Allegations of Israeli war crimes have flown thick and fast since 7 October. Lies, mistruths, obfuscations and basic ignorance about the situation in Gaza, Israel’s rights and obligations during warfare and the nature of Hamas has confused the conversation. Below, we’ve answered some of the questions and challenged some of the myths. Use these in your conversations with friends and colleagues.
Can Israeli troops enter Shifa Hospital?
The laws of armed conflict are clear; Hamas has removed the hospital’s immunity from attack by using it for military purposes. Israeli soldiers entering al-Shifa Hospital are doing so doing so completely legally. The world has known for 16 years about Hamas’s use of the hospital. Any expressions of outrage should be directed only at Hamas and all those people who knew and remained silent. Especially the Red Cross, who should have been screaming from the rooftops about this.
Want to see the many years of evidence?
What evidence is there that Hamas is using Shifa Hosptial for military purposes?
Hamas violently took over Gaza in June 2007, just under two years after Israel withdrew. Media reports about Hamas’s use of the hospital emerged *that month*, such as in this BMJ article.
Articles about Hamas’s use of the Hospital tend to surface when Hamas launches a round of fighting with Israel. In 2009 there were numerous articles, including this one from Haaretz, that revealed Israel built the hospital wing in which Hamas bases its HQ.
This means that Israel has the plans, so finding the basement will be easier.
The New York Times wrote about it in 2009 as well.
That whole article was a fascinating insight into how Hamas fights wars – it might be 14 years old, but it’s still relevant.
American TV channel PBS’s ‘Wide Angle’ news show did a feature on the hospital in 2009, as well. It included this nugget.
We haven’t been able to find the full episode, but the preview shows doctors taking orders from Hamas fighters.
Another round of fighting in 2014 saw more references to Hamas using the hospital. See this one from the Washington Post.
This 2014 article from the Israeli Ynet News discussed how foreign journalists in Gaza are intimidated into silence. It also mentioned the hospital.
And, thanks to Honest Reporting, we’ve seen how some Gazan journalists are complicit in Hamas’s terrorism.
In 2014, the Times of Israel reported how a reporter from the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat noted that Hamas had fired a rocket from the hospital’s carpark. (Sorry, our Finnish is lacking so we can’t find the original story!)
Even human rights organisations, which have long been complicit in ignoring, minimising or justifying Hamas’s war crimes against Israel have occasionally mentioned Hamas use of the hospital. This is usually only when reporting on internal fighting.
This Human Rights Watch report from 2007, which mentioned Hamas shooting from inside the hospital, is an example.
And this one from Amnesty International, which noted Hamas uses the al-Shifa Hospital campus as a detainment and torture centre.
The Amnesty report was from 2015. But way back in 2009, the Palestinian Authority was accusing Hamas of the same thing.
In 2014, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre released an 11-page report documenting Hamas’s use of hospitals for military purposes.
All of the above comes from years before the 7 October massacre that Hamas perpetrated, which sparked this war. And, for years, the international community has known about the problem.
The occasional hand-wringing article is written, like this 2014 example from the Council of Foreign Relations, but the main policy has been to kick the can down the road.
Now, we’re at the end of the road. More evidence has emerged since the 7 October massacre. Like this telephone conversation between an IDF officer and a senior Gazan energy official on 26 October 2023.
And this evidence from a Hamas terrorist.
Since the IDF has entered al-Shifa Hospital, much more evidence has been released.
Who is responsible for the living conditions in Gaza?
As the de facto power of Gaza since 2007 (when it violently seized control from the Palestinian Authority) Hamas is responsible for providing aid to its citizens. Israel completely left Gaza in 2005 and is not responsible for providing aid to Gaza.
Jordan, which is a state with a majority Palestinian population, provides no aid. Iran provides billions of dollars to fund Hamas but not the residents of Gaza. Leaders in these countries regularly slander Israelis and their people rally on the streets but refuse to offer significant aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.
Are the stories of the Hamas massacre lies fabricated by Israel?
The stories of the Hamas massacre are proven by the videos recorded by Hamas terrorists and autopsies of the brutalised victims (WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT). These atrocities happened. Videos from Hamas terrorists prove it.
Can I believe the stats coming out of Gaza?
The numbers of casualties mentioned on media are accredited to the ‘Gaza Health Ministry’, which is Hamas. There is no way to verify the claims made by them and in the past, they have been proven to have lied. For instance, they claimed that 500 people were killed in the al-Ahli hospital explosion (and that it was Israel’s fault), whereas independent reviews have shown that perhaps 20 people were killed (and that it was Islamic Jihad’s fault).
Are the Palestinian news media and journalists reliable sources?
No. Palestinian society does not have a free press like Australia and Israel. Hamas terrorists intimidate journalists reporting from Gaza, influencing what the world is able to see. Many Palestinians also work as reporters or sources for international journalists. These Palestinians often have biases, including social media accounts celebrating terrorism against Israelis. By way of background, Associated Press in Gaza has been compromised for some time (see here and here for examples).
Does Israel have the right to enter Gaza?
Yes. This war was started by Hamas and its brutal massacre of Israeli civilians. Hamas’ clear intention is the eradication of the state of Israel and death to Jews everywhere.
Israel has a responsibility to protect its citizens and ensure the future security of Israel – and destroying the military capacity of Hamas is the only way to achieve that.
Israel remains compliant with international law in its military campaign against Hamas. Its defensive actions, including a likely ground incursion, are legitimate and are supported by the governments of Australia, the US, UK, the EU, India, France, Germany and many others.
What is Israel’s obligation to Gaza’s civilians?
Under the laws of armed conflict, civilians must never be targeted. Israel has repeatedly stated that its fight is with Hamas and it is not intentionally targeting innocent civilians in Gaza. Israel issues warnings prior to strikes that target terrorist weapons stores, tunnels and infrastructure. It warned the population to evacuate regions in northern Gaza for their safety.
Hamas is breaching its obligations to Gazan civilians by instructing them not to evacuate and by using them as human shields.
Why is the Palestinian death toll so much higher than the Israeli one?
People talk about ‘disproportionate force’. ‘Disproportionate force’ is not one where more civilians are killed on one side than the other. Nor is it the number of individual attacks one side carries out. .
Hamas uses its own people as human shields – locating themselves or their military capabilities in civilian areas. This is a war crime and renders those areas valid military targets. Hamas has repeated this war crime thousands of times over, and it is the main reason that civilians in Gaza are killed.
Hamas’ instruction to the population in the north of Gaza not to evacuate also puts Palestinian citizens in increased danger.
Israel has employed the Iron Dome anti rocket system and requires homes and other buildings to have safe rooms or shelters. Israel has evacuated communities from their homes near the Gaza border and on the northern border to protect them. Without these measures, the death toll on the Israeli side would be much higher.
Is Israel using “disproportionate force”?
No. Israel does not use disproportionate force.
Disproportionate force is not a measure of how many civilians are killed on each side. It’s not about the number of individual attacks each side carries out.
Proportionality means that the expected loss of civilian life in an attack against a valid military target should be proportionate to the expected military advantage gained through the attack.
Is Israel committing genocide?
No. The Palestinian population is one of the fastest growing populations in the world. The idea that Israel has been committing ethnic cleansing or genocide is preposterous.
The claim is just as preposterous in the context of the current war between Hamas and Israel. Genocide “refers to the coordinated and planned destruction of a group of people… While genocide is almost always accompanied by mass killing, this crime is an attempt to destroy the group, not necessarily to murder every member of that group.” (Reference here). This certainly doesn’t represent in any way the situation in Gaza.
Israel’s clear and repeatedly stated objective in this war is to remove Hamas from power and retrieve the hostages Hamas took on 7 October. The inadvertent killing of civilians is legally and morally the fault of Hamas, which purposefully endangers its own civilians for tactical and propagandistic purposes.
Have other war crimes been committed?
Yes, Hamas committed many war crimes against Israel in its initial attack – mass murder and executions, torture, rape and kidnap among them.
Every Hamas rocket attack against Israel is deliberately aimed at civilians. Each rocket fired is a war crime.
Hamas has abducted over 200 hostages, among them are babies, young children, the elderly and disabled, and there is evidence they have been brutally treated. Hamas also refuses to share information on their identity and whereabouts.
These aren’t just war crimes, they’re also crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Is Israel collectively punishing the Palestinians in Gaza?
No. Collective punishment is a war crime. Collective punishment is when a group of people are punished for a crime that only part of the group committed.
Israel has made it clear from day one that it is engaged in a war of self-defence against Hamas with a clear military objective of removing Hamas from power, and that the blockade and missile strikes are aspects of this operation. The impact on innocent civilians is a horrible aspect of modern warfare, which is why Israel has gone to great lengths to lessen this impact as much as possible.
But isn’t the blockade collective punishment?
No. There is clear evidence that Hamas used international humanitarian assistance for military purposes. Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention makes clear that Israel is obliged to allow the free passage of humanitarian supplies “subject to the condition that [it] is satisfied that there are no serious reasons for fearing” the goods will accrue “a definite military advantage…to military efforts” of the enemy.
Israel is not preventing humanitarian supplies from entering Gaza. However, it is not supplying them itself. Egypt shares an international border with Gaza, and humanitarian supplies are entering. It has taken some time to ensure that Israel and neutral third parties are satisfied (in line with the Fourth Geneva Convention) that the supplies will not accrue a definite military advantage to Hamas.
Further, previous to Hamas beginning this war on 7 October, Israel was under no obligation to provide electricity and water to Gaza, but did so as part of a suite of policies designed to convince Hamas not to attack Israel. That tactic failed.
Is Israel besieging Gaza?
No. Gaza is not under siege. A siege requires the besieged party to be encircled. Israel does not encircle Gaza – Gaza shares a border with Egypt and Israel has no control over what goes in or out of that border. Humanitarian aid will be entering Gaza from Egypt.
Israel’s blockade is completely within its rights under international law.
What about water, electricity and fuel? It’s a humanitarian crisis!
For years Israel has provided with water and electricity and allowed goods to enter Gaza and Gazans to enter Israel for work or medical reasons despite being under no obligation to do so.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire, and entirely Hamas’s fault. Israel has now closed its borders with Gaza. Hamas has received billions in international humanitarian aid. Rather than spend it on improving conditions for Gazans they have used it to build terrorist tunnels and buy weaponry.
What is Hamas?
Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of Jewish people.
Hamas has long boasted about its desire to kill Israelis, young and old – on 7 October, it did just that.
Do most Palestinians support Hamas and the massacre?
Some Palestinians do support Hamas, but not all.
A September 2023 poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research found that 38 per cent of Gazans supported Hamas. The second most popular party was Fatah, at 25 per cent. Among all Palestinians (West Bank and Gaza combined), 22 per cent supported Hamas.
The same poll found that 67 per cent – two-thirds – of Gazans supported or strongly supported armed attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel. Among all Palestinians, 54 per cent of Palestinians supported or strongly supported such attacks.
Hamas’ education and indoctrination of the Gaza population fosters hatred towards Jews and Israel. From an early age, children are taught that murdering and torturing Jews is honorable.
Isn’t this just Hamas resistance to the occupation?
It’s not about the occupation, the Israeli occupation of Gaza ended 18 years ago.
Since then, the number of Hamas rocket attacks against Israel dramatically increased. This shows that ending the occupation has only increased Hamas’ ability to reach Israelis.
This isn’t even about borders. Hamas just wants to destroy Israel and there is no justification for the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.
How have Australian leaders responded?
All Australian political leaders (apart from the Greens) have condemned Hamas’ atrocious terror attacks and are standing with Israel’s right and duty to defend itself by destroying Hamas’ military capabilities.
The solidarity shown by political leaders – in Parliament, at rallies and in genuine engagement with the community has comforted the Australian Jewish community at a time of trauma.
We also welcome the wall-to-wall condemnation of incitement and threats of violence against the Australian Jewish community.
What happened at al-Ahli hospital?
The terrible explosion that killed so many people at the al-Ahli Hospital was a tragedy.
Hospitals are places of healing, it is devastating that innocent civilians were killed and injured.
There is clear evidence that the explosion was caused by an errant Islamic Jihad rocket intended to hit Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are responsible for the tragic deaths.
How do we know that Palestinian Islamic Jihad was responsible for the hospital explosion?
The IDF shared information confirming the explosion was as a result of a Palestinian rocket, and this conclusion is shared by US intelligence sources and confirmed by President Biden.
The IDF captured a radio conversation between two Hamas terrorists which makes clear that the rocket was fired by Hamas or its allies.
Photos taken a day after the explosion show damage typical of a Palestinian rocket attack, not a crater typically formed by Israeli munitions, which are larger.
So why was it all over the media that it was Israel’s fault?
Unfortunately, some media saw a tragic event unfolding and rather than wait for confirmed information, parroted Hamas’ media release (the ‘Gaza Health Ministry’ is run by Hamas).
Once verified information was released, we saw some – but not all – outlets correct their reports, but first impressions last – even if they’re wrong.
Is Israel an apartheid state?
No. About a quarter of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, but they have the same rights as Israeli Jews. They can vote and be voted for, access all public institutions and services, and so on. Israel outlaws discrimination on the basis of race (as well as gender, religion, sexuality, marital status and so on).
Israeli Arabs are and have been ministers in government, High Court justices, ambassadors and diplomats, high ranking army officials (commanding many thousands of Jewish soldiers), leading entrepreneurs and media personalities.
Want more info? Go here.
This would not be possible in a country that practiced apartheid. Consider the situation in Apartheid South Africa, where people of different races weren’t allowed to share the same buses, beaches or public toilets – such discrimination is outlawed in Israel. In Apartheid South Africa, the idea that the Black population could become High Court justices or government ministers was unheard of.
Israel’s enemies describe Israel as practicing apartheid because the crime of apartheid is beyond the pale, and they do anything and everything they can—including lie—in order to besmirch Israel in the public eye.
But don’t Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have less rights than Israelis?
Yes, they do. That’s because they are not Israelis. Providing West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians with Israeli citizenship would mean that Israel would annex the West Bank, which would prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. The international community’s long-standing policy is the creation of a two-state outcome.
This relative lack of rights is based on citizenship, not race. For instance, Australian citizens have less rights in Israel than Israeli citizens, and vice versa. Ninety per cent of Palestinians in the West Bank are ruled by the Palestinian Authority, which severely restricts their fundamental freedoms of speech, religion , sexuality and more. This is not Israel’s fault.
When a Palestinian state is created, citizens of Palestine will have the rights that that state accords to them.
Colonies are created when people conquer a land from an indigenous people, in the process of expanding an empire. Sometimes, like the US and Australia, colonialists obtain independence. This bears no relation to Israel.
Jews are indigenous to the land. The agricultural, literary, archaeological and cultural evidence overwhelmingly shows that the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel (which is sometimes called Palestine) predates—by some 1600 years—any other extant civilisation or society that has any claim to the area.
Jerusalem was capital of Israel before either of London and Paris were established.
In the first and second centuries CE, most Jews were ethnically cleansed from the area after a series of revolts against the Roman Empire, who were the colonial power at that time. The Romans named the area ‘Palestine’ in 135 CE, in honour of the long vanquished ancient enemy of the Jews, the Philistines.
Although there was a constant Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, from the second century CE, most Jews lived in the Diaspora. From the mid-19th century, Jews from around the world began moving to Israel. They bought land to establish farms, then villages, then cities. They did so not in aid of any empire or any other country but because they were an exiled indigenous people seeking self-determination and the re-establishment of Israel.
But what the Palestinians? Aren’t they (also) indigenous?
Palestinians have legitimate claims and grievances, and a claim to self-determination recognised by both Israel and Australia. While Palestinians have only been calling themselves ‘Palestinian’ since the early 20th century, the Arab conquest (that is, colonisation) of the Land of Israel occurred in the 7th century CE. Today, after centuries of immigration and assimilation, most of the non-Jewish population in the Land of Israel speak a colonialist language (Arabic), worship the colonialist religion (Islam) and identify as belonging to this colonialist ethnicity (Arab).
The two-state outcome envisioned by the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would result in two ethno-centric states – the Jewish state of Israel alongside the Arab state of Palestine.
Rather than give that land to the Palestinians for a state, Jordan annexed the West Bank. In 1967, Jordan joined the war began by Egypt, which became known as the Six Day War. The outcome of that war was that Israel captured the West Bank.
Israel immediately offered to return territory in exchange for peace, but Jordan and the other Arab states refused. So Israel retained the West Bank on a temporary basis, pending the outcome of future peace negotiations. It is still waiting.
In the meantime, Israel allowed some of its civilians to move into the West Bank to re-establish Jewish communities that had been there before they were ethnically cleansed during the 1947-1949 War of Independence. After 1977, more Israelis moved into the West Bank, creating what became known as settlements.
In 1987, Jordan renounced its claim to the West Bank. In 1993, Israel signed the first of a series of peace agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. These granted limited autonomy to newly created ‘Palestinian Authority’. These agreements were interim arrangements, pending the signing of a final status agreement that would settle all claims and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, despite multiple attempts and many offers of statehood, the Palestinians walked away from such talks each time. They have refused to negotiate with Israel since 2014.
Today, 90% of the West Bank Palestinian population is ruled by the Palestinian Authority. Israel retains control of about 40% of the land area of the West Bank. The final borders between Israel and a future state of Palestine will be determined in peace negotiations (that, unfortunately, the Palestinians refuse to attend), as will the fate of the Israeli settlers, the status of Jerusalem and other issues.
Why does the UN pass so many resolutions that condemn Israel?
That’s a good question. The short answer is that there is only one Jewish state (Israel), but 22 Arab countries and a further 35 Muslim-majority countries that (almost) always vote against Israel. Most of the Non-Aligned Movement countries (120 countries) also automatically vote against Israel, due both to their reliance on Arab oil (and so they are pressured to vote as expected) and because of Israel’s public embrace of and by the United States. The UN became openly hostile to Israel from 1974, in the wake of the oil boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil-producing countries the previous year.
The voting habits of Western states in the UN are more nuanced, but still usually against Israel. This is down to diplomatic persuasion and Western sympathies for the Palestinians (and misplaced blame on Israel for their plight).