Type in “war crimes” in Google and you get both the Wikipedia definition and examples of countries associated with the term including Japan, US, and...Israel. The coupling of “war crime” and Israel is not new, and indeed much of the international media and foreign leadership favor using the term to describe Israel’s recent operations in the Gaza Strip.
The Wall Street Journal on January 10 published an article entitled "Israel is Committing War Crimes” by George Bisharat, who wrote that "Israel's current assault on the Gaza Strip cannot be justified by self-defense. Rather, it involves serious violations of international law, including war crimes."
Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as follows: "Willful killing, torture, or inhuman treatment, including...willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health,...taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."
The International Committee of the Red Cross further elaborates on the Geneva Conventions, stating that: "The parties to conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare the civilian population and civilian property. Neither the civilian population as a whole nor individual civilians may be attacked." (www.icrc.org)
Based on the above definition of war crimes, one must then ask why the international community and press refrain from calling Hamas’ actions against Israel - war crimes.
Eight years of intensive Palestinian rocket fire targeting the civilian population of Sderot and the western Negev, where Hamas rockets have shattered the peace and quiet of Israeli residents to the point that 70-94% of Sderot children suffer from PTSD symptoms - are clear acts against humanity.
Palestinian rocket fire does not differentiate between Israeli civilians or soldiers, between residential homes and army bases. In fact, after Operation Cast Lead began, Hamas rockets struck nine Israeli schools. In the past eight months, three Israeli synagogues have been hit, including two in recent weeks. In the past two months, Palestinian rockets have slammed into countless Israeli homes, playgrounds, and residential neighborhoods.
Blatant disregard for Palestinian livesIn Sderot, terror has become an entrenched part of one’s daily life. Waking up to the sound of the rocket warning system at 4 am, racing to the shelter in 15 seconds time, seeing the homes of neighbors and families destroyed, and watching residents convulsing in shock - these are the realities to which Sderot children are born into. Over 5,000 Sderot residents have been forced to leave the city because of the rocket attacks in the past eight years.
Indeed, as for the willful aspects of war crimes, the Hamas leadership makes no attempt to hide its intention and celebration of destroying Israeli life. Palestinian Media Watch recently documented Hamas TV (al-Aqsa TV, December 28, 2008) showing pictures of Hamas fighters shooting at Israel with visuals of skulls dripping with blood in the background. Captions for the program included "Let them Taste Violent Death” and "Send Them Hell, Qassam Missile."
However, while Hamas celebrates and revels in the death of Israeli civilians, its blatant disregard for human life extends to the Palestinian people as well.
A recent TIME’s article on the Gaza mosque destroyed by Israel on January 2, after it had been used by Islamic militants to store weapons, reported that “Hamas boasted that more than 100 of the mosque’s worshippers have been killed in past missions against Israel.”
If the term war crime is to be used at any point during the recent Gaza conflict, it would best be served to describe the actions of Hamas - both against Israelis and Palestinian civilians. Labeling Hamas’ war on Israel in any other way completely disregards the reality that Israelis and Palestinians have been forced to endure since Hamas’ rise to power.
Anav Silverman is the International Correspondent at Sderot Media Center. She made Aliyah from Maine, USA in 2004 and is a student at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.