Imagine this: A siren blares, you are holding your child’s hand, you know in barely 15 seconds a Qassam rocket will land only yards away.
There is no shelter to run to. In 15 seconds, a missile will unleash a hailstorm of death – pieces of shrapnel flying through the air; blinding, maiming and killing. You are holding your child’s hand.
Without thinking, an Israeli mother or father will shield their child. In those 15 seconds – where the sound of the siren may well be the last thing you hear on this Earth – children are shielded by their parents. A human shield. A shield of love
Now try to comprehend this.
In Gaza, children are crammed into targeted buildings. Sometimes forced to wait on rooftops, children are then ejected from these buildings, forced to ‘escort’ targeted militants – with no guarantee for their personal safety. A human shield. A shield of hate.
It is a perverse strategy – a sick practice which is stomach-churning to even describe. For Hamas, their nation’s own children are expendable in a murderous struggle to kill innocents. For Israelis, children are the first people they think of protecting.
In the South of Israel, families have only 15 seconds to find a shelter. There is no warning other than the mentally paralysing sirens.
Compare this to the practice of the IDF in Gaza. Thousands of leaflets are dropped on civilian areas. “Don’t stand idle as the terrorist elements use you,” they warn in Arabic. Thousands of phone calls are made to homes in the civilian areas which Hamas operates in. “Anyone who is present in these buildings risks their lives”, automated messages caution.
Hamas are guilty of a double war crime. They fire upon civilian areas from civilian areas. They endanger their own people while considering all Israelis as legitimate targets.
Israel, however, safeguards both its own population – while taking every effort to protect Palestinian civilians who have to face the horrors of conflict forced upon them by the oppressive regime they live under.
Civilians in a combat zone are protected persons under Israeli law. It is a precedent enshrined into Israel’s constitution. The military are legally mandated to take every possible measure to protect the lives of innocent bystanders in times of active conflict. Petitions are even brought to Israel’s Supreme Court in real time to ensure such precedents are carried out.
We often here the term ‘disproportionate’ bandied about to condemn and demonise the efforts of a military tasked to defend its country against unprovoked aggression. The term isn’t a bad one. The IDF does act disproportionately. It acts disproportionately to defend the lives of civilians on both sides. It invests millions into defensive projects such as Iron Dome – designed to protect civilians from never again having to fear from rocket attacks. In times of active conflict, it does all it can to exclusively target combatants.
For the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, the IDF has done “more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare.”
Israelis love life.
It’s simple really.
We think about conflict in the Middle East in terms of grand geo-political strategies. Of American power and Iranian ascendancy. Of Arab oil reserves and Western dependency.
It’s far more simple than that.
It’s a fight between those who yearn for peace, and those who fetishise war.
It’s a fight between those who love life, and those who crave death.
Let us pray both Palestinians and Israelis fight for life. Only then will there be peace.
Jonathan Hunter is the UK Campus Director of StandWithUs, an international nonprofit organisation advocating for Israel in 16 chapters around the world