Friday, October 23, 2009

Changing the Rules Continued

A user at the Huffington Post, CigarGod, posted something interesting a while back on the "Israel Pushes to Change the Rules of Warfare" article that speaks to the heart of the problem.

Now, this is exactly the problem that the IDF is confronted with and why, I believe, the government wants to appeal to change the rules of warfare. Because, in my humble opinion, the IDF should be allowed to "shoot through" the human shield to kill the terrorist. It's cold, definitely, but think of the alternative. If Hamas is allowed to conduct their operations through the use of human shields, a lot more people are going to die all the way around. More Israelis will die because the IDF would be forbidden under international law to protect them, and more Palestinian civilians will die because they will be exposed to violent situations.

If Hamas soldiers use human shields in battle, or if the human shield is willing, then that human shield becomes, in my opinion, a legitimate target. Hamas chose to place that person in the line of fire and they are now responsible for that person's life. The IDF cannot be blamed for the death of someone who is clearly allied with Hamas (willingly or unwillingly). This is better for preservation of life in the long run, because once Hamas realizes human shields are not effective and are probably losing them popularity with their own people, they'll stop using them.


  1. I disagree with your final paragraph. I think the IDF would only be justified in shooting through that civilian if the Hamas gunman on the other side were shooting at Israeli citizens and the IDF soldier had no other alternative, or if the human shield willingly threw himself into the line of fire to block the gunman. An unwilling civilian who is pulled into the line of fire by a Hamas gunman is not, in my opinion, a legitimate target.

    I also think this post demonstrates the misunderstanding (no offense!) that the majority of people have concerning what constitutes a "human shield." Obviously, having a civilian stand between you and an enemy combatant is using a human shield, but the way Hamas used human shields was by placing strategic and tactical (i.e. legitimate under the laws of war) military targets between and among civilians. Ex: using mosques and universities as weapons stores and hideouts. This prevents Israel from attacking only military targets and avoiding collateral damage: in as small an area as Gaza, collateral damage can and will occur, and Hamas has placed their targets specifically to encourage this.

  2. Bryan,

    I would agree with most of what you said. When I used the term "human shield" I did mean literally a person standing in front of a soldier shielding them from fire. Clearly, not being able to blow up weapons depots from the air is not a life or death situation and there is no reason to place civilian lives at risk.

    I also now that I think about it also would not call a civilian shield a "legitimate target", because clearly the IDF should not simply shoot them down unless it's necessary. However, if that civilian ends up being killed by IDF soldiers, that should not be considered a war crime. Is that an acceptable compromise?

  3. Matt,

    I made the point about the difference between a literal human shield and placing military targets or firing from between or inside civilian buildings because, from my understanding of the conflict, the former was not that common, while the latter was a consistent policy of the Hamas leadership.

    I disagree with your comment about not being to attack legitimate military targets from the air not being a life or death situation. If military targets are spread among civilian buildings, the IDF has a choice to make: to bomb or shell the building and risk collateral damage, or to put undue risk on its own soldiers in order to mount a ground assault. By deliberately placing military targets within civilian areas, Hamas is forcing Israel into choosing between risking civilian casualties and risking Israeli citizen casualties. Almost every nation in the world would choose the civilian casualties (under a certain limit based on the sentiment of the nation as a whole), because a state's primary responsibility is to its own citizens and not to the civilians under enemy control. However, the international community has made it clear that they expect Israel to always risk its own soldiers, something they do not expect out of any other state.

    I think your interpretation of the use of literal human shields is fine, with the clarification that unnecessary civilian deaths would be dealt with under Israel's internal military penal code.

  4. Hey Bryan,

    What I meant by bombing a weapons depot not being a life or death situation is that if the IAF does not bomb the depot at that very moment, no Israelis will die directly because of that inaction. That is the difference between that situation and a literal human shield. I would agree with your assessment of the risks involved with bombing buildings and of the double standard applied to Israel.

    Thanks for reading, by the way, we're a new blog and we appreciate your comments.

  5. Hi Matt,

    Ah, okay, I understand. I misread "life or death" situation and inferred a more general description.

    Blogging into a vacuum can be discouraging, so I try to comment when I can.


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