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21 JUL 2024

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What Does Israel Do to Protect Civilians In Gaza?

Two months after the terrorist attack which killed over 1200 in Israel and saw 200+ taken hostage, the US continues to support Israel's goal of eliminating Hamas while at the same time repeating a call for the protection of civilians in Gaza.

Child in Gaza Rubble

The Basic Facts:

  • On October 7, 2023, over 3000 Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel, killing 1200+ people and kidnapping another 200+.

  • The IDF takes multiple steps to try to minimize civilian casualties, some of which are complicated by or interfered with by Hamas.

  • Since the start of the war, the US government has been vocal in its support of the Jewish state. In a visit to Israel on October 18, 2023, President Joseph Biden promised the state of Israel: “As long as the United States stands — and we will stand forever — we will not let you ever be alone.”

  • Alongside this staunch support, the US has repeatedly reiterated that civilians in Gaza must be protected as much as possible during the conflict and that humanitarian aid must reach them.  


What Does The IDF Do to Protect Civilians In Gaza?

As with any armed forces during a time of war, the IDF is expected to comply with international humanitarian law. This places the burden on militaries to ensure certain key principles are accounted for. These principles include the necessity of the conflict itself, an element of proportionality in the response, the accuracy of targeted attacks, and a burden to take all measures necessary to reduce civilian casualties. 

According to their own accounts and as confirmed by international war experts, the IDF implements several techniques to protect civilians in Gaza. These include:

Phone Calls and Messages

IDF personnel directly call residents of buildings or specific areas in Gaza that are about to come under air strikes by the Israeli Air Force. The IDF warns these civilians, in Arabic, to vacate the building or area. 

Dropping Leaflets

The IDF drops leaflets on areas in Gaza that are about to come under bombardment. The leaflets instruct Gazans, again in Arabic, to vacate their area by a specific time. They also often include details of a safe route or name an area civilians should move to in order to put them out of harm’s way. 

In November 2023, leaflets were dropped in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, by the IDF, advising civilians to leave the towns of Bani Shuhaila, Khuza’a, Abassan, and al-Qarara and that anyone who continued to stay in areas with militants was in harm’s way. 


The IDF targets a building with a non-lethal bombing that’s loud enough to warn civilians in Gaza that they’re occupying a building filled with weapons or terrorists. These non-lethal bomb drops serve as a message for civilians to vacate the building and seek shelter elsewhere. 

Abandoning Air Strikes

According to IDF sources, air strikes in Gaza are called off if a large number of civilians are still present in the building or area immediately prior to the planned air strike. 

Consulting with Military Lawyers

Before military actions are taken, the IDF passes all planned targets and strikes past military lawyers to ensure they comply with international law. These lawyers work outside the normal chain of command, meaning they’re not subordinate to or influenced by those they’re advising. The Supreme Court of Israel, in specific or extreme cases, can also be called upon to rule on military operations. 

Maps of Evacuation Zones

As the IDF began operating in southern Gaza, new measures were taken to communicate areas of danger to civilians. The IDF has created a detailed map showing sectors where there is and is not ongoing fighting

What Complicates Efforts to Protect Gazan Civilians?

Despite the IDF’s multiple efforts to protect civilians, in practice, there are several factors that complicate this. 

Gaza is a densely populated area. Gaza City, for example, is estimated to have more than 650,000 people living within 18 square miles. There is potentially no area that can ever be civilian-free, even as the IDF works to urge Gazans to evacuate to safer areas in the territory.

At the same time, the terror organization Hamas and its militant affiliates such as Islamic Jihad, routinely base themselves in and operate out of civilian infrastructure. This is something that the NATO StratCom group concluded, following their own research, between the years 2002-14. 

  • Fired rockets and other forms of artillery from heavily populated civilian areas in Gaza, including schools, hospitals, and mosques

  • Located military-related infrastructure such as their HQs, bases, and armories within or in very close proximity to civilian areas. 

  • Helped to shield terrorists wanted by the IDF in civilian areas.

  • Engaged in combat with the IDF from civilian residential and commercial areas. 

During operations in Gaza which began in October 2023, in response to Hamas’ attack on the Jewish state, both Israeli and US intelligence sources have claimed that Hamas was using tunnels under the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, as well as the Hospital itself, to host its fighters, weapons, and also hostages taken from Israel on October 7. 

American University School of International Services Professor Benjamin Jensen, with over 20 years of military experience himself, explains:

“I think it is clear that Hamas has – in this war and historically – tried to embed themselves and weapons in places civilians live or visit, in order to make it more difficult for the Israelis to target them.”

When terror groups, like Hamas, routinely use civilian infrastructure and civilians themselves as human shields - preventing them from evacuating areas about to come under Israeli military bombardment, for example - it frustrates efforts to reduce civilian deaths. 

It also leads to misleading scenarios where civilian casualties are blamed on Israeli air strikes when later independent investigations prove that not to be the case. On October 17, 2023, the terror group claimed that an Israeli air strike had hit the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza causing hundreds of deaths and huge damage. However, a day later, both US and Israeli investigations contradicted this claim, attributing the damage and deaths to a misfired Hamas rocket. 

This conclusion was then backed up further by other war and conflict experts. Marc Garlasco, an American civilian harm reduction expert, supported the assertion that the damage to the hospital wasn’t caused by an air strike, as Hamas claimed. He posted this on his X account -  “Whatever hit the hospital in Gaza it wasn’t an airstrike. Even the smallest JDAM leaves a 3m crater. Widespread surface damage and total lack of cratering inconsistent with an airstrike.”

Does The US Government Believe That Israel Is Doing Enough to Protect Gazan Civilians?

To date, based on public comments made by President Biden and other US government officials, there seems to be an acknowledgment that Israel and its forces are doing everything they can to protect Gazan civilians in what is a very complex environment. However, this sentiment is usually accompanied by a reiteration of a demand that more must be done to prioritize the protection of Palestinian civilians as the war advances. 

At a press conference on December 4, 2023, the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, stressed “his Israeli counterparts ‘very much indicated’ their goal to distinguish civilians from combatants and prevent harm to innocents.”

At a later press conference held at the White House on December 13, 2023, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby appeared to suggest that the IDF had taken steps to protect civilians in Gaza beyond what the US itself might have done in the same situation. 

To highlight this, Kirby cited a map published by the IDF earlier the same month used to alert civilians in Gaza to the neighborhoods expected to come under attack. 

“That’s basically telegraphing your punches. There are very few modern militaries in the world that would do that. I don’t know that we would do that,” Kirby is reported as saying

He also went on to explain how the IDF has continued to adapt their battle plans, to protect against civilian casualties. He cited how Israel had used fewer airstrikes in their continuing campaign in south Gaza compared to those conducted in northern Gaza (the first phase of the war against Hamas). Kirby attributed this to Israel having taken US military advice (based on prior experiences in urban warfare) seriously.

In the same press conference, Kirby went on to emphasize again how the US supports Israel’s war goals, including its timeline and overall aims of eliminating the threat posed by Hamas.

Specifically, he remarked, “And we’re not — you know, we’re not dictating terms to the Israelis about how long it has to take.  It has to take as long as they feel they need to take to be able to eliminate this threat. But obviously, we all want it to be over as soon as possible.”

The US government appears to prioritize working with their Israeli counterparts to both add diplomatic pressure and to provide military tactical advice to ensure civilian deaths in Gaza are reduced. It should be noted that any diplomatic pressure asserted by the US is consistently accompanied by continued support for the Israeli goal of eliminating Hamas. 

“And we’re working hard with the Israelis — and Jake is doing that right now — to — to get a better sense of what they can do, as I said in my opening statement, to be more surgical, to be more discriminant in their — in their targeting.  That’s important. At the same time, it’s important that they have the tools and capabilities they need to go after a truly genocidal threat represented by Sinwar and these Hamas terrorists,” Kirby is quoted as saying in response to questions put to him during the December 13 press conference. 

There are those in the US, both in government and amongst the public, who seem to be placing more pressure on President Biden to push the Israeli government and armed forces to do more to prevent civilian casualties. Part of this pressure has been to demand a complete ceasefire. This does not seem to have affected Biden and the US’s support for Israel, with Biden insisting that no conditions will be placed on the provision of military aid to the Jewish state. 

Based on public comments by the Biden administration the following summarizes the US response to Israel’s efforts to protect Gazan civilians during its military campaign:

  1. US government support for Israel in its campaign to defeat Hamas is steadfast. To date, there has been no public declaration of when that military campaign must end.

  2. Every civilian death is one too many and the US is committed to continuing to work with Israel to make sure casualties are limited while also pushing for the entry of more aid into Gaza from both Israel and Egypt. In response to this, Israel opened its Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza for the delivery of aid.

What perhaps best describes how the US views the legitimacy of the ongoing war against Hamas and the need to limit civilian casualties in Gaza simultaneously is a December 14 statement made by President Biden:

“I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives. Not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful.” 



ABC News, ‘Israel-Hamas War: Timeline and Key Developments,’ November 22, 2023

U.S Department of Defense, ‘U.S Military Continues Focus on Supporting Israel, Ukraine,’ October 26, 2023

European Commission, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, ‘Humanitarian International Law.’

The Washington Post, ‘Visualizing the size of Gaza city compared with U.S. cities,’ October 17, 2023

NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence,’Hamas’ use of human shields in Gaza,’ 2008-2014

American University, School of International Services, ‘Hamas isn’t the First Military Group to Hide Behind Civilians as a Way to Wage War,’ November 16, 2023

U,S Department of Defense,’Defense Department Continues to Stress Law of War with Israel,’  November 2, 2023

Rebecca Tomasis

Rebecca Tomasis

Rebecca Tomasis is an organic growth expert focusing on content optimization, SEO research and tracking. She believes that organic growth and content marketing are the new pillars of marketing and the best way to create and build relationships.


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