The International Society for Military Ethics in Europe
Leadership. Ethics. Service.

By Daniel Beaudoin

We are now three months into the Gaza war, and I am still trying to wrap my head around the  events of the horrific Hamas slaughter on October 7, 2023. My involvement in the conflict is personal, since I am a retired Lt. Col. of the Israel Defense Forces, and my home is Israel.

Much of the the media, and many academics portray Israel as a gross violator of the laws of armed conflict, morally corrupt as it demonstrates a wanton disregard for the lives of innocents, and vengeful in its motivation. Human rights organizations call for formal investigations for war crimes committed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and others claim that the toll being inflicted on the vast majority of innocent Palestinians is unjust.

This criticism is largely unfounded. Israel is operating justly against the terror organization Hamas, it applies the principle of distinction in its targeting of terrorists and their infrastructure, and abides by the principle of proportionality as measures the  anticipated collateral damage to civilians and civilian objects against military advantage.

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Just cause 

Hamas’s charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, and views the "problem  of Palestine" as a religious-political Muslim issue, and the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation as  a conflict between Islam and the "infidel" Jews (including the West). There is little chance of negotiating with Hamas, since it refuses to recognize the  State of Israel's right to exist as an independent, sovereign nation, and advocates for the  waging of a ceaseless jihad (holy war) against it and total opposition to any agreement or  arrangement that would recognize its right to exist.  

Since 2007, when it took control of Gaza, Hamas has pursued a policy of terror against Israel, leading to terror attacks against Israeli civilians and the firing of tens of thousands of rockets at Israeli communities and cities.  

On the morning of Saturday, October 7, 2023, thousands of armed terrorists led by Hamas  broke through the border fence between Israel and Gaza, using explosive devices and  bulldozers, after taking down the IDF’s observation equipment. Backed by a massive barrage of rockets fired toward Israel, convoys of terrorists, armed with machine guns, hand grenades, and RPGs, streamed into Israeli territory. They slaughtered more than 1,400  people and wounded 3,400 others in towns and kibbutzim across southern Israel.

It was  the deadliest day for Jewish people since the Holocaust. Most of those killed were civilians,  including many children and babies, who were shot, decapitated, blown up or burned to  death. Hundreds of young people were also massacred and raped at a music festival, and  Hamas seized around 240 hostages back to Gaza. These crimes constitute genocide under Article 8 of  the Rome statute.

Israel is justified – and even has an obligation to the citizens for whom it is responsible – to  act in such a way that ensures that Hamas cannot continue attacking the country or threaten its security. 


Considering the major threat that Hamas poses to the State of Israel, attacking it  and neutralizing its military capabilities, is expected to bring a critical military advantage to Israel. If Israel does not remove this threat, residents of southern Israel will not be able to return to their homes, and Hamas will have made it impossible to fulfill its sovereign duty over the south of Israel.

Tragically, and unfortunately for the Palestinians in the Gaza strip, Hamas grossly infringes upon their human rights, and puts them intentionally in harm’s way when it operates amongst and behind civilians and their infrastructures. These infrastructures become legitimate military targets when they lose their civilian nature due to their use by Hamas, and become lawful military targets

In a reply to an "Open Letter on the Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza" published by Oxford University  professors, 6 Israeli ethical philosophers emphasize that “Gaza is one of the most crowded territories in the world, making it extraordinarily difficult to fight in it without considerable  collateral casualties”.

Moreover, “Hamas notoriously and intentionally positions its  headquarters, missiles, and tunnels in and below hospitals, schools, mosques, and other  civilian facilities, thus deliberately using their own civilians as human shields, both to  discourage attack and to implicate Israel as responsible for civilian casualties. The most  prominent example is the construction of the main Hamas headquarters underneath the  central Shifa hospital.” 

More emphatically, the authors claim, “nearly all legitimate Hamas targets are deliberately  located within civilian areas. There are some open fields in the Gaza strip, yet Hamas  remains within the heavily populated areas, “ensuring that military installations and missiles  launchers are placed amongst the Gazan population”. It is thus practically impossible for Israel to defend itself without aiming at Hamas targets that are deliberately interwoven with  the civilian population. 

This is a purposeful strategy by Hamas, meant to use civilians as shields in order to thwart Israeli operations by generating international opprobrium against Israel, thus exerting political pressure on Israel to cease its operations by painting the IDF’s military campaign as illegitimate. 


Beyond the principle of distinction, Israel must also abide by the principle of proportionality.  According to this principle, an attack against a military objective will be unlawful if the  anticipated collateral damage to civilians and civilian objects would be excessive in relation  to the military advantage expected from the attack. 

To eliminate Hamas’ military capabilities, Israel is forced to carry out massive successive strikes in the heart of the civilian population. Due to the very significant military advantage this would afford, even if a considerable number of civilians are harmed this does not necessarily mean that the attacks are disproportionate, and as such, an attack of this sort can be considered legal.

Moreover, and as discussed above, those civilian buildings used for military purposes have forfeited their civilian nature by the military use, and therefore the damage to such structures in the attacks are not part of the proportionality equation. 

Again in the riposte to the open letter, the authors emphasise that Israel is engaged in  targeted and systematic attacks on “specific Hamas combatant units, missile batteries, and  the extensive 500 km underground tunnel-system stretching across the whole of the Gaza  strip. This tunnel system, fortified with concrete, replete with electricity and fuel-powered  ventilation, was constructed by Hamas to shield over 30,000 operatives”.

In conclusion

The claims that the Israeli bombardment is indiscriminate, deliberately wanton, are disingenuous. 

I do not believe that the IDF is morally infallible; however, it seems to me that a great part of  the criticism against it seems unfounded. It is important to remember that Hamas is not a  peace-loving Palestinian victim and Israel’s goal is not to keep the Palestinian people under occupation. Rather, Israel’s enemy is a hostile, powerful, and cruel organization that seeks to  destroy it, and is ready to pay with the lives of its own people.

The Hamas terror organization is not concerned for the social welfare, nor for the freedom of Palestinians – it is sacrificing Palestinians to pursue its only goal-the annihilation of the State of Israel.


The views expressed are personal, and those of the author.


The author and his wife taking cover as the Iron Dome intercepts 2 missiles fired by Hamas at Raanana, a city in the center of Israel."   "The author and his wife taking cover as the Iron Dome intercepts 2 missiles fired by Hamas at Raanana, a city in the center of Israel. The author and his wife taking cover as the Iron Dome intercepts 2 missiles fired by Hamas at Raanana, a city in the center of Israel (private photo).

About the author: LtCol (Res.) Dr. Daniel Beaudoin is a professor at Tel Aviv University, where he teaches on humanitarian diplomacy, the politics of aid, and human rights. He delivers workshops on humanitarian crisis management and has significant experience in facilitating humanitarian operations in complex emergencies.

Picture credit: israel palacio on Unsplash

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