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The Nation debunks the claim that Palestinians are using civilians as “human shields”
This is arguably one of Israel’s most insidious claims, because it blames Palestinians for their own death and deprives them of even their victim hood. Israel made the same argument in its war against Lebanon in 2006 and in its war against Palestinians in 2008. Notwithstanding its military cartoon sketches, Israel has yet to prove that Hamas has used civilian infrastructure to store military weapons. The two cases where Hamas indeed stored weapons in UNRWA schools, the schools were empty. UNRWA discovered the rockets and publicly condemned the violation of its sanctity.
International human rights organizations that have investigated these claims have determined that they are not true. It attributed the high death toll in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks. Human Rights Watch notes:
The evidence Human Rights Watch uncovered in its on-the-ground investigations refutes [Israel’s] argument…we found strong evidence that Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys, that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started, and that Hezbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages.
In fact, only Israeli soldiers have systematically used Palestinians as human shields. Since Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in 2002, it has used Palestinians as human shields by tying young Palestinians onto the hoods of their cars or forcing them to go into a homewhere a potential militant may be hiding.
The Guardian reports:
These claims [that Hamas is using human shields] have not been backed up by independent reporting from international journalists covering the war from Gaza …. Many said nowhere in Gaza was safe, so they saw little point in abandoning their homes.
Others cited worries about not knowing the identities of people who would be their new neighbours; they could be evacuating a familiar neighbourhood for one that was a militant stronghold and others were simply too terrified to go out on the streets. Many media reports said there was no evidence of coercion by Hamas.
In fact, tens of thousands of people have fled their homes for what they hope is a safer place. UNRWA reports that more than 140,000 people have sought shelter in its properties; churches and mosques have been overwhelmed by displaced civilians; the grounds of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City have begun to resemble a makeshift refugee camp. These families are in fear of their lives, but they overwhelmingly cite Israeli bombing and shelling as the cause, rather than threats from Hamas.
Gaza is one of the most overcrowded places on earth. Almost two million people are crammed into a strip of land just 25 miles long and between three and a half and seven miles wide – roughly the same size as the Isle of Wight. In general there are few opportunities to leave; and in the midst of a conflict such as this, there is no exit.
The current war is not being fought on a conventional battlefield. Israel is pounding Gaza from the air, and its troops are increasingly fighting battles against a guerrilla army in densely populated urban areas – which constitute much of the Gaza Strip.
Israel, meanwhile, does not have an unblemished record in the use of human shields. In 2010, two soldiers were convicted in an IDF military court of using an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield in its 2008-09 operation in Gaza. The pair ordered the child to search bags they suspected of being booby-trapped.
Indeed, Monique Buckner provocatively tweets:
By falsely associating itself with Judaism, zionism uses Jews everywhere as human shields