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Reality Check: Israel must be moral
By JEFF BARAK
08/04/2014
Israel must ensure that it takes the moral high ground in the fight against Hamas and avoid causing unnecessary civilian casualties.
 
Before Yitzhak Rabin’s murder in 1995, no self-respecting right-winger’s car was without a car bumper sticker or two. The more moderate among them restricted themselves to proclaiming Israel’s eternal right to Hebron, while the more passionate, to use a polite term, demanded all sorts of “justice” for the “Oslo criminals.”

There was a lot of scraping off of these stickers after that fateful night in Tel Aviv, which not only killed Israel’s greatest prime minister since David Ben-Gurion but also severely wounded the fragile peace process that Hamas, back then, was doing its utmost to disrupt with a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel.

Two decades later, Hamas is still seeking to destroy any possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians while the car bumper stickers are, once again, making a comeback, alongside vitriolic social media attacks against those who don’t fall in the wide-ranging Israeli consensus that the IDF “must do what it takes” to destroy the Hamas.

One particularly bumper sticker being distributed in Jerusalem over the weekend took me back to those hate-filled days of the mid-1990s. Handed out by young boys whose clothing, black kippot and long peyot suggested they will never don the olive-green uniform of those who actually risk their lives fighting for their country, the sticker’s slogan read: “No soldier’s life is worth the life of an enemy civilian.”

On one level, most Israeli citizens can identify with this thought. We all have children/relatives/friends who are serving/ have served in the IDF, and know soldiers who right now are caught up in the midst of the fighting. Our first, and overriding concern is that these soldiers come home safe and sound. One of the great strengths of Israeli society, which unfortunately only comes out in times of national emergency, is the sense of solidarity that unites the country as we band together to offer support to those on the front line and collectively mourn those who have given their lives protecting the country.

But this sticker isn’t seeking to promote unity or express concern for the fate of IDF soldiers. Its real meaning is that Israel should bomb away and kill as many innocent people as it takes in the attempt to bring Hamas to its knees. Put simply, this is a war crime.

To quote the International Committee of the Red Cross on the definition of war crimes: “Making a civilian population or individual civilians, not taking a direct part in hostilities, the object of attack, or launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated” are “serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

Of course, Hamas is guilty of war crimes.

Their firing rockets into Israeli cities for the sole purpose of killing as many Israeli civilians as possible is a heinous war crime.

The fact that the Iron Dome system has so far protected our cities and prevented Israeli fatalities is irrelevant; Hamas is systematically violating international law and any code of moral behavior on an almost hourly basis. Their callous and despicable breaching of humanitarian cease-fires puts them outside civilized society. Rightly, Hamas is viewed by almost the whole world as a terrorist organization that, in its present state, cannot be seen as a partner in any diplomatic process.

And that’s the difference between us and the Hamas; they are terrorists, we are not.

It’s important that we never forget that moral distinction because if we stoop to their level, and wantonly kill masses of Palestinian civilians, we will have no cause to complain when the international community turns against Israel. With over 1,450 Palestinians killed at the time of writing, the majority civilians, Israel has nevertheless managed to avoid serious international pressure because the world understands we are fighting an asymmetrical conflict against a terrorist organization that has no compunctions about endangering the lives of innocent Palestinians, using them as human shields. Although the world’s media is full of images of the destruction of Gaza, triggering almost automatic sympathy for the plight of Gazans, the international community’s leadership has so far put emotion to one side and supported Israel’s right to respond to Hamas terrorism.

But we cannot, for one moment, assume that this state of affairs will remain constant.

Israel needs to ensure that it occupies the moral high ground in the fight against Hamas and avoid causing unnecessary civilian casualties.

Errant shells that go off target and kill civilians must not simply be shrugged off as a regrettable inevitability of war; the IDF needs to investigate these incidents seriously, and take disciplinary action in cases where there have been clear breaches of proper procedure.

The lives of “our enemy’s civilians” do have value, even in times of war.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
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