Hamas Activities Understood on the Basis of Law

To paraphrase the line in a Richard Rodgers ballad, I do not know a day when I did not behold Hamas rockets attacking Israeli civilians. Calculations suggest that more than 13,000 missiles have been fired by Hamas in Gaza against those civilians. During July 2014, Hamas fired more than 800 rockets before Israel responded by Operation Protective Edge seeking to eliminate or reduce the aggression. According to international law, the concept of military necessity justifies Israeli attacks on legitimate military targets. Regrettably, those attacks may have adverse consequences for civilians.

Well-meaning people like the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission in a joint official statement of August 3, 2014 on the Gaza situation spoke of the need to move beyond “these cycles of violence.” But there is no “cycle of violence.” Hamas’ position is unequivocal: it denies the legitimacy of Israel; it demonizes Israel; it wants to eliminate the State of Israel.

Unexpected parties have made clear who is responsible for the conflict in Gaza. On August 1, 2014, Abdullah, the King of Saudi Arabia, called the Gaza War “a collective massacre” caused by Hamas. He denounced the Hamas violence that had led to various forms of terrorism. He omitted to say that the war has led to a virtual alliance, for differing reasons, between Israel and Arabs including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the Palestinian Authority, weak though the latter is. 

Even those living in the fantasy world where Hamas is blameless for the current conflict, such as the Spanish celebrity actors, Penelope Cruz and Javier Barden, have qualified their partisanship. In a public letter of July 27, 2014 they, together with other show business celebrities, unilaterally condemned Israel for “its attacks in the Gaza Strip,” and spoke of Israeli genocide, a war of occupation and extermination against a whole people. No one had thought of Cruz as having a perfect, or even an imperfect, understanding of Middle East politics. However, two days after the letter, Cruz and Barden, or their publicists, “clarified” their position. Cruz explained with undue modesty, “I do not want to be misunderstood on this important subject. I’m not an expert on the situation.” Her husband Barden similarly explained, “My signature (on the letter) was solely meant as a plea for peace… I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses.”

Cruz and Barden, and various critics of Israel, such as other celebrities, the mainstream media and churches, and all those who have been concerned about the loss of life, especially of children, in the fighting might now examine in the context of international law the extent of the responsibility of Hamas in committing war crimes and violations of international law. Hamas leaders, Muhammad Deif, Chief of Staff, and Ismail Haniyeh, the leader, have taunted Israelis, “We desire death like you desire life.” The best way to examine Hamas’ accountability is by analyzing a number of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949.

Article 51 (2) of the Conventions states that “The civilian population as such, as well as individual citizens, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.” The thousand rocket attacks against innocent civilians by Hamas have to be considered in this context. 

Article 58 (a) states. “ The parties to the conflict shall to maximum extent feasible endeavor to remove the civilian population, individual citizens and civilian objects under their control from the vicinity of military objects.” 58 (b) says, the parties shall “avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.”

The evidence is overwhelming from a number of videos, from journalist reports, and from public statements, that Hamas has been guilty of using the civilian population for military purposes. One unexpected source is Mosab Hassan Youssef, son of Sheikh Hasssan Youssef , founder of Hamas. Mosab defected from the terrorist group because of its use of human shields. He also held that the aim of Hamas is not only to destroy Israel, but also to build an Islamic Caliphate. His statement is a reminder that Hamas is the Islamic Resistance Movement.

The egregious misuse of civilians and property as protective shields to prevent Israeli firing has been amply displayed. It includes the use of homes, residential rooftops, mosques, hospitals, particularly the parking lot of the Al Shifa hospital, which Hamas has used as a headquarters, and schools and schoolyards, as places, or close to places, from where Hamas launches rockets. Most diabolical in all this warfare is the use made, often successfully, by Hamas to promote Palestinian civilian casualties as propaganda weapons.

Most egregious has been the use of schools for the location of rockets and ammunition.  On this point international organizations, specifically UNRWA, are at fault, if not altogether guilty. The full name of UNRWA is rarely mentioned. It is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, a unique body that was created in 1950 to deal with only one single group of people in the world, the Palestinians, and to do that on a temporary basis. Unlike the major refugee organization, UNHCR (Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees) also set up in December 1950 that resolves problems worldwide, UNRWA has regional not global concerns. However, UNRWA has gone far beyond its initial mission. It is now important in social and economic affairs in the Gaza Strip, involved with activities usually preformed by governmental authorities. .

Among those activities is the running of 245 schools and caring for the welfare of 1.2 million “registered refugees,” about two-thirds of the population of the Gaza Strip. It has an absurd definition of the word “refugee,” one that guarantees perpetuity of refugee status. For its various functions UNRWA employs about 11,000 people. With this large number of employees and its considerable role in the governance of the area, it is logical to expect that UNRWA officials would be aware of the use of the schools they run.

This however is not the case. UNRWA officials, incredibly declared it was as much a shock for them, as it was for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to find on three occasions that schools had been used by Hamas to launch rockets.  It is proper to ask three questions: how was it possible for those officials to be unaware of this crime committed by Hamas in locating rockets in schools?   Did those officials participate in selecting those locations? And how many other UNRWA schools still contain weapons to be used against Israel?

It is indeed difficult to interpret events as they are unfolding, but the incompetence, or the political manipulation of UNRWA by Hamas is not subject to misinterpretation. Nor is that evaluation based on false rumors or deliberate misinformation. UNRWA can claim some humanitarian achievements, but it has always been an organization critical of Israeli activities and the locus for anti-Israeli propaganda. At its best it lacks neutrality and impartiality. The U.S. and other democratic countries should now consider whether UNRWA should be ended, and its supposed functions given to the UNHCR.

Article 77 of the Convention deals with the protection of children. The most pertinent clause is 77 (2): “The Parties to the conflict shall take all feasible measures in order that children… do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces.” A major war crime of Hamas is its inhumane treatment of children. In school texts provided by Hamas they have been indoctrinated on the need for holy jihad. They have been given military training in summer camps. Children have been used in various ways: to warn of a military approach by Israelis, to retrieve weapons, to transport explosives, and to help build tunnels. Hamas has in fact confessed that 160 children have died in building the tunnels.

Secretary of State John Kerry is quoted as having said on August 2 in a conversation with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “harmed American efforts with Iran” and that he is a “stubborn Prime Minister who refuses to understand anything.” Though the sincerity of Kerry’s efforts to achieve a ceasefire cannot be doubted, it is he who refuses to understand that reliance on Qatar and Turkey to be the mediators of the cease-fire is not likely to be productive. In the present context of an Arab world that is totally dysfunctional it is more profitable to analyze the provisions of the Geneva Protocols and consider bringing charges of war crimes against Hamas.