As the world grapples with the immediate geopolitical effects of the Hamas-Israel war, another battle is unfolding: Hamas’s strategic manipulation of international humanitarian law to undermine Israel on the global stage.
Hamas is acutely aware of Israel’s dedication to abiding by the laws that govern warfare. As a democratic state, Israel has consistently demonstrated its commitment to minimizing civilian casualties and adhering to these principles. In fact, Hamas exploits Israel’s commitment to the laws of war while falsely touting its own.
Hamas knows precisely how to pay lip service to, and garner favor from, international legal institutions. For example, on October 30, the terror group urged the International Criminal Court to “investigate the Zionist military aggression, as all the conditions for prosecuting these crimes before the International Criminal Court are met,” while also affirming that the court, “in its ruling of February 5, 2021, determined that Palestine is a state and has judicial authority over all crimes committed on all occupied Palestinian territories.” Similarly, Hamas reportedly published a weekly list of all alleged Israeli violations of international law during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
This ostensible commitment, unsurprisingly, contrasts starkly with Hamas’s actions on the ground, not least its firing of thousands of indiscriminate rockets at Israeli cities and towns. By deliberately targeting Israeli civilians, as seen on October 7, when Hamas terrorists murdered 1,400 Israelis, and during its numerous prior escalations over the years, Hamas has continually breached this sacrosanct rule of international law.
Hamas also violates international law by embedding military personnel and assets in densely populated areas. These actions create moral and strategic dilemmas for Israel, and when Hamas rockets misfire, it’s Palestinian civilians who pay the price. The saga of the misfired terror rocket that struck the area around Gaza’s al-Ahli Baptist Hospital is the most recent example.
Hamas adeptly exploits civilian casualties in Gaza—whether caused by itself or the IDF—to fuel international criticism of Israel. Through a well-orchestrated media campaign that hits many standard progressive talking points (such as “liberation from settler colonialism” and similar slogans), Hamas paints a narrative of Israel as the aggressor, conveniently omitting its own legal violations and genocidal intent. By doing so, it not only garners sympathy but also diverts attention from its own transgressions.
The tragic reality is that, in the fog of war, civilian casualties are inevitable. And while Hamas often strategically orchestrates these casualties, critics unjustly blame Israel, arguing that its use of force is disproportionate and that it should exercise more restraint. Faced with an adversary that does all it can to maximize civilian casualties on its own side, Israel’s options are limited. Yet Israel is still more committed to protecting civilians in Gaza than Hamas is.
Hamas’s legal manipulations have broader implications. By allowing such deceptive tactics to shape the narrative, we risk undermining the foundations of international law. If groups like Hamas are allowed to continue to weaponize these principles, it will set a dangerous precedent that other terrorist organizations will exploit.
The recent decision to let Iran—the leading state sponsor of terror and a country with a record of oppression, torture, and executions of its own population—chair a UN human rights forum also shows the risks of such manipulations of humanitarian law. Acceptance of such appointments undermines the UN’s founding principles. The international community must reckon with the fact that the human rights system it has spent nearly a century cultivating can be rigged so easily against functioning democracies.
It’s crucial that we see through Hamas’s sophistry and recognize the strategic manipulation at play. Led by the United States, the world must stand firm against such tactics, ensuring that the principles of humanitarian law are upheld, not manipulated to serve the interests of those who despise them.
Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images