Do the Israel Defense Forces Violate International Law?
By Dr. Susan Michael, ICEJ USA Director
Amid a region filled with tyranny, violence, and human rights abuses, Israel strictly abides by the tenets of international law, and this includes during the current War with Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) incorporate the principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), or “war law,” into their basic doctrine, and the nation’s Supreme Court oversees all of Israel’s military and government decisions. Their record of compliance with international law is strong.
But Israel’s detractors are keenly aware of this reality and manipulate international law in a way to make Israel look bad. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) says that Israel’s enemies invent “rules that are applied only to Israel and not to other states or in other situations.” In so doing they distract from their own violation of human rights and the abuse of their people.
Palestinian leaders—the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza—are systematic violators of international law. Hamas targets civilians—but it also oppresses its own women, persecutes minorities, and murders its political opponents. In the West Bank, the PA frequently employs torture and jails political opponents simply for disagreeing.
Protecting Human Rights
Conversely, a core value of the IDF is the protection of human life and dignity—regardless of whether that life is Israeli or Palestinian. The IDF Code of Conduct reads:
The IDF and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status, or position. … IDF servicemen and women will act in a judicious and safe manner in all they do, out of recognition of the supreme value of human life.
While Palestinian terrorists seek to maximize civilian casualties regardless of age or gender, Israel does everything in its power to minimize harm to all civilians. Israeli Defense Forces use various strategies to accomplish this, from telephone calls to dropping leaflets alerting civilians to move out of harm’s way to diverting missiles mid-air.
Hamas terrorists, however, wear everyday clothing so they are indistinguishable from civilians, which greatly endangers the lives of the civilian population. According to the Foreign Press Association, Hamas releases phony civilian casualty statistics. They also censor and threaten foreign journalists so they will not reveal Hamas activities. In the current War with Hamas, the United Nations has even been cooperating with the terrorist organization—and while condemning Israel’s actions taken in self-defense, never condemned Hamas’ terrorist activities nor initiation of the conflict.
The Right of Self-Defense
International Humanitarian Law does not explicitly prohibit the use of force to eliminate an organization such as Hamas—which Israel, the United States, and other countries consider a terrorist group. Israel’s use of force to achieve its aim of eliminating Hamas also abides by the right of self-defense under UN Charter Article 51, which allows Israel actions of “inherent” self-defense derived from customary international law under the law of armed conflict.
Following Article 51, Israel takes every possible step to target only Hamas militants and infrastructure and minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas, rather than protecting Gazan civilians and moving them out of harm’s way, uses civilians as human shields to make Israel out to be the unethical one.
Highest Code of Ethics
In a 2018 article in the Jerusalem Post, one Arab Israeli IDF soldier called the IDF “the most humane and moral army in the world with the highest code of ethics and human values.” He writes:
The IDF is an army that faces complex challenges and dilemmas in an explosive region, but it is an army that is level-headed and always keeps human life as its ultimate highest value. The IDF is an army that will bend over backward to save lives and to ensure that innocent individuals are not harmed, even if it means complicating the military operation.
Though in war there may be incidents that don’t live up to these standards, they are exceptions and not the norm and do not reflect the IDF—nor the State of Israel.
Comfort and stand with the nation of Israel today.