446 One of the fundamental duties of a sovereign nation is to safeguard its citizens from attack.  For eight years, Israel suffered from rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas — thousands of them, directed at no one and everyone, at children and the elderly, at schools and at hospitals.  In 2008, Hamas increased the range of its attacks, bringing more than 1 million Israelis within striking distance of its terrorist tactics.  Israel sought repeatedly to stop these assaults, exhausting several non-military options.  But, in line with its stated goals and terrorist credo, Hamas would not desist.  Finally, to keep faith with its citizenry, Israel could endure these attacks no longer, and it launched the Gaza Operation to stop them.  Under international law, Israel had every right to use military force to defend its civilians against Hamas’ ongoing rocket and mortar attacks.  447 Israel has deep respect for the principles of international law, and for the sanctity of human life.  Though the use of military force was necessary to protect its own population, the IDF still did its best to minimise civilian casualties and damages to civilian property and sensitive sites.  To that end, it adopted strict and specific rules of engagement to avoid — whenever feasible — operations that could harm civilians.  It issued written warnings to civilians to stay away from areas where Hamas was active.  It made telephone calls to warn occupants of buildings to leave before impending attacks.  It fired warning shots.  It double-checked targeting decisions.  It used precision weapons. 448 The scope and rigor of these precautions was extraordinary, but they were not foolproof.  Under the best of circumstances, they would not have worked perfectly.  And, by Hamas’ specific design, the IDF did not confront the best of circumstances.  It faced a systematic strategy by Hamas to put Gaza’s civilian population at risk for military and political gain, to inhibit Israel from pursuing its military objectives by intermingling civilians with military targets, and to achieve propaganda gains when Israel did pursue those objectives and civilian casualties resulted. 449 International law recognises the tragic reality that innocent civilians suffer in armed conflicts.  This reality is reflected in the principles of distinction and proportionality in the Law of Armed Conflict.  The very fact of inquiries into those principles presupposes that civilian casualties have occurred.  But the Law of Armed Conflict also recognises that soldiers and commanders in combat must make split second decisions, often in the heat of battle, with limited information, with their lives at risk.  The law recognises that they sometimes make errors in judgment.  And it recognises that they make errors in implementation.  With the clarity of hindsight, these errors may provoke severe criticism, particularly when the results are tragic.  But as distressing, as tragic, as many of those errors may be, they are not violations of international law — much less war crimes — so long as the soldiers and commanders were seeking legitimate military objectives, and took appropriate precautions to avoid excessive harm to civilians, based on what they knew and under the conditions they faced at the time.  Israel’s investigations are in progress, but the evidence thus far reflects that the IDF pursued legitimate objectives, with appropriate precautions. 450 The legality of the Gaza Operation, however, does not negate the suffering of the people of Gaza.  Israel had no wish to worsen their plight.  The people of Israel have great sympathy for the civilians and the families of civilians in Gaza who died or were injured, for those who lost their property and livelihoods.  Israel made great efforts to avoid that harm.  Unfortunately, Hamas tried in every way to increase it.  By hiding its operatives and weaponry amidst the civilian population, Hamas presented Israel with a sombre choice: allow Hamas to escalate its rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians or try to stop those attacks, even though Hamas’ tactics created serious risks of civilian casualties in Gaza.  Israel’s choice to protect its citizens was warranted under international law. 451 This is no assertion of infallibility.  Israel does not shy away from investigating its operations, or from filing criminal complaints where they are warranted.  Since the Gaza Operation ended in January 2009, Israel has conducted extensive and comprehensive investigations into the various allegations about the conduct of its forces.  These investigations continue and their findings will be subject to independent review by the MAG and the Attorney General, and also may be subject to a review by the Supreme Court.  Israel is committed to holding accountable individuals who have committed offences constituting a breach of international or Israeli laws or rules, as well as to making appropriate changes in its military operations in the future.  That is the appropriate course, not a rush to judgment by partisans, not the propagation of assumed or mandated conclusions, but rather a methodical exposition of the facts and a rigorous application of the law.  452 This Paper has been prepared now as part of such an exposition of the facts and application of the law, to provide important information and analysis regarding the Gaza Operation.  Israel will continue to make additional information public.