United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Human rights organizations have called for the United Nation’s secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, to add the IDF to the blacklist of states and armed organizations responsible for serial injury to children during armed conflict, alongside brutal terrorist and guerrilla organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaida. This attests to the international community’s profound misunderstanding of the difficulty sovereign states face in low-intensity war (fighting terrorist/guerrilla organizations) while minimizing the collateral damage.
For years the State of Israel has endured a deep lack of understanding regarding its war against terrorist organizations. A prominent case in point is the UN’s Goldstone Report that was published after Operation Cast Lead in 2009. This report served as a “moral earthquake” as far as Israel was concerned, as it stated that Israel had a policy of deliberately harming civilian noncombatants.
In an op-ed published two years later (April 2011) in The Washington Post
, Goldstone retracted this statement and admitted that “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
Upon retraction, Goldstone argued that the international laws of war should be implemented by nonstate organizations, such as Hamas, to the same extent in which they should be implemented by the armies of sovereign states. According to Goldstone, lack of implementation of the international laws of war during warfare should lead to investigation of the violating party.
This assertion is compelling testimony to the lack of understanding that the terrorist organizations, such as Hamas which the IDF is fighting, have an entirely different value system from that which is acceptable to Israel as a democratic country. These organizations tend not to take human life into consideration – not the lives of their own activists, or the lives of the population in whose name they are fighting, or the lives of the enemy.
Thus, despite their similarity to conventional armies and their military might – possessing as they do large quantities of ammunition, an organized military force and sophisticated military tactics and strategy – not only do they not adhere to international law during fighting, they deliberately violate it. One of their main strategies is to fight against Israeli civilian populations and IDF soldiers from within their own civilian populations, in order to deliberately blur the distinction between the civilians and their fighters – for instance, firing rockets or mortar shells from civilian facilities such as schools, mosques, churches and hospitals. In this way they hope to force the IDF to target those facilities and thus deprive it of legitimacy to act, leading to condemnation of the IDF and Israel by the international community.
Such acts by these organizations from within civilian populations lay the responsibility for endangering civilian security on them and not on the IDF. Nevertheless, during battle, the IDF – as a moral army – is undoubtedly responsible for maintaining not only the human dignity of Israel’s civilians and soldiers, but also the human dignity of the opposing side’s civilians and soldiers. Meaning, the IDF must strive to minimize as much as possible the damage caused to the civilian population of the other side.
However, it must be understood that so long as the UN and human rights organizations are unable to comprehend the huge difference between conventional wars and low-intensity wars; and until the legal and moral justifications for the various actions taken during combat are adjusted accordingly, we will continue to witness international condemnation of Israeli and IDF actions.
Liram Koblentz-Stenzler is a doctoral student of military ethics and terror in the Political Science Department at Tel Aviv University. She previously was a research fellow at Yale University