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OPINION: Hamas is distorting international law as weapon in its war on Israel

The Toronto Sun

November 14, 2023

By Michael Mostyn and David Matas

Anti-Zionists attack Israel. Israel responds. Anti-Zionists assert, invariably, that the Israeli response violates international law. The criticism of the Israeli response to Hamas’ unprovoked Oct. 7 attack is no different. Unfounded claims, emanating from flawed sources, are given unearned credibility.

Facts matter. Hamas is a genocidal Islamist terrorist group hellbent on wiping out Jews and sabotaging Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Hamas uses schools in Gaza to indoctrinate children in hatred towards Israel and the Jews, then trains them to become suicide bombers.

At B’nai Brith Canada, we have repeatedly raised concerns about the hateful curricula used in Palestinian classrooms – something Canadians are unwittingly supporting through government aid to the United Nations Refugees and Works Agency, which funds many schools in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 carried out a grotesque massacre of some 1,400 innocent Israelis, with many others raped, tortured and critically maimed. Dozens have been abducted to Gaza, where they are being held as bargaining chips to deter Israel from responding in an effective way.

In tandem with terrorism, Hamas tries to delegitimize Israel on the global stage. An unfortunate instance of this transpired recently, when Canadian officials and journalists allowed the spread of the Hamas fabrication that Israel had struck the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City and killed some 500 people. In fact, a terrorist rocket misfired and landed near the facility. Evidence quickly mounted that the initial death toll was greatly exaggerated, which was highly predictable given that Hamas controls the Gazan Health Ministry. Hamas fighters disguise themselves as civilians, making it much easier for them to say Israel is targeting innocents.

Fabrications such as these appear to have influenced MP Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West), who also serves as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs. He recently wrote: “Collective punishment is prohibited (by international law which) requires the protection of civilians. … constituents all over Don Valley West, have been gravely concerned by Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and horrified by the attacks on civilian men, women and children in Gaza’s residential neighbourhoods. I condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms. Even in the face of terrorism, international law must be upheld.”

Oliphant, it is apparent, is blaming Israel for the death of Palestinian civilians. Yet, legally, according to international law, Hamas is responsible for their deaths. An author wrote in 2009 in an International Committee of the Red Cross publication: “Military objectives protected by human shields do not cease to be legitimate targets for attack simply because of the presence of those shields.” A NATO publication wrote in 2014: “The use of human shields can be considered an example of ‘lawfare’ – i.e. the use of the legal system against an enemy by damaging or delegitimizing them, tying up their time or winning a public relations victory.”

In Gaza, where Hamas is hiding underground in a labyrinthine terror tunnel system, it is nearly impossible to carry out military operations without harming some innocents. And Hamas’ casualty figures are questionable at best. The terrorist group stores arms, munitions and even launch pads at or near civilian installations, including mosques and hospitals. Hamas has targeted Palestinians, intimidating or killing dissidents to frustrate any resettlement or integration with Israel.

Oliphant’s constituents in Don Valley West – or residents of anywhere else in Canada, for that matter – who are truly concerned about Palestinian civilian deaths should be calling on Hamas to stop using Palestinians as human shields, start wearing military uniforms so that they are distinguishable from civilians, cease attacking Israel, and stop storing arms and terrorists in or near civilian sites.Hamas is exploiting Israel’s adherence to the rules of war by pretending to import food and medical supplies, when they are in fact importing armaments and rockets. They divert international humanitarian aid to purchase weapons. Through all of this, Hamas blames Israel for Palestinians’ suffering, even though they are the ones causing it.

Israel and the Jewish people are not the only ones facing the consequences of Hamas terrorism. Those who suffer from it are also Palestinians because global ignorance amplifies Hamas’ propaganda. In the absence of Hamas’ unconditional surrender, anyone assessing Israel’s compliance with international law needs to consider Hamas’ treacherous methods.

People who oppose killing innocent people, whether Israeli or Palestinian, need to take a hard look at Hamas and its actions. Knee-jerk claims that Israel is violating international law in its response to Hamas terrorism help only Hamas. Anyone who gives credence to these claims is harming both Palestinians and Jews.

Michael Mostyn is CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. David Matas is an international human rights lawyer and senior legal counsel to B’nai Brith Canada.