the human "shield"
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
This week Prime Minister Netanyahu brought to light the contrast between Israel and Hamas up when he said - ""For us, every time there are civilian casualties, that's an operational failure. For them, every time there are civilian casualties, that's an operational success." Over the past few days we once again saw the Hamas terrorists commit "a double war-crime" by targeting Israeli civilians with rocket fire and by embedding themselves within their own civilian populations using them as human shields. Israel's policy in combating terrorists has always been to do whatever it takes to avoid civilian casualties. Yet, over the years Israel has lost many soldiers and often compromised its military's effectiveness in its attempts to reduce civilian casualties. What is the Torah's view on this complex issue?
In the book of Samuel the Torah relates that G-d commanded King Saul to destroy the evil nation of Amalek. King Saul warned the (non-Amalek) Keini people who lived in the vicinity to evacuate their homes lest they be harmed in the course of the war. King Saul was prepared to endanger civilians in the course of war (and therefore told them to leave) and was not censured for this. It seems clear that at times of war one may even harm a completely innocent nation living in proximity to the enemy, provided ample warning has been given, if no viable alternative exists.
Today we are clearly in a time of war. Our enemies constantly threaten us, seeking our land and total destruction. In the laws of warfare Torah shows compassion for our enemies. In certain situations we are even required to leave one side open when besieging a city to give the enemy a chance to escape. The IDF does justly by dropping leaflets and making thousands of phone-calls warning civilians to evacuate, just as King Saul warned the Keini people to move away from Amalek.
But beyond that the war must be waged effectively. Compassion for those civilians who refuse to leave cannot compromise the war effort. If proper execution of battle plans necessitates killing non-combatants, who have been warned, it is permissible and even mandatory to do so. When all precautions have been taken the moral obligation of the army is to win the war, protect the Jewish nation and achieve this with minimum Jewish loss. If this necessitates loss of civilian life, it is unfortunate, but necessary.