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  • ACRI

Questions and Answers: International Humanitarian Law Principles in Times of Warfare

On Saturday, October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a murderous attack on Israel. Its members breached the border from Gaza and carried out indiscriminate slaughter, killing thousands of innocent people. Thousands of missiles were fired towards Israel. Over 200 people, including the elderly, toddlers, and women, were abducted. These are horrifying war crimes.


The attack was accompanied by a declaration of war by Hamas, and in response to these events, the Israeli government declared a state of war. Alongside intense fighting against Hamas forces that infiltrated into Israel and the attempt to restore calm to the Gaza envelope, the Air Force initiated a significant bombing of the Gaza Strip.


The Israeli government bears the responsibility for the peace and security of its citizens. It must act to immediately release the prisoners and the abducted individuals. It should urgently assist in locating missing persons, extract those still in the war zone, and immediately provide means of protection to those found in the area.


Hamas' murderous attack did not differentiate between Jewish and Arab civilians. It is forbidden to follow those inciting violence, discrimination, or carrying out crimes of hate and vengeance. Responding in kind will only add to the cycle of terrible bloodshed.


Hamas committed atrocious war crimes of the highest degree. However, their blatant violation of international law does not absolve Israel from complying with its provisions. Israel must refrain from harming the necessary infrastructure for humanitarian needs and the civilian population in Gaza, and permit the compulsory entry of humanitarian aid into the Strip, as required by international humanitarian law.


These provisions, among other things, delineate the limitations of the use of force to protect innocent civilians. This is the role of international humanitarian law, which defines the boundaries of using force in times of war and seeks to provide the greatest possible protection for non-combatants.


What is International Humanitarian Law?

International Humanitarian Law is a branch of international law that applies in specific conflict situations. It imposes limitations on the conduct of parties to a conflict in order to reduce the human suffering resulting from armed conflict and to ensure that fundamental humanitarian values are upheld even in times of war.


This is based on the understanding that warfare does not occur in a legal vacuum:

"Israel is engaged in a difficult battle against rampant terror. It acts according to its right to self-defense (see Article 51 of the United Nations Charter). This battle is not fought in a normative void. It is conducted according to the principles of international law, which establish principles and rules for the conduct of warfare..." (HCJ 3451/02 Almadani v. Minister of Defense, PD 56(3) 30, 35 (2002)).

What are the binding principles of international humanitarian law during armed conflict?

What is the principle of distinction?

What is the principle of proportionality?

What is the principle of caution?

What is the relationship between international law and prisoners of war?

Is there an obligation to allow humanitarian aid to the civilian population?

Is it permissible to impose a siege?

Are there violations of the laws of war in the current conflict?


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