The concept of proportionality in warfare is well-defined. It measures civilian casualties and collateral damage against military necessity. There are people who don’t like that, who prefer to think that every operation in an ostensibly “civilian” area and every civilian casualty is a war crime, but it isn’t. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant of or lying about international law.
There is another concept in warfare that is less well-defined: the motivation of the parties to the conflict. It is more of a “you’ll know it when you see it” concept, but a no less important element of warfare.
Motivation is what made genocidal Nazi Germany and imperial Japan different from the Allies in World War II, regardless of which side suffered more civilian casualties. It defines the ISIS-supported massacres of Christians in Nigeria. It defines the genocide of Muslim Uyghurs in China, the Tutsis in Rwanda and the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. It differentiates the mullahs’ regime in Iran from the brave Iranians arrested, jailed and murdered by that regime.
It makes Hamas’ war against Israel different from Israel’s defense against Hamas.
On the one hand, you have Hamas hunting down, torturing, raping and murdering Israeli civilians in their homes and at a music festival. On the other, you have the destruction of the military infrastructure of Hamas in Gaza, which Hamas — funded by Iran and Qatar — has deliberately placed under the homes and streets of the civilian population, who have been transformed by the terror group into human sacrifices.
If you can’t see the difference, stop reading now.
Recently, the IDF struck a Hamas tunnel in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. There was an explosion on the surface, followed by explosions below ground. What was reported as a “sinkhole” opened in the middle of the camp. There were casualties among the camp residents, but there was no “sinkhole” — a Hamas military headquarters in an underground tunnel had been destroyed.
If you think Hamas is concerned about the people of Jabaliya, keep reading.
The following excerpts of an interview on Russia’s RT with Hamas “political bureau” official Mousa Abu Marzouk come via MEMRI.org, an indispensable resource:
Interviewer: Many people are asking, since you have built 500 kilometers of tunnels, why haven’t you built bomb shelters, where civilians can hide during bombardment?
Marzouk: We have built the tunnels because we have no other way of protecting ourselves from being targeted and killed. These tunnels are meant to protect us from the airplanes. We are fighting from inside the tunnels. Everybody knows that 75% of the people in the Gaza Strip are refugees, and it is the responsibility of the United Nations to protect them. According to the Geneva Convention, it is the responsibility of the occupation to provide them with all the services as long as they are under occupation.
In other words, it’s not our problem if they die.
On Lebanese television, Ghazi Hamad, again of Hamas’ “political bureau,” said, “Israel is a country that has no place on our land. We must teach Israel a lesson, and we will do this again and again. The Al-Aqsa Flood [the Oct. 7 atrocities] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth, because we have the determination, the resolve and the capabilities to fight. Will we have to pay a price? Yes, and we are ready to pay it. We are called a nation of martyrs, and we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.”
Hamad then went full-on genocidal, saying, “The existence of Israel is illogical. The existence of Israel is what causes all that pain, blood and tears. It is Israel, not us. We are the victims of the occupation. Period. Therefore, no one should blame us for the things we do. On Oct. 7, Oct. 10, Oct. 1,000,000 — everything we do is justified.”
There is a lot more of this murderous nihilism, but you get the point: If Hamas’ goal is the destruction of Israel — as its officials explicitly state — if Hamas is willing to sacrifice its own people to kill Jews, and if the plan is for more and future crimes against humanity, then what is Israel’s choice? To agree? To leave? To die? Or to eliminate Hamas’ military capabilities?
All civilian casualties are to be mourned. All. Always. Ever. One way to pay homage to the civilians who have died on both sides of this conflict is to take away the war-making capabilities of the war criminals whose motivation is the death and destruction of their own people, as well as their enemies, and to set the people free.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.