Former commander of British forces in Afghanistan Col. Richard Kemp addressed The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Joint International Conference on HAMAS, THE GAZA WAR AND ACCOUNTABILITY UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW. The following is a summary of his address from June 18, 2009.
- The battlefield – in any kind of war – is a place of confusion and chaos, of fast-moving action. In the type of conflict that the Israeli Defense Forces recently fought in Gaza and in Lebanon, and Britain and America are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, these age-old confusions and complexities are made one hundred times worse by the fighting policies and techniques of the enemy.
- Islamist fighting groups study the international laws of armed conflict carefully and they understand it well. They know that a British or Israeli commander and his men are bound by international law and the rules of engagement that flow from it. They then do their utmost to exploit what they view as one of their enemy’s main weaknesses. Their very modus operandi is built on the correct assumption that Western armies will normally abide by the rules, while these insurgents employ a deliberate policy of operating consistently outside international law.
- Civilians and their property are routinely exploited by these groups, in deliberate and flagrant violation of international laws or reasonable norms of civilized behavior. Protected buildings, mosques, schools, and hospitals are used as strongholds. Legal and proportional responses by a Western army will be deliberately exploited and manipulated in order to produce international outcry and condemnation.
- Hamas’ military capability was deliberately positioned behind the human shield of the civilian population. They also ordered, forced when necessary, men, women and children from their own population to stay put in places they knew were about to be attacked by the IDF. Israel was fighting an enemy that is deliberately trying to sacrifice their own people, deliberately trying to lure you into killing their own innocent civilians.
- And Hamas, like Hizbullah, is also highly expert at driving the media agenda. They will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.
- When possible the IDF gave at least four hours’ notice to civilians to leave areas targeted for attack. The IDF dropped over 900,000 leaflets warning the population of impending attacks to allow them to leave designated areas. The IDF phoned over 30,000 Palestinian households in Gaza, urging them in Arabic to leave homes where Hamas might have stashed weapons or be preparing to fight.
- Many attack helicopter missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were cancelled if there was too great a risk of civilian casualties in the area. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza, even though delivering aid virtually into your enemy’s hands is to the military tactician normally quite unthinkable.