There are many misconceptions about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Many of these misconceptions stem from a lack of understanding of international humanitarian law, also called the laws of armed conflict, while some are rooted in agenda-driven analyses of the events.
Let’s state one unequivocal fact: the attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups and operatives on October 7th constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly even genocide. Some aspects of the laws of armed conflict might be debatable, and proving war crimes depends on the intention of the attacker at the time of the attack. There is no doubt, however, that direct and intentional attacks against civilians, including infants, children, and the elderly, are war crimes. Systematic and organized attacks, such as the burning of entire families hiding in their safe rooms, the rape of young women, and the kidnapping of over 240 individuals into the Gaza Strip, also unequivocally constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Firing thousands of indiscriminate rockets into a civilian population is another clear war crime. All of these horrific acts were committed by Hamas and other terrorist groups and operatives openly and intentionally, as undeniably revealed by the attackers who used their phones and the phones of their victims to livestream their horrifying actions.
Israel’s response must adhere to international law, particularly the laws of armed conflict. All attacks by the IDF must be directed against military targets. Attacks expected to cause excessive collateral damage to the civilian population must be canceled or suspended. Any sieges that may occur must allow basic humanitarian supplies (specifically, food, water, and medical equipment) to enter the Gaza Strip through humanitarian agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. In practice, however, the misconceptions come into play when it is impossible to definitively determine that an attack was disproportionate and resulted in excessive collateral damage to the civilian population and the regrettable deaths of many uninvolved civilians without having complete information about the military advantage expected from targeting specific objectives.
Without full information, it is practically impossible to understand why the IDF targets a specific house, mosque, or even a school. The laws of armed conflict are explicit about such targets – they are considered civilian and, thus, protected from direct attack unless they are being used by the adversary for military purposes, and attacking them would provide an immediate military advantage. Consequently, the IDF is absolutely required to provide an explanation for such attacks and justify their legitimacy. Once such justification is provided, the mere fact that these objects of attack are usually considered protected from direct attack is refuted. Experts who claim that war crimes are committed solely because they believe that the unfortunate damage to the civilian population is overwhelming undermine the most fundamental principles of the laws of armed conflict and engage in agenda-based analysis.
Agenda-based analysis based on incomplete or fragmented factual background is very dangerous as it leads to quick and unsubstantiated conclusions that are practically impossible to refute. It also fosters bias in anticipation of future attacks and operations. It can also make anyone believe unfounded accusations that goes along with such agenda, as was demonstrated with the accusation that it was the IDF that targeted the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City without waiting even a few hours to examine its credibility and accuracy. While everyone is susceptible to agenda-based thinking, we must distinguish between our gut feelings and analyzing the situation based on all available facts and applicable rules.
Another implication of agenda-based analysis is the almost inevitable use of the “holy balance”, i.e. attempts to stay ‘neutral’ by some experts. This refers to the approach that nothing negative can be said about one party to the conflict without making a reference to the other side as well. As a result, several officials and experts have issued weak condemnations of the October 7th atrocities while simultaneously condemning Israel and the IDF for their operations in the Gaza Strip. No one questions that any Israeli attack must comply with the laws of armed conflict. However, by equating blatant war crimes, crimes against humanity, and potentially genocide with, at most, the legally suspicious actions of the IDF, the message conveyed is that the two are comparable and essentially equivalent. Regardless of any criticism one might level at the IDF’s operations, a fair and professional analysis should conclude that at most, these actions should be investigated. On the other side, there is not even a shred of doubt that the Hamas attacks on October 7th were clear and indisputable international crimes.
You may critique the IDF’s operations as much as you desire, but do so based on what can be substantiated and proven, not merely what you wish to say. Regardless of anything, if you’re motivated by humanity or compliance with international law, please remember to supplement your opinion or analysis of the situation with one thing – a call for the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip.