Hamas' Black Friday

Amnesty International recently released a “report” chronicling alleged Israel Defense Force (IDF) war crimes in Gaza during last summer’s conflict there. The report concentrates on a single battle in the Rafah section of Gaza which effectively ended the fighting. Amnesty International claims to be vindicating international humanitarian law by implicating the IDF in war crimes. What the report really demonstrates is how bogus application of “humanitarian law” actually prolongs and perpetuates war and suffering on all sides, by succoring terrorist groups like Hamas and preventing the IDF from concluding operations in a decisive fashion that would actually reduce the costs of the conflict, to soldiers and civilians alike.

Of course, Amnesty International does not even try to be even-handed in its assessment of the fighting -- its reportage and conclusions are highly biased, poorly reasoned, factually questionable and legally specious. It is, like the United Nations, setting Israel up for war crimes prosecutions.

But this otherwise worthless report is valuable for one thing – what it unintentionally tells us about Hamas, and how “humanitarian law” subverts the moral conduct of war. The report demonstrates that what ended the fighting and with it “Palestinian suffering” was exactly the thing the report condemns — Israel’s August 1, 2014 strike into the Rafah section of Gaza, dubbed by Hamas and Amnesty International as “Black Friday.”

If you thought "Black Friday" was the day after Thanksgiving when retail stores finally turn a yearly profit you’d be in good company, but with the publication of the Amnesty report we learn that this moniker will become another example of Palestinian propaganda to recount their ongoing, self-inflicted misery, like the now-famous “Nabka” (catastrophe) which denotes the founding of modern Israel or the “Inifada” (shaking off -- not the Taylor Swift song) of the Israeli “occupation.” Laughably, the New York Times in an uncritical article on the Amnesty report dutifully describes Hamas’ version of “Black Friday” with the term hyperlinked. Click the link and you get reports on retail sales in the U.S., because, of course, there was no such thing as a Palestinian “Black Friday” until Hamas and their Amnesty enabler invented it. Still, that Hamas calls now Israel’s August 1, 2014 offensive “Black Friday” says something important about the fighting in Gaza last summer. 

Last summer’s war began with the kidnapping and murder of three Israel teens on the West Bank by a Hamas terrorist, followed by artillery attacks into Israel aimed at cities and towns, and attempted commando strikes into Israel via tunnel and sea. Israel responded with extremely precise air and artillery strikes that were preceded by extensive warnings (including phone calls to targeted structures, leaflets, and “door-knocking” submunition strikes.)  Israel’s precautions in this regard were unprecedented in warfare, far exceeded what is required under the laws of war, and largely limited what the IDF could do. 

Hamas made every effort to thwart Israeli precautions by placing military sites in highly populated areas, establishing command installations in protected structures like hospitals and mosques, encouraging (or coercing) residents to become human shields against Israeli strikes, and short firing rockets and mortars into their own people (all violations of the laws of war) figuring that Israel would get the blame.   

Hamas essentially dared Israel to move into Gaza and attack them head-on by launching a series of terror attacks from tunnels into Israel. A full-scale Israeli attack, in Hamas’ calculation would entail widespread damage and destruction of homes and businesses, and exponentially increase Palestinian civilian casualties, bringing with it hysterical international condemnations of Israel for causing more Palestinian suffering. And basically, Hamas won the dare.    

Israel did move ground forces into Gaza in response to the Hamas tunnel operations, but IDF battle groups only penetrated a kilometer or two, in order to discover and destroy the tunnel network. Hamas’ leadership remained basically secure behind the front lines, and confident that Israel’s leadership did not have the stomach for an actual offensive into the enclave. This allowed Hamas to prolong the fighting (and with it the suffering of Palestinian civilians) as Hamas continued to fire rockets and mortars into Israel, provoking Israeli counterstrikes. 

This went on for about 50 days, until Hamas finally agreed to a cease-fire. The cease-fire went into effect on the morning of August 1, 2014, but Hamas had no intention of keeping it, and why should they? The war had gone to their liking so far, lots of Palestinian dead, lots of favorable press, and lots of condemnation of Israel. And Hamas had still not achieved one of their primary objectives -- the capture of a live Israeli soldier, though they had tried mightily. 

The cease-fire provided the opportunity, since a Hamas team might jump an Israeli patrol with its guard down and grab a soldier. One hour after the cease-fire went into effect a Hamas team ambushed such a patrol and made off with a wounded Israeli lieutenant (Hadar Goldin), though the soldier quickly succumbed to his injuries. Of course, as a Commentary piece pointed out, this was the real war crime, a fact totally elided in the Amnesty report, where Goldin’s capture in described in passive terms of the Israelis having run into a Hamas unit -- as if on top of everything else the capture operation was also Israel’s fault. 

Israel’s response was fairly ferocious. For the first time since the outbreak of fighting, the IDF actually sent a battle group deep into Gaza in hopes of rescuing Goldin or at least cutting off the escape of his attackers, even if that put the soldier at risk. As the Amnesty report details, a reinforced IDF tank battalion plunged into Rafah, and when it did, a funny thing happened -- the Hamas forces in the area pretty much fell apart. Behind a carefully coordinated series of air and artillery strikes (which of course the Amnesty report condemns as “disproportionate”) the relatively small Israeli battle group advanced easily into the enclave and probably could have kept going until it reached Hamas’ leadership. Had the IDF sent in other available combat teams it’s pretty clear that Hamas’ defenses would have collapsed.  Shortly after the IDF launched its Rafah operation Hamas agreed to another cease-fire, followed by an IDF withdrawal, a situation which has more or less held for the past year. 

At the time, I posited in an AT piece that Hamas’ acceptance of the cease-fire was in fact the result of Israel’s Rafah assault, though this was neither admitted by Hamas nor accepted an army of analysts. Now thanks to the Amnesty report we know the truth. August 1, 2014 was Black Friday for Hamas because that is the day Hamas almost lost the war. It was the day that for the first time the IDF did not keep its hands unreasonably tied in an attempt to abide by ridiculous interpretations of the law of war, and as a result, saved the lives of countless Palestinians, at least for now.