Photo Credit: Michael Giladi/Flash90
Israeli Infantry reservists in Gaza.

On March 21, Al Jazeera posted a video that had been captured by an Israeli drone camera “showing it pursuing 4 young Palestinian civilians and targeting them with several missiles in the Al-Sikka area in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.”

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The IDF Spokesman explained that “The area documented in the photo is an active combat zone in the Khan Younis area, which has been significantly evacuated from the civilian population, and where the forces have experienced many encounters with terrorists who fight and move in combat areas in civilian clothing and disguise weapons in buildings and property that are believed to be civilian.”

The spokesman then said, “The incident recorded in the video was submitted to the command staff investigation unit which is an independent inspection body responsible for investigating unusual events that take place during the fighting.”

On Sunday, Haaretz published a lengthy report that treats war and the army fighting in the war as if it were a case of police misconduct. As the report put it, “According to the army’s data, since the outbreak of the war in the south, around 9,000 terrorists have already been killed. However, officers, soldiers, and members of the security establishment told Haaretz that often these are civilians who did not pose any threat and whose only sin was crossing an imaginary line drawn by the forces which permits them to shoot on sight.”

The killing from the air of the four Arabs followed the firing of a rocket from the Gaza Strip at the Israeli city of Ashkelon. The scenario was clear: if Hamas was able – on March 21, months after the IDF invaded Khan Younis – to fire off a rocket from there, it meant Hamas terrorists were roaming about in the area, and the drone operators were instructed to look for them. They did, found the four Arabs, received permission to fire, and eliminated them. Regardless of whether or not they were responsible for the rocket attack, they were in an area marked as a kill zone in a time of war, so they died.

“It is not inconceivable that even Palestinians who had never touched a weapon were elevated to the rank of terrorists upon their death – at least according to the IDF,” the Haaretz report suggests, citing a reserves officer who served in Gaza, who said that “a terrorist, in reality, is anyone the IDF kills within the combat space of a given force.”

Why this fact of warfare that has been the accepted rule since the first caveman took up a big stick and went after another caveman – you get in the way, you die – should trouble Haaretz reporters is a mystery.

Well, not so much a mystery, seeing as Haaretz has been splitting its communications prowess between supporting the IDF and Hamas. It’s what Israeli liberals do in 2024.

The newspaper interviews a senior officer in the southern command who explains that “After six months of fighting, you don’t need to be a great genius to understand that today there are not hundreds or dozens of armed men running around the neighborhood in Khan Younis or Jabalia, with weapons in their hands, fighting the IDF.”

THE HARSH REALITIES OF WAR

So, what do the battles in the Strip look like? According to a reserve officer who was there, “There is usually a terrorist, or two or three, hiding inside a building and those who expose them are fighters with special means and drones.”

Good enough. Now, do we expect the drone operator to turn on her loudspeaker and interrogate those hiding terrorists about their feelings regarding peaceful coexistence with the Jewish State? Probably not. They are in a kill zone, so they are killed. It’s the ultimate example of “no questions asked.”

The boundaries of those elimination areas are not determined in advance but according to the conditions on the ground, the distance from the building where the IDF forces are staying, and also the height dimension. Each force also has an array of observations inside and outside the Strip that detects these threats. But in the end, the limits of the kill zone and the exact procedure regarding the operation in it are subject to the interpretation of the commanders of that combat unit.

“As soon as people, especially adult men, enter the elimination area,” says the reserve officer, “the order is to shoot, even to kill, even if the suspect is not armed.”

Yes, and that’s exactly how it should be. And this inevitably means that noncombatants would die, because the final calculus is not how many innocent Arabs are killed, but how many IDF soldiers are not killed. Also, the decisions whether to kill or not are always up to the commander in the field and so they are often inconsistent.

No one goes down to the combat area to hang boundary markers and big signs explaining the rules of engagement. In war, if you walk into a combat zone, you will probably die, even if you are not armed, even if you carry a copy of the US Constitution in your breast pocket.

At this point I am reminded of Woody Allen’s standup routine about the bullet his mother gave him which he kept in his breast pocket, and one time, in the South, he was looking out of his hotel window and a crazed evangelist threw a Bible at him. If not for the bullet, that Bible would have gone clear through his heart.

But I digress. It so happens that the estimated 300 thousand Arabs who are still roaming about northern Gaza are the weakest population who simply didn’t have the means to flee when the IDF told them to. They are the most likely to run out of food, and so they are also the most likely to go foraging for food and step into a kill zone.

Which brings us to another fact about war: it is unjust and rife with tragedy. Many die who did not deserve to. Let’s all hope that the Nazis in the underground bunkers in Rafah surrender quickly and bring the war to an end. Mostly because, should some lawyer in the Tel Aviv headquarters of the IDF decide to make the rules of engagement more stringent, IDF casualties would soar, God forbid. And we don’t want that.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.