Hamas do not ignore the laws of war. They know them well and do everything they can to exploit Israel’s adherence to them.
The urban warfare manual of Hamas’s Shuja’iya Brigade, found this week by Israeli troops in Gaza, confirms they know the IDF apply strict rules to minimise civilian casualties: “The soldiers and commanders [of the IDF] must limit their use of weapons and tactics that lead to the harm and unnecessary loss of people and [destruction of] civilian facilities. It is difficult for them to get the most use out of their firearms, especially of supporting fire [eg artillery and airpower].”
Although Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow implied last week that Hamas do not deploy human shields, the manual clearly advocates their use. Hamas leaders have repeatedly boasted of this criminal tactic in the media. And on Tuesday, NDTV, an Indian station, released remarkable footage of Hamas fighters setting up and firing a rocket from the heart of a populated area.
This is not just another element of Hamas’s fight in Gaza: it is the central pillar of their strategy. They are not fighting a military campaign against Israel because they know they could never win. They are fighting a propaganda war that Israel can never win without the staunchest support from her Western allies. Support that is sadly lacking.
Rockets, Hamas fighters and even attack tunnels are merely devices to provoke Israel’s military response. Rejection and violation of ceasefires ensures it continues. Hamas’s real weapons are the men, women, children and babies of the Palestinian population.
The term “human shields” is in fact a misnomer. They are not there to shield weapons and fighters from IDF attack. They are there to be sacrificed: to bleed, to die and to be photographed doing so.
For Hamas, the stench of death is the smell of victory. Victory is an endless supply of Israel-hating Palestinian children shocked and shattered by the violent deaths of their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters beside them.
Victory is the unbalanced media outrage. The appalling images of suffering beamed around the world, inciting large-scale protests, stirring up hatred against the Jewish state, inspiring violence against the Jewish people, energising campaigns to boycott, sanction and divest.
Victory is the clamour of the UN and Western politicians to condemn the state of Israel. Many politicians know the reality but find it easier to succumb to public opinion than to lead it. The Mayor of London Boris Johnson accuses Israel of acting disproportionately, with the excuse that: “In having that opinion, I’m merely echoing what everyone else is saying at the moment.”
And above all, victory is the demand by US President Barack Obama, Israel’s most important ally, to end hostilities and to reach an accommodation advantageous to Hamas.
Could Israel have avoided Hamas’s provocation and sat back while rockets were fired at its population? Of course not. Israel responded in the only way any civilised country could: with precision air strikes and ground assaults to prevent Hamas aggression — while doing everything possible to minimise harm to civilians.
When Hamas use apartment blocks, schools, hospitals and mosques to store weapons and to attack, as they have repeatedly, these become legitimate targets, even when civilians are present.
Tragically, many innocents have died. This could not be avoided given Hamas’s method of waging war. But do not believe the numbers pushed out so readily by the UN and the media. These come directly from Hamas, and represent the second plank of their fighting tactics — lies, distortion and even elaborate faking of civilian casualties to support and amplify the strategy that demands the sacrifice of their own people.