What if President Obama were presented by CIA Chief Panetta with this "actionable intelligence": Osama bin Laden and company are holed up in a Hitler-style bunker underneath a hospital in Afghanistan occupied by women and children deployed as shields? Would he launch an immediate strike with cruise missiles or hesitate because of the hostages? Would such a move thwart future 9/11's and be viewed as the death knell of al Qaeda? Or would there be a firestorm of international protest from the Arab and Muslim world and beyond that the American response was a "disproportionate" violation of humanitarian international law and even a "war crime"?
Such is the real dilemma currently faced by the Israeli high command, which reportedly has intelligence that exactly locates the shaken Hamas war cabinet in Gaza in a bunker beneath a hospital, where it is shielded by women and children. How should Israel act? Destroy the terrorist high command or do nothing, to avoid being blamed for loss of innocent lives by an international community indifferent to the threats from Hamas rockets targeting Jews from Sderot to Tel Aviv's suburbs?
In the lethal "fog of war," even the most-disciplined, best-intentioned armies errantly kill civilians caught in the crossfire as well as their own soldiers who die from friendly fire. Does anybody remember the thousands of French civilians killed by the Allies during World War II's Normandy Invasion? In their current asymmetrical war with Hamas, the Israeli Defense Forces have used cellphone messages, leaflets, and other measures in the attempt to decouple civilians from military targets placed in their midst by the terrorist organization. The flow of hundreds of trucks laden with foodstuffs and medicine into Gaza from Israel has now been expanded into a daily corridor in order to allow further humanitarian supplies to reach noncombatants, even when that means some military activities are suspended for hours. For its restraint, Israel gets nothing but a global diplomatic and media chorus of boos from those willfully blind to the ultimate outrage against humanitarian international law occurring today in Gaza.
Shields protect honorable combatants in the midst of battle. Human shields are the weapon of cowards who violate every principle of humanitarian international law. As Prof. Louis Rene Beres points out, the use of human shields constitutes "perfidy" under Article 147 of the Geneva Convention IV defining the laws of war. The international criminals who use human shields are hostes humani generis: "common enemies of humankind."
The Gaza conflict is likely to be remembered as a terrible watershed, not because the IDF has unintentionally killed Palestinian civilians but because Hamas has made the use of human shields a primary military strategy. Buoyed by the unforgivable silence of leading international NGOs, Hamas deploys two complementary tactics that mock and debase the humanitarian core of international law: thousands of indiscriminate rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians and the massive use of Palestinian civilians—including women and children—as human shields.
Why this willful blindness? For some, it is the romanticized image of Hamas, the pitiful underdog David confronting the giant Israeli Goliath. Yet, in truth, Israel is a sovereign member state of the United Nations that has no need to apologize for creating a military strong enough to defend it from multiple regional threats, including Tehran's genocidal promise to "wipe it off the map." Those who dismiss genocidal threats from Iran and Hamas as mere rhetoric should take a closer look at history. As Ron Rosenbaum recently pointed out, the most significant difference between Adolf Hitler's and Hamas's plans to annihilate the Jewish people is that the Nazis hid their full intent until World War II while Hamas has been promising to do exactly this since its founding charter 20 years ago. And while Hamas does not possess the power of an Adolf Hitler, a nuclearized Iran may be positioned to further the fuehrer's vision of a Judenrein world. It is important to remember that the Nazi leader was incapable of perpetrating the Final Solution until he was empowered by the tacit complicity of a world community that retreated from reality rather than confront the rising tide of evil that was Nazism.
In one sense, the world community is right. The future of international humanitarian law could be at stake in Gaza. But the deadly menace stems not from the IDF but from Hamas's twin campaign of terrorism against both Israeli and Palestinian innocents. The Gaza terrorist state that turns its own people into human shields also threatens to strip the entire civilized world of the protections of international law. Ultimately, Israel will safeguard its own citizens and secure its own destiny, but if the nations of the world do not speak out against Hamas's barbarities, they should be prepared to see such tactics unleashed beyond the borders of the Holy Land, cheered on by the puppet masters of terrorism in Tehran.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center .