Global Policy Studies & International Security

Hamas and Israel: A Tactical Disconnect

Yesterday a close friend posted a Palestinian-Israeli “scorecard” on Facebook that illuminates an alarming lack of familiarity with the historical and contemporary complexities that color the ongoing conflict. And while that in and of itself is understandable, mindlessly passing along misinformation is not.

Initially hesitant to reply to my friend’s post – even privately – my internal debate was resolved when I heard air raid sirens sounding throughout greater Tel Aviv. This is because the hundreds of rockets fired at Israel in the past week target civilians. The fact is worth reiterating: Hamas deliberately targets civilians. If one of these rockets happened to penetrate the Iron Dome and explode in my living room, killing or maiming me and my roommates, Palestinians who support Hamas would likely rejoice en masse. That I am not a member of the I.D.F. and am not actively engaged in hostilities – or even Israeli, for that matter – is immaterial.

In contrast, Israel targets Hamas leadership and the weapons they use to act upon their explicit desire to eliminate Jews. While deep hatred is no doubt mutual among extreme elements within both societies, only one side regularly refuses to recognize the right of the other to exist and advocates its wholesale destruction.

The other party to the conflict strives to carry out its military objectives in accordance with internationally recognized laws of war. Principles like distinction, military necessity, and proportionality govern each I.D.F. targeting decision. But the “scorecard” approach corrupts the proportionality principle rooted in Geneva and Hague-based regulations. Proportionality is not assessed with a body count comparison chart that misconstrues the totality of the conflict, but rather looks to whether the military necessity of eliminating long-range rockets strategically stored underneath a school or mosque, for example, is outweighed by the civilian casualties – and likely public relations fallout – that may result from such a strike. Consider the civilian deaths that could result if the missiles are preserved and later deployed. American armed forces weigh these types of decisions on a daily basis.

On top of these calculations, Israel issues advance warnings for such attacks – a courtesy not extended to residents of Tel Aviv or Herzliya, where I live. But Hamas callously instructs Palestinians in Gaza to disregard these warnings. By encouraging the population to stay put, Hamas places its citizens in the line of fire but preserves its ability to wage a sympathy campaign. The sadistic success of this human shield tactic is reflected in Facebook posts like the one circulated by my friend and celebrated with 2,300 “likes” and 4,300 “shares” at last count.

Like past iterations of college seniors who appropriated campus real estate with “Free Tibet” lean-to placards, pro-Palestine “activists” now plaster their adopted cause on the message board de jure: Facebook. To be fair, Palestinians have a sympathetic case to make. Gaza and West Bank residents continue to endure a decades-long occupation that contaminates their daily lives and precludes their pursuit of happiness. Nor do I discount their historical claim to territory presumptively given to the Zionist movement by the Allied powers after World War II. But only one side indiscriminately targets civilians. Palestinian leadership in Gaza severely undermines an otherwise sympathetic cause with tactics that invite a forceful response.

The Palestinian-Israeli issue is contentious because strong arguments can be made from a variety of perspectives. I do not discount the validity of alternative views, and I do not doubt my friend’s ability to make a compelling case from his position-of-choice. I only urge a more complete understanding prior to pushing prepackaged accounts of a complex conflict.

 Photo Credit: Palestinians fire retaliatory rockets into Israel. (File photo from


One reply on “Hamas and Israel: A Tactical Disconnect”

Thank you for adding more nuance to a debate that desperately needs to embrace the problem’s complexity.

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