The Israeli Air Force on Thursday afternoon bombed the house of Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas leader, killing him along with his four wives and nine of his children, four of them under the age of 18, Palestinian hospital officials said. An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, described Mr. Rayyan as one of the “most extreme” figures of Hamas, which controls Gaza. The military said he had helped plan a deadly suicide bombing in Israel in 2004, had sent his own son on a suicide mission against Jewish settlers in Gaza in 2001 and was advocating renewed suicide missions against Israel in retaliation for the current offensive.
Mr. Rayyan was known in Gaza as a highly influential figure with strong links to the military wing of Hamas, particularly in northern Gaza, where he lived, and as a popular Hamas preacher who openly extolled and championed the idea of martyrdom.
The Israeli military said in a statement that there were many secondary explosions after the air attack, “proving that the house was used for storing weaponry.” It was also used as a communications center, the statement said, and a tunnel that had been dug under the house was used by Hamas operatives.
Most Hamas leaders in Gaza have been in hiding since the Israeli operation began, but Mr. Rayyan was said to have refused to leave his home on ideological grounds. In the past, he had been known to gather supporters to stand on the rooftops of other houses in Gaza that Israel had threatened to strike.
When I first read this account and learned that Rayyan had sent his own son on a suicide mission, I was astonished and disgusted. He clearly cared nothing for the life of his own children. It seems that in this case also he deliberately ignored warnings that he was a target and left his own family open to the Israeli attack. It seems to me that he was a legitimate military target.
But the rest of his family? His wives and children? Did they deserve to die? Were they political figures in Hamas? The news reports don't say anything about the ages or activities of the children who were killed, so it's impossible to know if they were also part of Hamas. As for his wives - although there are some women who are political leaders in Hamas, and some have been suicide bombers - it's a fundamentalist political party that subordinates women to men.
So if we assume that his family was innocent - endangered only by the fact that they were related to him - is it ethical for Israel to target him, knowing that he was opposed to sending his family away to protect them?
Frankly, I have no idea.