It's Immoral for Hamas to Use Human Shields and Immoral for Israel to Bomb Human Shields.


If the title of this article is vapid to the point of absurdity, that's because it is indeed a trite and possibly ludicrous way to describe the bloodshed in Gaza. Sadly, it's the truth, and the reality that both Hamas and Israel are to blame for the civilian deaths in Gaza is something neither side wants to admit; lest they come face to face with the frightening moral consequences of their military and political objectives. The death toll is overwhelmingly lopsided, as evident by the 1,047 Palestinians and close to 50 Israelis who have died since the beginning of the chaos. However, the asymmetric nature of the conflict is fueled by two military actors knowing very well that civilians will be caught in their crossfire. To blame one side without looking at the other is not only irresponsible, but borders on an overt attempt at circumventing the facts. Terror groups will never win a state for millions of people, Israel will never destroy the word "terror" or evade culpability for the suffering of Palestinians under its jurisdiction, and Gaza's occupation is legitimized by extremists on both sides.

Yes, the occupation of Gaza has caused tremendous suffering among Palestinians. As Mohammed Suliman eloquently describes in From Gaza: I Would Rather Die in Dignity Than Agree to Living in an Open-Air Prison, the human beings inhabiting Gaza deserve to live free and without immediate death from airstrikes that killed all 25 members of one family and 18 members of another family. The horror of such numbers, especially when taking a moment to remember that words on a page actually correlate to human beings who've once laughed, lived, and loved, will cause anyone a moment of pause. However, international relations often times runs by a cold calculus of reciprocity. In this case, the reciprocal relationship between a terrorist group and a country intent on preventing any addition to the 2,495 Israelis who've died in terrorist attacks.

First, there's the notion among some people that Hamas's use of human shields is a myth. The reality is that Amnesty International has already stated,

In previous conflicts Amnesty International has documented that Palestinian armed groups have stored munitions in and fired indiscriminate rockets from residential areas in the Gaza Strip in violation of international humanitarian law. Reports have also emerged during the current conflict of Hamas urging residents to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate.

Furthermore, Amnesty International (while vehemently urging Israel to cease military activities) has stated Hamas is violating international law by storing rockets in civilian areas and urging people not to leave their homes after being warned by Israel of impending attacks:

As explained above, in previous conflicts Amnesty International has documented that Palestinian armed groups have stored munitions in and fired indiscriminate rockets from residential areas in the Gaza Strip, and available evidence indicates that they continue to do both during the current hostilities, in violation of international humanitarian law. During the current hostilities, Hamas spokespeople have reportedly urged residents in some areas of the Gaza Strip not to leave their homes after the Israeli military dropped leaflets and made phone calls warning people in the area to evacuate.

Amnesty International has also declared, "Hamas has also continued to fire hundreds of indiscriminate rockets into Israel in violation of international law, killing two Israeli civilians and injuring others."

In addition, UNRWA in UNRWA CONDEMNS PLACEMENT OF ROCKETS, FOR A SECOND TIME, IN ONE OF ITS SCHOOLS states unequivocally that Hamas stores rockets in civilian centers:

Today, in the course of the regular inspection of its premises, UNRWA discovered rockets hidden in a vacant school in the Gaza Strip.

...UNRWA strongly and unequivocally condemns the group or groups responsible for this flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.

It isn't a myth that Hamas hides rockets in civilian centers; it's a reality that UNRWA and the IDF know all too well.

That being said, Palestinian civilians do not deserve their current fate, but the reality is that Hamas is indeed hiding its weapons in civilian centers. To absolve this organization from culpability in the death of its people is to ignore its penchant for launching and hiding rockets and history of suicide attacks. Further bolstering the IDF's incentive for overwhelming force is the Hamas charter which states, "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." If you believe Israel is entirely to blame for the mayhem, then remember that Hamas's charter, its rockets, its suicide attacks, and its foreign donors undermine completely the just cause of Palestinian statehood.

As for Israel's response to the military threats posed by Hamas, there exists the reality that it could refrain from attacking densely populated areas. True, it's doubtful other nations would avoid retaliating against rocket attacks, but the issue of civilian deaths and suffering, along with disproportionate uses of force are very relevant. The morality of Israel's current campaign is questionable, especially since a great percentage of causalities are Palestinian young and children. According to CNN on July 29, civilian deaths continued to increase from Israeli air raids:

Eighteen people died as powerful and continuous air strikes rained down on Gaza City early Tuesday morning, the Palestinian Health Authority reported...

Ten people, including eight children, were killed Monday when shells hit a refugee camp near the beach in Gaza...

"In the blink of an eye," a father said, "I found body parts and heads cut off, no arms, no legs. I started to collect limbs, heads I couldn't recognize, I couldn't recognize my own children."

U.N. and Palestinian officials said 16 people were killed and hundreds were wounded Thursday when the school in northern Gaza was struck.

Israel should think not only of the global outrage elicited by the deaths of civilians in Gaza, but also of its own moral claim of defense. A country cannot simultaneously declare the moral high ground while the body parts of children are scattered across beaches and air strikes destroy hospitals.

In addition, there exists the legal issue of human rights violations; specifically the issue of bombing densely populated civilian locations. According to Human Rights Watch, attacking areas known to inhabit civilians in Gaza violates various international laws:

Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war...

"Israel's rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel's long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties."

Knowingly attacking areas where women and children inhabit, even with leaflets warning impending bombings, is not how a war should be waged.

Finally, Israel could decide to engage in defending its nation through means that don't create a disproportionate death toll upon Palestinian women, children, and families. As stated by former Israeli air force officer Yuli Novak in her Guardian article,When I served, the Israeli military was the most moral in the world. No more., even former Israeli soldiers are shocked at the recent military campaign:

I know how hard it is to ask questions during times of conflict as a soldier. The information that the officers get in real time is always partial. That's why the responsibility for drawing the red lines, and alerting when we cross it, lies with the public.

A clear, loud voice that says that bombing a house with civilians in it is immoral must be heard. These killings cannot be accepted without question. Public silence in the face of such actions - inside and outside of Israel - is consent by default, and acceptance of an unacceptable price.

Like Novak states, it is indeed immoral to knowingly bomb a house filled with people, and no amount of "ticking time bomb" scenarios warrants such breach of conduct.

The arguments beginning with "He started it" don't work anymore, especially since both Hamas and Israel have thrown moral and acceptable standards of behavior out the window. The sooner that Palestinian and Israeli advocates deal with the momentary crisis of rockets, human shields, and alternate ways of warfare that don't target civilians, the sooner that human lives will be saved from tragedy.