Israel Is Doing More Than the Law Requires to Protect Civilian Lives in Gaza

November 13, 2023 | John Spencer
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In the absence of a ceasefire, expect to find expressions of grave concern about the humanitarian consequences of the Israeli campaign in Gaza in every newspaper and on every news channel. No amount of footage of Israeli soldiers escorting refugees to safety or distributing water bottles seems able to change this position. But John Spencer, chairman of urban-warfare studies at West Point’s Modern War Institute, sees things differently. He writes that he has seen no evidence “that the Israel Defense Forces are not following the laws of wars in Gaza.”

[T]he charges that the IDF is committing war crimes so often come too quickly for there to have been an examination of the factors that determine whether an attack, and the resulting civilian casualties, are lawful.

So far I have seen the IDF implementing—and in some cases going beyond—many of the best practices developed to minimize the harm of civilians in similar large-scale urban battles.

These IDF practices include calling everyone in a building to alert them of a pending air strike and giving them time to evacuate—a tactic I’ve never seen elsewhere in my decades of experience, as it also notifies the enemy of the attack—and sometimes even dropping small munitions on top of a building to provide additional warning. They have been conducting multiple weeks of requests that civilians evacuate certain parts of Gaza using multimedia broadcasts, texts, and flyer drops. They’ve also provided routes that will not be targeted so that civilians have paths to non-combat areas, though there have been some tragic reports that Palestinians from northern Gaza who have relocated to the south were subsequently killed as the war rages throughout the Strip.

Like all similar conflicts in modern times, a battle in Gaza will look like the entire city was purposely razed to the ground or indiscriminately carpet bombed—but it wasn’t. Israel possesses the military capacity to do so, and the fact that it doesn’t employ such means is further evidence that it is respecting the rules of war. It is also a sign that this is not revenge—a gross mischaracterization of Israeli aims—but instead a careful defensive campaign to ensure Israel’s survival.

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