 Hamas militants who have been killed. Unlike PCP, I do not mourn the deaths of the 49 Hamas militants, including the architect of Hamas’s missile program, Ahmed Jabari, who have rendered themselves morally liable to harm given their intentional targeting of civilians.
I do not mourn the lives of Hamas militants because they launch indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel to intentionally terrorize its population. Initially, both Israel and Egypt responded to the ascendance of Hamas in Gaza by blockading the borders of the Gaza Strip. Hamas now claims it will continue its unceasing barrage of rockets unless Israel ceases its blockade. The Israelis respond by affirming they will continue to defend their citizens as long as Hamas smuggles arms into Gaza and uses them to fire indiscriminately on Israeli civilians. Sadly, while undertaking their rocket campaign, Hamas has abused and endangered the children of Gaza — the very people they purport to represent and protect.
First, Hamas deliberately fires rockets from and stores weapons in highly populated areas. Recently The Telegraph reported that Palestinians have begged Hamas not to fire rockets near their homes, since it only attracts retaliatory fire. Hamas has repeatedly endangered the lives of its citizens by firing rockets from schoolyards, storing weapons in crowded apartment buildings and operating from within hospitals. These tactics are internationally condemned as the improper use of human shields, or as the International Criminal Court defines it, “utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person[s] to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations.” There are only two possible reasons why Hamas would use their children in this way: to deter Israel from retaliating against legitimate military targets or to increase the likelihood that legitimate Israeli attacks will result in Palestinian casualties, further demonizing Israel. Both reasons are deplorable, and in any case this course of action is absolutely illegal according to international law.
Second, Hamas rockets kill Palestinian children. Mohammed Sadallah’s life was too short and the direct victim of Hamas’s misguided militarism. Ninety-eight Hamas rockets have fallen short and landed in the Gaza Strip, not to mention the indiscriminately fired Hamas rockets that have terrorized Palestinians within Israel and in the West Bank.
Lastly, Hamas’s rocket fire draws Israel into a defensive war for the security of Israeli children. As a sovereign nation, Israel has the right, both legally and morally, as well as the responsibility to protect its citizens. Doing so necessitates responding to unabated attacks on civilians by striking at legitimate military targets and personnel. Unfortunately, no matter how careful Israel is, the lives of Palestinian children are threatened by the conflict. Despite the utmost care — aborting missions when the potential cost to civilians is disproportionate, using precision rockets to decrease the likelihood of error, and warning Gazan civilians with pamphlets, text messages and sound bombs — civilian casualties are a reality of war. Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, commended Israel following the last major Gaza conflict in 2009 because “the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in Gaza was by far the lowest in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.” Surely Israel’s response to Hamas’s rocket attacks must be proportionate, but there is no moral or legal requirement to wait until a critical mass of Israeli citizens are killed or injured before responding. Israel has the right to respond proportionately to the threat to its civilians; Israel has the obligation to defend the one million Israelis currently living in bomb shelters.
Though the military power in this conflict overwhelmingly lies in the hands of Israel, the power to end the conflict lies overwhelmingly in the hands of Hamas. Hamas could prevent the loss of life on both sides by denouncing its militant orientation and committing itself to governance, giving Israel enough confidence in its security to end the blockade. Otherwise, how can we expect Israel to forgo or even gamble with the security of its children? If Hamas showed the same level of obsessive commitment to the security of Palestinian children, they would end their attacks and concentrate on buying food rather than weapons. Israelis just simply do not know how to coexist with an organization that prioritizes resistance over the lives of its own children.
And so I beg Hamas, love your children! If for no other reason, love them so my heart and the hearts of the world do not break every time a little innocent life is lost.
Samson Schatz is the president emeritus of Tigers for Israel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.