The Islamist terrorist group Hamas has launched hundreds of rockets into Israel over the last few days from the Gaza strip, which it controls. In response, the Israeli army has announced the launch of "Operation Protective Edge," a new campaign to end attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza and is preparing for a possible ground invasion.
Jewish-Arab tensions have been soaring since the abduction and murder by Hamas of three Israeli teenagers: Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel by terrorists. The situation was further exacerbated when 17-year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, an Israeli-Arab, was abducted and burned alive in a suspected revenge killing by seven Israeli extremists. The spate of murders was strongly condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
It is important to understand who Hamas is and what their goals are. According to the Council on Foreign Relations: "Hamas combines Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism. Its founding charter commits the group to the destruction of Israel, the replacement of the PA (Palestinian AUthority) with an Islamist state on the West Bank and Gaza, and to raising 'the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.' "
Hamas was founded as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and share that group's goals and ideology. After the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power an Egypt triggered by a popular uprising, deposed President Morsi was put on trial for colluding with Hamas. In March this year, an Egyptian court banned Hamas and ordered its activities to cease, its offices closed and its assets seized.
The Hamas leadership, despite earlier predictions that they were not interested in an escalation, seem to be willing to open a full-scale confrontation with Israel. Some of their leaders are openly calling for a third intifada.
Hamas' deputy political bureau chief, Moussa Abu Marzouk, posted on his Facebook page: "Today, we are all called upon for a popular intifada, an intifada for prisoner Jerusalem. Today, more than ever before, we are demanded to express our rejection of the occupation … we are sick of talk of resolutions and peace." This echoed calls for intifada that were chanted at the funeral of Abu Khdeir.
Hamas is currently in a unity government with the Fatah movement, sharing control of the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas' Fatah movement today declared their support for Hamas' rocket attacks. A posting on the groups official Facebook page declared that Fatah, Hamas' military wing and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are all "brothers in arms" sharing "One God, one homeland, one enemy, one goal."
This latest bout of conflict between Israel and Hamas was caused by Hamas' longstanding goals of destroying the Jewish state, and greatly exacerbated by its policy of deliberately placing civilians, especially the weak and vulnerable, in harm's way.
Hamas' policy of deliberately targeting civilians in indiscriminate aerial attacks breaches the Fourth Geneva Convention, created, as it says in its preamble "for the purpose of establishing a Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War." It was signed in the aftermath of World War II in order to prevent a repeat of some of the atrocities seen during that war, in particular the carpet-bombing of cities such as Coventry (by the Germans) and Dresden (by the British). Other conventions deal with the treatment of prisoners, provisions for the sick and wounded and other matters.
Hamas has so far fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the two main population cities in Israel. This shows an increase in the range of rockets since the last flare-up in 2012 and has sent over a million Israelis running to bomb shelters.
According to the BBC, "The military wing of Hamas has warned that all Israelis are targets."
Hamas has also failed in their requirement, provided by article 88 of the Geneva Convention to provide adequate air raid shelters to its population. On the contrary, they have a deliberate policy of using the population of Gaza as human shields.
This is in breach of an additional protocol mandating that "parties to the conflict shall to the maximum extent feasible … avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas."
Most recently this policy was put into place on Tuesday in Khan Younis, a city south of Gaza, when Israel targeted the home of a Hamas operative. According to Pakistani newspaper, The News International: "Witnesses said an Israeli drone fired a warning flare, prompting relatives and neighbors to gather at the house as a human shield and that, shortly afterwards, an F-16 warplane fired a missile that levelled the building." Seven people were killed.
In the eyes of Hamas, every Palestinian killed is another photo opportunity and another way to build popular support, playing on anger against Israel. It was the deaths of two teenagers on Tuesday, whom Hamas had sent to the house of one of its operatives to act as human shields, that was used as the pretext to announce the targeting of all Israelis. Rather than heed the warnings sent by Israel to avoid the imminent strike, Hamas purposely engineered the deaths of civilians in order to gain a propaganda boost.
Elliot Friendland is a research fellow with The Clarion Project.