As the philosopher George Santayana once quipped, “a fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.” Such loss of perspective is evident among those who have been condemning Israel in the name of humanitarian concern for the fate of noncombatants in Gaza. Organizations such as the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders have been among the loudest voices against Israel.
They complain that the Israeli Defense Force has not properly limited civilian casualties and that the IDF doesn’t allow unrestricted access to injured civilians in Gaza. The critics do not explain the bind that Hamas purposefully puts Israel in by attacking the Jewish state from behind the skirts of civilians. Sacrificing civilians is a cornerstone of Hamas strategy. It is a gross moral failure not to distinguish between Hamas, which deliberately targets and hides among civilians, and Israel, which is compelled to defend itself in ways that cause inevitable though unintended harm to civilians.
Hamas continually violated the Fourth Geneva Convention by using human shields and by withdrawing into populated areas. A proper reading of international law would hold Hamas, not Israel, culpable for civilian casualties in these situations. In one case, Hamas militants operated in and around a UN school, booby-trapping it and firing mortar shells at Israeli forces (IDF video footage shows Hamas operating from the school in 2007). The IDF responded by attacking the school, resulting in more than forty deaths. The UN then criticized Israel for the attack, but ignored the Hamas tactics that provoked it. Do the UN and other organizations not realize that denouncing Israel rewards Hamas behavior that they claim to oppose? The denunciation creates a perverse incentive in favor of Hamas-style tactics.
Hamas strategy is rooted in its ideology. This ideology, set out in the 1988 Hamas Covenant and in the principles of the Muslim Brotherhood, praises martyrdom. Hamas terms death in the struggle against Israel (for the sake of Allah) as the “loftiest of its wishes.” Its goal is to destroy Israel, and the preface to the Hamas Covenant quotes Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna praisingly: “Israel will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Hamas uses this ideology to justify the “martyrdom” of innocent Palestinian noncombatants for propaganda purposes.
Hamas tactics highlight the difference between the civilized and the barbarous. Whereas the former recognize the inherent worth of each human being, a notable sign of barbarism is the belief that one can purposefully destroy innocent life to serve some collective good. International organizations damage the values they claim to hold dear when they offer rhetorical support to Hamas through condemnation of Israel.
Israel takes pains in its military operations to minimize damage to bystanders. It postpones or cancels operations, allows temporary ceasefires to protect civilians, and conducts its aerial and ground operations with as much precision as possible, given the fog of war. In contrast, when Hamas fighters operate in UN buildings and pose as members of the Palestinian Red Crescent, they purposefully endanger civilians and make the task of protecting civilians and caring for the wounded virtually impossible. It undermines humanitarian purposes when Hamas’s operational tactics escape censure - and even more so when such tactics are rewarded. When would-be humanitarians criticize Israel for harming noncombatants that Hamas has purposefully inserted into the line of fire, that is a reward for the very behavior that humanitarian law aims to prevent.
International organizations would do well to reassess their strategy for promoting humanitarian interests in Gaza. Their criticism of Israel doesn’t make sense if their goals are humanitarian. It makes sense only if their goals are political and anti-Israel. A humanitarian organization that subordinates humanitarian considerations to a political agenda is corrupt. One that undermines humanitarian interests simply out of error is foolish and irresponsible. Good intentions are not enough. By rewarding Hamas despite its moral responsibility for civilian deaths in Gaza, humanitarian organizations are essentially paying for terrorism. And the more they pay, the more civilians will be victimized by groups like Hamas.