The 2015 UN Report on the 2014 Gaza-Israel war (“Report of the detailed findings of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict”, ohchr. org) is an attempt to identify war crimes committed in that war. It treats Israel and Hamas as moral equals (Shahar Azani, “The world’s betrayal of Israel,” Huffington Post, June 24, 2015). They are not.
The very fact that this UN study treats Israel and Hamas as moral equals signals to you that the Commission which wrote this Report doesn’t understand the challenges of modern war. It doesn’t understand the laws of war (called, International Humanitarian Law, or IHL), Israel’s commitment to those laws—or the extent to which Hamas violates those laws.
Look at modern war. In the 21st Century, war is a very complicated business. It’s no longer just a military endeavour. Those days are gone.
The only way an army can avoid committing war crimes today is to commit to the laws of war (IHL). Today, an army needs more than an expertise in weapons, manpower allocation and strategy to step onto a battlefield. It needs legal expertise.
The IDF has that expertise (Willy Stern, “Attorneys at War: Inside an elite Israeli military law unit”, The Weekly Standard, June 15, 2015). Hamas does not. That’s one reason the IDF and Hamas are not moral equals.
One doesn’t have to be some kind of moral rocket scientist to understand this distinction. Nevertheless, the Commission which wrote this UN Report appears clueless about it.
In the West, most armies are not up to speed on making modern warfare ‘legal’ (ibid). If tested, they’d fail the legal part of warfare (ibid).
There are few armies in the world prepared to go to war legally. Around the world, many argue that Israel has one of the best—if not the best--military capacity to follow the laws of war (ibid).
Hamas has no such capacity. This is another reason Hamas and the IDF are not moral equals. But regarding this distinction, this UN Commission is clueless.
If the Commission which wrote this document was competent, it would start its Report with the most basic of moral war requirements: an army which is moral must drill its personnel at every level on how to fight within the laws of war. There is simply no other way to fight a war ‘legally’.
Israel commits to such drill. Hamas does not.
This is another reason Hamas and the IDF are not moral equals. Regarding this moral training requirement, this UN Commission is clueless.
Think about the importance of moral training in war. Every time a combatant shoots at anyone, he runs the risk of committing an illegal act—a war crime. The laws of war (IHL) are that strict. Yes, IHL certainly permits a combatant to shoot. But a combatant has that legal permission only under specific, pre-determined conditions. If he does not meet those conditions, he commits a war crime. If he never learned about those conditions, he will commit war crimes. If he was told what those conditions were but never trained in them, he will commit war crimes.
Israel’s officers and soldiers are trained how to operate within those conditions. Hamas offers no such training. Regarding this distinction, the Commission is clueless.
The IDF and Hamas are not moral equals.
Battle commanders operate with even stricter rules. If a battle commander doesn’t understand the conditions within which he must work, he, too, will commit war crimes (ibid).
Hamas doesn’t train its commanders how to operate within those conditions. The IDF does.
Hamas and the IDF are not moral equals.
Regarding how commanders must be trained to fight morally, this UN Commission is clueless. It thinks Hamas and the IDF are morally equal.
Hamas fighters have no ethical training. IDF soldiers do. Hamas commanders have no commitment to follow ethical rules. IDF commanders do. Hamas has no infrastructure in place to help commanders fight within the laws of IHL. IDF does.
Hamas and the IDF are not moral equals.
The Commission suggests that it knows about laws of war (IHL). But it’s clueless about how these laws work in war.
Here now is a very tiny glimpse at how Israel fights its wars according to the laws of war. This is just one example. As you read, you should keep in mind that no other army in the world (ibid) fights this way (the following is a long excerpt from the Willy Stern essay, above):
Look at two documents. The first is from the IDF. The second is from Hamas.
The first document is an IDF ‘target card’. It’s used when commanders prepare strikes against enemy targets.
The cards contain a wealth of information about each target from intelligence and operations units. Before any attack can go forward, IDF legal advisers have to sign off on that card. These lawyers must put their own check mark on the card—they call it a ‘tick’—indicating that it’s a lawful target.
At that point the target is approved. It’ll go forward unless the commander himself nixes it.
Hamas has no such protocol. It uses no lawyers. When Hamas attacks, it has no idea if its attack is legal or not. It doesn’t even care if an attack is legal.
Hamas and the IDF are not moral equals. The Commission, however, believes they are. The Commission is clueless.
How can any military win a war when it decides to fight with lawyers having the right to cancel every attack? The question is irrelevant. This is how Israel fights.
The Commission is clueless.
In Gaza, the IDF prepared and used more than 4,000 of these target cards for strikes during the 50-day conflict in July-August 2014. An attorney had to put a ‘tick’ on every attack that met their standards before it could start (I understand that, due to battlefield conditions, there are times when deliberation is impossible; an attack must be initiated within seconds. I understand also that battle commanders who work with lawyers during battle do have the discretion to act in such split-second situations—and do so legally).
The second document is from Hamas. It’s not an ethics manual. It’s not for verifying the legality of actions in battle. It’s a ‘doctrine manual’ prepared by Hamas. It was captured by IDF ground forces in Shejaiya, Gaza in early August, 2014. The document advocates that fighters embed themselves among Gazan innocents, in the hope that the IDF will kill civilians” (ibid).
Hamas and Israel are not moral equals. It’s an absurdity to suggest they are. If the Commission which wrote this Report fails to understand this distinction, it has no business investigating for war crimes. It doesn’t understand the first thing about ethical war.