Foreign Ministry: Operation Pillar of Defense Legal Points


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The following report was prepared and released by the Foreign Ministry of Israel.

Israel has the right under international law, and a moral obligation, to act in self-defense, to defend its population and to protect its territory when under attack, as well as to take military action against the terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip.

The legal justification for the operation:

Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have been waging an ongoing armed conflict against Israel, which has included incessant barrages of rockets and mortars towards the Israeli civilian population and other terror activities.

Israel has the right under international law, and a moral obligation, to act in self-defense, to defend its population and to protect its territory when under attack, as well as to take military action against the terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip.

Violations of international law on the part of the Hamas and the other terror organizations:

Hamas’ actions are in clear violation of the most fundamental principles of international law, including the principle of distinction, which requires Hamas and other terrorist organizations not only to refrain from directing its attacks at Israeli civilians, but also to clearly distinguish itself from its own civilian population.

These terrorist organizations consciously and deliberately violate these principles in a repeated manner, by deploying weapons and command centers in densely populated areas, operating from residential areas, and exploiting the civilian population by exposing them to serious harm. By doing so, Hamas and the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip are committing war crimes.

The commitment of the State of Israel and the IDF to international law:

Israel and the IDF are fully committed to international law in general, and to the Laws of Armed Conflict in particular.

Israeli commanders and soldiers are guided by international law in their actions. The IDF strives to imbue the principles of international law in IDF training, the IDF Code of Ethics and rules of engagement.

The IDF receives ongoing legal advice on a wide range of operational issues at various levels of the command chain (for example, regarding targeting decisions, the use of weaponry and issues regarding humanitarian efforts towards the civilian population).

The legality of the IDF’s attacks:

IDF attacks in the Gaza Strip are solely targeted against military targets and terrorist operatives. Civilian objects such as residential buildings may constitute legitimate targets if used by terrorist operatives for military purposes.

The IDF makes great efforts to minimize the incidental harm that may be caused to civilians or civilian objects as a result of an attack on a military target. For example:

Munitions to be used in an attack are carefully chosen, often using precision guided missiles in pinpoint surgical strikes to minimize the risk of incidental civilian harm.

The IDF uses advanced and precise intelligence regarding target identification and employs various means for monitoring the presence of civilians in areas of operation as well as for aborting attacks if it appears that civilians are at risk.

Where circumstances permit, effective advance warning is given prior to attacks which may place the civilian population at risk.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)


  1. 1. First problem, Not all legal systems consider it illegal to kills Jews. Muslims are likely to argue that under their law, anyone denying Muslims their “right” to rule the Middle East is fair game. While Europeans in the past have held that killing Jews was illegal, de facto the caveat needs to be added that the person also needed to be losing a war to the prosecuting nation. Ignoring the Americans (known for being “exceptional”), the west is not famous for respecting Jewish lives (note that in Israel there is street of “righteous goyim” who opposed persecuting Jews – but it is a very short street).

    2. Since Gaza is not a state, the law that applies to them is the law applied to criminals. Bombing any enemy city in war may be acceptable even if enemy civilians get killed, but blowing up a house to kill a criminal in the house with the result of killing the other residents of the house is probably not allowed. Consider how we would react in NYPD decided to bomb Boro Park on hearing that a criminal was there.

    3. One might ask if by halacha one can kill non-combattants such as women and children? Remember the use of artillery, bombs and rockets inevitable kills innocent people – it’s the nature of the weapon. Does it require a declaration of a herem against the city? Would that require a Navi, or perhaps the Sanhedrin, or a Kohen Gadol with Urimv’Tumin? Can the current Israeli government really take their place? Is it apikoresis to render to the Israeli government the respect due a government lawfully constituted under Torah? Remember that the people conducting the war (on our side) are nothing more than usurpers.

    4. The Gazans aren’t demanding that we give up Torah and Mitsvos (though many of the zionists are). The issue is one of land and property. Is it kosher to fight a war over what basically is a matter of Dinei Mamonos?

  2. akuperma, you’re right. It is an issue of land and property – they want all of our land and all of our property including our lives. Does that make for a kosher enough war for you? Those people in Gaza put Hamas in power – and if they wanted to they could get rid of Hamas. They’re not all innocent civilians. haba l’hargicha, hashkem v’hargo

  3. Akuperma’s statement of the law is completely wrong in literally every assumption that it makes. It would be absurd to suggest that a state would need to recognize the statehood of its enemy in order to fight a war against it.