Sunday, January 11, 2009

War Crimes

An article in the New York Times -- A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery -- describes "a war of new tactics, quick adaptation and lethal tricks" that is now taking place, as Israel and Hamas slug it out on the streets of Gaza:
Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say.

Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. The militants emerge from tunnels to shoot automatic weapons or antitank missiles, then disappear back inside, hoping to lure the Israeli soldiers with their fire.

In one apartment building in Zeitoun, in northern Gaza, Hamas set an inventive, deadly trap. According to an Israeli journalist embedded with Israeli troops, the militants placed a mannequin in a hallway off the building’s main entrance. They hoped to draw fire from Israeli soldiers who might, through the blur of night vision goggles and split-second decisions, mistake the figure for a fighter. The mannequin was rigged to explode and bring down the building.

The deliberate exploitation of civilians by Hamas in this manner, the use of schools and mosques as ammunition dumps; the wearing of civilian clothes by Hamas' fighters -- are clear violations of internationally-agreed ethical conduct during wartime.

Yet, it is appalling how the focus of criticism, in this case as in times past, is on Israel -- a nation which by all appearances is making a concerted effort to abide my the rules of war, including the targeting of civilians.

Meanwhile, in another candid report, the New York Times reveals a scene from a Gazan hospital and the shocking reaction of one terrorist to the suffering around him:

A car arrived with more patients. One was a 21-year-old man with shrapnel in his left leg who demanded quick treatment. He turned out to be a militant with Islamic Jihad. He was smiling a big smile.

“Hurry, I must get back so I can keep fighting,” he told the doctors.

He was told that there were more serious cases than his, that he needed to wait. But he insisted. “We are fighting the Israelis,” he said. “When we fire we run, but they hit back so fast. We run into the houses to get away.” He continued smiling.

“Why are you so happy?” this reporter asked. “Look around you.”

A girl who looked about 18 screamed as a surgeon removed shrapnel from her leg. An elderly man was soaked in blood. A baby a few weeks old and slightly wounded looked around helplessly. A man lay with parts of his brain coming out. His family wailed at his side.

“Don’t you see that these people are hurting?” the militant was asked.

“But I am from the people, too,” he said, his smile incandescent. “They lost their loved ones as martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too.”

It is questionable whether the people of Gaza share his enthusiasm.