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November 21, 2023 11:22 am

The Israeli Military Is Risking Soldiers’ Lives to Defend Palestinians From Hamas

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avatar by Daniel Pomerantz


Armored vehicles of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are seen during their ground operations at a location given as Gaza in this handout image released on Nov. 1, 2023. Photo: Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS

On October 7, 2023, Hamas perpetrated the largest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust: including mass rape, beheadings, torture, the murder of some 1,200 people and the capture of over 240 hostages. Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by the US, European Union, and countless governments and institutions around the world.

In the wake of those horrors, Israel has set out to not only rescue the hostages, but also to protect Israelis in the future by putting an end to Hamas as a functioning entity.

Over the course of the fighting, Hamas’ use of human shields combined with Israel’s extraordinary care for civilians (a topic which I’ve previously addressed in greater depth), has produced a situation unparalleled in history: the Israeli military has found itself fighting to defend Palestinian civilians against Hamas.

International law requires that Israel not cause harm to civilian life or infrastructure that is “excessive” in relation to its military objectives (another topic I addressed in greater depth previously).

Limiting harm to civilians is a significant challenge in the face of Hamas’ intentional use of civilians as human shields, and its thorough integration of military operations into the civilian infrastructure. Israel is nonetheless making a herculean effort to do so.

Among many other measures, Israel has established a humanitarian evacuation corridor through which civilians in Gaza can move out of the combat areas and into the relative safety of southern Gaza. According to both Israeli and Palestinian sources, Hamas has been firing on this corridor: directly targeting civilians, including with mortar shells and anti-tank missiles.

In response, Israel has returned fire toward Hamas: to protect Palestinian civilians.

The extraordinary implications of this unusual situation cannot be overstated: Israeli troops are quite literally fighting to protect Palestinians against Hamas. That is at least rare, if not entirely unique, in human history: an army fighting on behalf of enemy civilians, who are under attack by their own armed forces.

This calls into question the entire concept of “sides” given that Israel is now fighting on behalf of both Israelis and Palestinians, while Hamas is fighting against both.

Israel’s military defense of Palestinians raises another uncomfortable question that the international community seems reluctant to address: as Israel enters a “humanitarian pause” (which according to rumors seems to be imminent), who would protect Palestinian civilians if they continue to try to flee from Hamas?

When considering “humanitarian” measures it is critical to remember that Israelis are human too. Every moment that Israel delays its military campaign is another moment that the remaining Israeli hostages continue in captivity. The current pause also wastes precious time during which Hamas can attempt to regroup and rearm. And as discussed, this pause in IDF protection puts Palestinians in danger of being attacked by Hamas.

Given that more than 60 Israeli soldiers have fallen so far, it is not an exaggeration to say that Israelis are risking, and in some cases losing, their lives to not only protect Israelis, but also to protect Palestinians. In the history of human civilization that is at least extraordinary, and possibly even unprecedented.

Daniel Pomerantz is the CEO of RealityCheck, an organization dedicated to deepening public conversation through robust research studies and public speaking.

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