Israel hits back at war crimes charges

IDF-Justice Ministry presentation illustrates Hamas use of civilian buildings for military purposes.

rocket launcher near mosque 248.88 (photo credit: Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Cen)
rocket launcher near mosque 248.88
(photo credit: Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Cen)
The classic coach's mantra - that the best defense is a good offense - was at the center of a set of legal talking points passed from the IDF to the Justice Ministry as part of a joint effort to counter war-crimes allegations against Israel related to Operation Cast Lead. In addition to stressing the role of humanitarian instruction and legal counsel in IDF operational decision-making, the strategy involves a heavy dose of turning the tables on Hamas and emphasizing the terrorist group's own humanitarian violations. Under the heading "distinction," the accompanying slide show emphasize Hamas's use of civilian structures with special status and protection such as mosques and medical facilities, describing it as part of Hamas's "modus operandi." The use of such structures, the presentation emphasizes, "renders them legitimate military targets." It then stresses that this behavior by Hamas "is in breach of international law and amounts to war crimes." The talking points blast Hamas for "intentionally and systematically endangering civilians by imbedding themselves within the civilian population," and condemn Hamas's "despicable methods of warfare" which "have forced the IDF to fight within densely populated areas." "It is important to keep in mind," the slide show continues, "that the alternative to this warfare was not to carry hostilities in the open battlefield - this was not an option - but to abstain from responding to Hamas's attacks altogether. This is not an option for any democracy whose civilians are systematically and continuously under attack." Hamas, the writers claim, seized the contents of "many humanitarian convoys" for its own use "or to be sold to Palestinian civilians on the black market." Specific headings of the talking points convey the assumption that would-be advocates will face questions on proportionality, use of incendiary weapons, including white phosphorous, and treatment of detainees. On the last, the talking points stress that, unlike the status in some countries of "unlawful combatants" - a loose term that allows the detention of persons indefinitely with very little supervision or limitations - the status of "unlawful combatants in Israel is regulated by law with detailed procedures and strict scrutiny." The presentation goes on to detail that such detainees are guaranteed "the right to meet with legal counsel; judicial review by both the district and Supreme courts on decisions pertaining to the detention and the legitimacy of the detention itself, and suitable detention conditions." A similar strategy could be seen in a recent publication of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center (IICC), an organization that is officially an NGO but that maintains close ties with the intelligence community. The document, titled "Using the Civilian Population in the Gaza Strip as Human Shields," contains aerial shots labeled to show Hamas's use of civilian buildings for military purposes. The headings of the photographs indicate a fortified position on the roof of a residential building, an explosives detonation point inside a mosque, and infantry positions, mine holes and tunnel openings meters from other mosques. "The IDF activity in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead revealed the full extent to which Hamas and the other terrorist organizations exploit the civilian population as human shields," wrote the IICC in the bulletin, which the organization said "presents examples of the terrorist infrastructure, seen superimposed on aerial photographs to complement the report on the use Hamas and the other terrorist organizations make of civilians as human shields."