Responding to Hamas Attacks from Gaza - Issues of Proportionality
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Israel is in a conflict not of its own making - indeed it withdrew every Israeli soldier and all 8000 Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip as part of its 2005 disengagement initiative. However, Israel has been forced to act in defense of its citizens, who have been and continue to be deliberately attacked by the Hamas terrorist organization.
Although Hamas makes no effort to comply with international law, Israel is committed to limiting itself to a lawful response. This means that, while Hamas uses civilians both as a shield and a target, Israel seeks to limit injury to civilians on both sides.
International law recognizes that civilian deaths and injuries may occur in lawful military operations. For an operation to be lawful it must be directed at a "legitimate military objective" and be "proportionate".
Under the Geneva Conventions, as well as customary international law, if a military objective, such as a missile launcher or weapons stockpile, is placed in the heart of a civilian area, it does not cease being a lawful military objective. The primary responsibility for civilian causalities arising from the 'shielding' lies with the party that deliberately placed civilians at risk.
International law also requires that any military operation be 'proportionate' in the sense that expected collateral damage to civilians and civilian objects must not be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated. This is a complex and difficult calculation and international law relies on the best determination of the commander in the field in the heat of the conflict to weigh all relevant considerations, including the security of his own forces.
Israel has adopted these principles of the law of armed conflict, in its military training, its operational planning and in practice. Frequently, proposed operations are cancelled because the risk of injury to civilians might not be proportional to the military goals of the operation.
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