Hamas’s International Humanitarian Law Obligations Toward the Elderly Commentary
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Hamas’s International Humanitarian Law Obligations Toward the Elderly

Following the October 7 attacks in Israel, distressing videos began circulating, showing Israelis being seized and dragged away into Gaza. Among the captured was an elderly woman, Yafa Adar, 85 years old. As she was forcibly driven into the Palestinian enclave on a golf cart, she wore a defiant expression and was wrapped in a pink blanket. The Adar family identified her almost immediately. Yafa’s last communication with her family was a text message at 9:00 a.m. to her granddaughter, Adva Adar, warning about terrorists roaming the streets within the town (Kibbutz) roads, shooting and shouting. After this message, the family lost all contact with her.

The International Humanitarian Law (IHL) underscores the protection and particular respect that must be accorded to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, during armed conflicts. It is a widely recognized norm, irrespective of the nature of the conflict, either international or non-international armed conflicts. Although Hamas is bound by international law, and more specifically, international humanitarian law, recent events suggest grave violations of these provisions by Hamas. In reaction to this violation and many others, 370 human rights law professors issued an urgent appeal to UN Bodies regarding the hostages in Gaza.

Specifically, the capture and forced transfer of individuals like 85-year-old Yafa Adar serves as a glaring testament to the breach of these international humanitarian law provisions. Yafa’s story paints a vivid picture: after Hamas’s incursion into Israeli villages, she was seized and transported into Gaza. An already harrowing situation for any civilian, the ordeal is particularly grievous for elderly individuals like Yafa. In a distressing turn of events, an elderly Holocaust survivor, confined to a wheelchair, was also taken hostage by Hamas. This act not only reflects a grave contravention of IHL but also evokes traumatic memories of past atrocities that this individual survived. This ultimately led the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to issue an unequivocal statement condemning these actions. Unfortunately, these two cases only allude to the dozens of elderly individuals being held hostage by Hamas out of the 150 confirmed kidnappings.

In a practical legal sense, international humanitarian law stipulated the possibilities of honoring the obligation to vulnerable groups through the establishment of safety zones and agreements for the evacuation from besieged or encircled areas (Fourth Geneva Convention, Articles 14 and 17). Priority in the release and repatriation of wounded and sick detainees serves as another way of honoring this obligation (Third Geneva Convention, Articles 109–117). With respect to the disabled, which includes many elderly individuals, Additional Protocol I considers that the protection and care due to the wounded and sick is also due to people with disabilities and to “other persons who may be in need of immediate medical assistance or care, such as the infirm…and who refrain from any act of hostility” (Additional Protocol I, Article 8(a)). Hence, disabled, elderly individuals are also entitled to adequate medical care and priority in treatment based on medical grounds. Unfortunately, Hamas has yet to implement any of these provisions that would ensure respect for international humanitarian law and international law.

In essence, such action, or inaction, by Hamas not only violates the specific IHL provisions that require the protection of the elderly but also raises serious concerns about the group’s adherence to fundamental humanitarian principles. The deliberate targeting and capturing of elderly civilians, some with poignant histories like the Holocaust survivor, is a blatant violation of international law and mandates the need for immediate redress and accountability.

Yahel Gerlic is an LLM student at the Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel-Aviv University. His research focuses on international and constitutional law, specifically international humanitarian and human rights law alongside transitional justice.

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