As an army which is unsurpassed in its moral traditions, the IDF has done all that it can in order to adhere to international law, in order to avoid harming civilians who are not involved in fighting.
Throughout the recent war in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insisted that it took extraordinary care to spare civilians. But it then prevented journalists and human rights monitors from entering Gaza during the conflict to independently verify this claim.
Now that Human Rights Watch and other observers have been let in, it has become clear that hundreds of Palestinian civilians were not the only casualties of the fighting. So was the credibility of the IDF.
Part of the problem was the IDF’s expansive definition of a military target. It attacked a range of civilian facilities, from government offices to police stations, on the theory that they all provided at least indirect support to Hamas militants. But by that theory, Hamas would have been entitled to target virtually any government building in Israel on the ground that its office workers indirectly supported the IDF. That would make a mockery of the distinction between civilians and combatants that lies at the heart of the laws of war, which require direct support to military activity before civilians become legitimate military targets. Behind the unsupportable legal claim seemed to lie a determination to make Gazans suffer for the presence of Hamas–a prohibited purpose for using military force.