A report released by Human Rights Watch on August 12 reinforces the widely-held perception/belief that Hamas committed war crimes during the Gaza border war with Israel this past May.
Hamas, the governing authority in the Gaza Strip since 2006, fired 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars at Israel during the hostilities. Ninety percent were downed by the Iron Dome anti-missile system and 680 fell inside Gaza, inadvertently killing and injuring an undetermined number of Palestinians.
Nonetheless, 10 Israelis, including two Israeli Arabs, plus three foreign workers, were killed by the deadly projectiles.
Hamas operatives launched them in indiscriminate fashion, aiming them not at military targets but at towns and cities as near as Sderot and as far away as Petah Tikvah.
The Hamas leadership was acutely aware that civilians, men, women and children, would bear the brunt of the casualties.
It was, of course, not the first time that Hamas had resorted to this despicable tactic to sow fear, terror, death and destruction in Israel.
Emulating Palestinians in southern Lebanon who launched Katyusha rockets at Israel from the late 1960s to around 1982, Hamas began firing rockets at Israel shortly after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000. And in three subsequent wars, starting in 2008, as well as in numerous clashes, Hamas deliberately deployed its rocket and mortar capabilities against Israel.
Fully cognizant of Hamas’ abysmal record, Human Rights Watch pulled no punches in rightfully condemning it in a hard-hitting report.
“The rockets and mortars that Palestinian armed groups fire lack guidance systems and are prone to misfire, making them extremely inaccurate and thus inherently indiscriminate when directed toward areas with civilians,” the report said. “Launching such rockets to attack civilian areas is a war crime.”
Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch’s acting Middle East and North African director, charged that Hamas and allied armed groups like Islamic Jihad “flagrantly violated the laws of war” by launching rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. “Hamas authorities should stop trying to justify unlawful rocket attacks … by pointing to Israel’s violations,” he added. “The laws of war are meant to protect all civilians from harm.”
One assumes that the Hamas leadership is well acquainted with such laws, but chooses to flout them in naked disregard of international opinion.
Last month, Human Rights Watch reported that Israeli air strikes in Gaza causing civilian Palestinian casualties also amounted to war crimes. This is extremely regrettable, but it should be borne in mind that the Israeli Air Force takes every conceivable measure to avoid killing ordinary Palestinians. Unlike Hamas, Israel does not deliberately target civilians.
Having yet again initiated the latest war, Hamas was fully aware that Palestinian civilians would be in jeopardy from the moment it erupted. Furthermore, Hamas placed most of its rocket and mortar launchers in thickly populated urban centers, thereby cynically and cruelly using civilians as human shields.
These blatant violations of the laws of war are indefensible and merit regional and global condemnation.