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Contrary to the rapid accusations of war crimes against the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza, a comprehensive examination of the circumstances surrounding these allegations is often lacking. The determination of whether an attack and the resulting civilian casualties are lawful requires an assessment of key dimensions aligned with widely accepted principles of international humanitarian law. These principles include military necessity, proportionality, distinction, humanity, and honor.

While President Joe Biden and several European countries express concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, they concurrently support Israel's right to self-defense. The legal status of Gaza remains unresolved under international law, but Israel's immediate and unilateral self-defense, as recognized by Article 51 of the UN Charter, allows it to enter the territory and use force for defensive operations. Israel has committed to adhering to international law, with proportionality being a cornerstone.

Proportionality, often misconstrued, doesn't mandate an equal number of civilian casualties on both sides. Instead, it requires an assessment of anticipated civilian harm compared to the expected concrete and direct military advantage. Under UN protocols, a high civilian death count could be deemed legal if the military objective holds significant value. In the recent incident in Jabalya, the IDF claimed to target a senior Hamas commander overseeing all military operations in northern Gaza. This objective likely meets the proportional criteria. Additionally, Israel argued that the loss of life was exacerbated by Hamas-built tunnels weakening the targeted structure, leading to its collapse during the strike.

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Furthermore, the attack aligns with the principle of "military necessity," signifying that the action was essential for pursuing a legitimate military goal, such as neutralizing enemy troops, rather than an illicit objective aimed at causing civilian suffering. The IDF asserts that its objective is to eliminate rockets, ammunition depots, and the infrastructure embedded by Hamas within the civilian population. Several military experts have evaluated Israel's efforts in the Gaza campaign, indicating a commitment to complying with the laws of armed conflict.

Of the remaining principles of the law of war—distinction, humanity, and honor in the conduct of war—distinction presents a complex challenge. It mandates Israel to differentiate between the civilian population and combatants, as well as between civilian facilities and military targets, while taking all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Observations suggest that the IDF is implementing, and sometimes surpassing, best practices developed to mitigate harm to civilians in large-scale urban battles. Unprecedented tactics include notifying occupants of buildings before air strikes, even at the risk of alerting the enemy, and dropping small munitions on buildings for additional warning.

The IDF has undertaken extensive efforts to alert civilians about impending airstrikes through various channels, including multimedia broadcasts, texts, and flyer drops. Additionally, they have designated non-targeted routes for civilians to evacuate safely. However, tragic reports indicate that Palestinians who relocated from northern to southern Gaza for safety were subsequently killed as the conflict unfolded.

In situations where Hamas repurposes hospitals, schools, or mosques for military purposes, these sites can lose their protected status and become legal military targets. While Israel must make every feasible attempt to evacuate civilians from such sites, they are not required to be devoid of civilians before being targeted.

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Regrettably, completely evacuating a city of all civilians before engaging in an urban battle is practically unfeasible. Factors such as the elderly, infirm, hospitalized individuals, and those with similar constraints make evacuation impossible for some. In the densely populated Gaza Strip, where escape options are limited and border crossings remain closed for most Palestinians, a higher proportion of civilians is likely to stay, either due to personal objections or warnings from Hamas.

Even if Hamas neglects its obligation to take precautions for civilian safety, Israel, in contrast, should and does prioritize minimizing harm to civilians. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) can implement measures such as confining its forces to smaller portions of larger urban areas, providing safe zones and evacuation routes, limiting the use of airstrikes and artillery near safe areas or civilian gatherings, and continuing cooperation with the US to facilitate humanitarian aid entry into Gaza.

While the pursuit of a terrorist organization inevitably creates a nightmarish landscape of war, the disturbing visuals in Gaza echo scenes from past campaigns against groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. Successful campaigns in places like Mosul and Raqqa, supported or led by the US, resulted in significant damage and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. The grim reality of defeating terrorism often portrays urban areas as if intentionally razed or indiscriminately bombed, but Israel's military capacity to do so, which it refrains from employing, underscores its commitment to respecting the rules of war. This underscores that the campaign is not driven by revenge, as some may mischaracterize it, but rather a careful defensive effort to ensure Israel's survival.

In conclusion, navigating the complexities of urban warfare, particularly in the densely populated Gaza Strip, poses formidable challenges. Despite the inherent difficulties in evacuating all civilians, especially the vulnerable, from a city before conflict ensues, it is imperative that Israel continues to prioritize minimizing harm to non-combatants. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) can enhance its efforts by refining strategies such as confining forces to specific urban areas, providing safe zones, and limiting the use of destructive measures near civilian concentrations.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza, marked by visually distressing scenes reminiscent of past campaigns against terrorist organizations, underscores the nightmarish nature of battling entrenched adversaries. The significant damage and displacement experienced in previous successful campaigns against groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS serve as a stark reminder of the unavoidable toll such operations take on civilian populations.

Importantly, Israel's commitment to refraining from employing its full military capacity, despite possessing the capability to do so, reflects a dedication to upholding the rules of war. This stands in stark contrast to the mischaracterization of the campaign as one driven by revenge. Instead, it underscores the careful and defensive nature of the operation, aimed at ensuring Israel's survival in the face of persistent threats. In navigating this challenging landscape, continued cooperation with international partners for humanitarian aid and a nuanced approach to military tactics will be crucial for achieving a resolution that minimizes harm to civilians and ensures long-term stability in the region.

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