Let’s help the Palestinians by recognizing who is harming them

Any individual with a healthy conscience would be saddened and disturbed by the latest clash between Gaza and Israel on their border. And, as we have seen in past conflicts, Hamas — the US-designated foreign terrorist organization that rules Gaza — has again chosen to abuse its own civilian population in attempt to advance its political and murderous agenda.

Every year on May 15th, since the early 1990s, the Palestinians commemorate what they call the “Nakba Day.” “Nakba”, which translates as “disaster”, grieves the loss of Palestinian land and homes after the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. What this day amounts to, in reality, is an Eruption of violence.

On each Nakba Day, Palestinians in both Gaza and Judea and Samaria gather to oppose and riot against the Israeli army and government. This year, the melee took an immense toll on the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza. This was caused by Hamas efforts to force and coerce its people to march in protest of the border fence with Israel, with the ultimate goals of storming and destroying it, and to murder and kidnap Israelis. Hamas propagated rhetoric urging the Palestinians to return to “their land”, implicit in which was the desired destruction of Israel.

The responsibility for the innocent lives lost during these clashes lies squarely with Hamas. To accurately assess the situation, it is crucial to recognize the fact that the conduct of the vast majority of individuals who joined the march was in no way peaceful. Indeed, it was the polar opposite. Hamas leaders openly acknowledge and take pride in this: “When we talk about ‘peaceful resistance,’ we are deceiving the public,” Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar said in an interview. An overwhelming amount of recorded evidence affirms as much—Palestinians approaching the fence and throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, shooting into Israel, setting fields on fire, and the like. By encouraging its people to engage in violent acts, as shared in the New York Times article by  David M. Halfbinger, Iyad Abuhewila and Isabel Kershner : “The Israelis released surveillance video clips late in the day that they said showed attempts to cut openings in the barrier, and military officials said that some demonstrators were throwing firebombs at Israeli soldiers”.  Hamas puts its own people at risk: under the rules of customary international humanitarian law (IHL), specifically Rule 6, “civilians lose their protection against attack when and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.” This has been presented in many videos, and shown through “The Israel Project”,  that Hamas encourages their people to “rip out their (Israelis) hearts” According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, state practice has established this rule “as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.”

Hamas regularly violates international law (which it does not recognize to begin with) in multiple ways, primarily in ways that violate the most fundamental human rights of its own people. For instance, Hamas is notorious for using innocent civilians as human shields. Under customary IHL Rule 97, the use of human shields is prohibited. According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations” is a war crime in international armed conflicts. Hamas operatives intermingled in the crowd of civilians during the protests on the border, in order to launch attacks against Israeli soldiers from under this cover. This practice is in accord with Hamas’s habitual use of hospitals, schools, and mosques to hide militants and weapons. Aware of the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) steadfast adherence to the laws of war, Hamas recognized the strategic advantage of hiding its fighters behind civilians, whom the IDF takes painstaking efforts to safeguard while targeting military objects.

Hamas knows no restrictions when it comes to attacking Israel. They pay the very poor families in Gaza to attend those violent border activities (note that the whole family, including women and children, must attend in order to be paid), they force children to throw Molotov cocktails and rocks (as demonstrated by recorded evidence), which itself violates another rule of customary IHL, Rule 137, which mandates that “[c]hildren must not be allowed to take part in hostilities.”

It is time people stand up for the inhabitants of Gaza and help them be freed from their leadership. Hamas must be held accountable to all the human rights violations it commits, both against Israel and against their own people. The inhabitants of Gaza should not be forgotten and deprived of such basic human rights.

About the Author
Dalia Zahger is the North East Coordinator for the Maccabee Task Force. She is a Columbia University alumna and co-founder of the Columbia chapter of student organization Students Supporting Israel
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