The media is making “human shields” a very big story in this latest assault on Gaza.
One writer believes “Hamas’s human shields tactics have given its leaders a winning strategy even if the result is a tragedy for their own people.” In another story, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemned Hamas for “deliberately using human shields to further terror in the region.” Newsweek appended a video purporting to show Palestinians rushing to the roof of a house, after Israel fired a warning shot, to act as human shields to protect the house. (The video is clearly disseminated by Israel in its Hasbara campaign to win public support.) The New York Times also reported about civilians serving as human shields in Gaza.
A Hamas spokesman is on record supporting and encouraging civilians to act as human shields to protect their homes.
People worldwide are horrified by the rising death toll of civilians in the Gaza Strip and the apparent callous disregard for human life. But which side is disregarding human life?
Israel’s Hasbara machine is doing an excellent job of framing the “human shields” issue as one of Hamas putting innocent civilians in harm’s way, a clever way to deflect the media’s attention away from the perpetrator of this massive high-tech assault and away from the party who is really responsible for the heavy toll on civilian casualties. (In fact, one knowledgeable observer in Gaza told me today that no resistance fighters have been killed in the past 6 days.)
When you squeeze that number of people into very tight quarters, any bombardment is likely going to kill innocent civilians.
How does Israel’s high-tech military fight in such tight quarters and avoid killing innocent civilians? They don’t. They can’t.
So they must try to explain themselves by raising specious arguments, including:
- It’s Hamas’s fault because they deliberately locate their rockets near civilian areas. (Duh! There is very little space uninhabited by civilians.)
- It’s Hamas’s fault because they encourage civilians to run to the rooftops to protect their homes. (Hamas is not forcing anyone to risk their life to defend their property. Civilians are trying to protect their property with the only weapon at their disposal – their bodies.)
- It’s Hamas’s fault because they brought this reign of terror down on top of themselves and their people by indiscriminately shooting their crappy rockets at Israel. (A military occupation cannot claim the right of self-defense since they are the perpetrators of the occupation. End the occupation and then the right of self-defense will be a viable argument if Israel is attacked.)
- It’s Hamas’s fault because they have no regard for human life, they want to become martyrs and be with their 72 virgins. (I’ve really heard this argument made with a straight face. It’s simply a manifestation of how the Israelis have dehumanized the Palestinians — just as the Nazis dehumanized the Jews in the 1930s.)
TO BE SURE — using civilians against their will as humans shields is a violation of international humanitarian law and must be condemned. Rule 97. The use of human shields is prohibited.
But lets not confuse a situation where civilians are caught in the midst of a bombardment in the most densely populated community on the planet, or when they decide voluntarily to protect their homes with their bodies, with the act of forcibly using civilians to shield the military. There is no evidence that that is occurring in Gaza, despite the media’s lazy use of the phrase “human shields”.
Here are some concrete examples of using “human shields” in contravention of international law.
In the past 6 days, the Israeli military has destroyed or badly damaged a hospital, clinics, schools, a water desalination plant, the Gaza Ark, hundreds of homes, and other civilian infrastructure.
Today there are international solidarity activists staying at a geriatric hospital in Gaza to protect it from a threatened Israeli missile attack. Listen to the Hospital Director describe the situation here in English.
So when you hear the media reporting about “human shields” in Gaza, ask yourself “Are these people voluntarily putting themselves in harm’s way or are they being forcibly placed in harm’s way?” And then remember whose missiles are reining down on them.