Israel’s critics have denounced even its very first efforts to defend itself against Hamas’s horrific massacre. These voices warn that any civilian casualties will be seen as war crimes. And it’s true: the deliberate targeting of civilians is a violation of international law and the laws of war. But unlike Hamas, Israel does not target civilians.
Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich asks this question in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:“Does international law require a nation to choose between committing war crimes and having war crimes committed against it?” He says “The answer is no.”
Professor Kontorovich teaches at George Mason University Scalia School of Law and heads up the international law department at a Jerusalem think tank. Since civilians often become victims, “countries like Israel, “he writes, “resort to war only as self-defense, which, according to the United Nations Charter, is every nation’s inherent right.”
Hamas launches its rockets from civilian population centers. Its weapons infrastructure is located among civilians, by design, as shields and for propaganda. The professor points out that “Hamas has violated international law by hiding among civilians.” Hamas has even ordered Gazans not to flee to avoid Israel’s defensive campaign. He says the presence of civilians in and around military targets does not mean those targets are immune from attack.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2005 and has attacked Israel from there several times. In defending against those attacks, Israel targets Hamas fighters and infrastructure. With this horrendous attack, Israel must operate with the knowledge that “Hamas’s goal is the annihilation of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” Destroying Hamas is now, rightly, Israel’s existential goal.
Professor Kontorovich writes: “When military objectives and civilians are intermingled, siege aimed at the former will also affect the latter.” Siege is a part of lawful war. He wonders whether those who deny Israel’s right to self-defense “are merely naïve or wish to leave Israel perpetually exposed to genocide.”
Israel cannot look away.