After 11 days of often intense fighting in northern Gaza
between Israeli military forces and Palestinian militants, an
Israeli tank came under heavy fire one night at about 1 a.m.
Israeli forces responded by shooting back at the apparent
sources of the fire. Certainly those whose lives were at
stake were fully alert, but visibility is certainly not the
best at that time.
One of the tank shells came crashing into the living room of
the Filfil family home (a five story building) where,
according to a report by New York Times reporter Greg
Myre, the 11 members of the family were gathered "in an
effort to stay safe." No one was killed, but the entire
family was wounded and taken to various hospitals.
The Filfil family home is located on the front line, where
the Israeli armor is arrayed opposite Palestinian militants
and terrorists. Israeli forces are there in strength. It is
clearly a serious military effort, involving over 200
fighting vehicles. The Filfils could easily move away from
the danger. Gaza City is only a few miles away, and there is
no fighting there. If their goal were to "stay safe" they
could have easily taken much more effective steps.
Furthermore, the reporter asked them where they will go "if
Israeli tanks are still parked outside" their home when they
are released from the hospital. "I would go straight home,
and take my kids," said Mrs Filfil.
One of the major humane achievements of modern warfare is
making a distinction between combatants and noncombatants.
Combatants are legitimate targets; noncombatants are not.
This distinction is behind much of the structure and
organization of modern armies, as agreed in The Hague
Convention of 1907 and Geneva Conventions in 1948 and 1949.
The combatants should be clearly distinguishable from
noncombatants. That is why soldiers all wear uniforms, and
that is why they live on army bases that are set off from
residential areas and usually located far away from
noncombatant areas. Military people are supposed to be
clearly discernible, as well as military vehicles and
military buildings. They are the objects of war, the
legitimate targets of attack. All those who are not
combatants are not legitimate targets.
The Palestinians do not observe these humane rules of war --
neither on their side nor on the other side. They target all
Israelis, of all ages and of all occupations. They have fired
more than 450 military rockets, most launched from the north
of Gaza where Israeli forces discussed above are currently
active to try to stop the attacks. They can hardly be aimed,
but even so the general area towards which they are launched,
the Israeli town of Sderot, has no value as a military
target. Neither of course do the restaurants and hotels that
Palestinian terrorists target and then proudly take
"responsibility" for any murderous success.
On their side as well, their fighters try to stay among as
many noncombatants as they can manage, with the apparent
acquiescence of the noncombatants. Crowds of civilians often
gather opposite Israeli military vehicles in Gaza, and then
fighters come up behind them and shoot from among the crowds.
Spokesmen often lie and claim that fighters were just
innocent bystanders. And even real bystanders like the Filfil
family seem far from innocent in their zeal to hang around
the war zones where they are likely to get hurt.
All this is against the official international rules of
combat and in flagrant violation of all notions of human
decency. To target young children and to offer your own young
children as targets by shooting from among them show a low
regard for human life on the part of the Palestinians --
truly a contempt for all human life including their own.
Properly, the Israeli army takes great pains to target only
fighters. In the past it suffered great losses because of its
insistence on conducting the combat according to the rules of
international law and human decency. This time, with
siyata deShmaya, it has so far been spared significant
losses despite the best efforts of the Palestinian
Chas vesholom that we should be even tempted to
respond in kind to such despicable tactics. Fighting the
extreme immorality of the Palestinian fighters can only be
effective if it is based on extreme morality.