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Netanyahu’s Human Shield Claim Goes Largely Unchallenged

Before the Israel Defense Forces moved into Gaza, Hamas urged civilians to stay in place as something of a show of defiance. And their media has downplayed Israel's warnings as psychological games to be ignored. But there is no evidence to show that Hamas continued to tell people to stay in their neighborhoods or is holding people from leaving areas under attack.

Nevertheless, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu early on latched onto that original Hamas urging to insist that Hamas is using the Gazan people as human shields. And he has not let go of the claim. He hopes to sway public opinion that Hamas is to blame for the tragedy of human life, with the dead now surpassing a thousand.

But as the death toll mounts, with civilians accounting for three-quarters of the Palestinian toll, international reaction is increasingly running against Israel. To Israel's insistence that it takes every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's sardonic remark was, “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation”.

A moment of rich irony came when Netanyahu wanted to stage Israel's own act of defiance to show that Hamas had no effect on everyday life. He was furious when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration halted flights into Ben Gurion Airport. He had hoped to use American passengers as Israel's human shields.

Almost three weeks into the conflict, Netanyahu is still making the human shield accusation against Hamas:

"We tell the civilians 'leave'. Hamas tells them to stay. Why does it tell them to stay? Because it wants to pile up these civilian casualties. So any of these regrettable, tragic civilian casualties should be placed at the responsibility of Hamas. Hamas is a terror organization — ruthless terrorist organization — that not only wants to kill our people, it wants to sacrifice its own people. It uses them as human shields, and therefore it should be blamed and not Israel".

Proof is lacking, however. One might think Netanyahu risks being viewed as another Putin in his attempt to transfer blame for civilian deaths to the opposition. But not in the U.S. media, where he is repeatedly given air time to make such statements which go go unchallenged on television news programs.

Israel's case is that militants cynically and deliberately store weapons in and fire them from residential areas. Its military showed aerial photos of the al-Farouq mosque claiming that it was used to hide rockets. And UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency found rockets in two schools. The schools were vacant, however.

Rockets are fired from empty lots near homes because the densely populated Gaza Strip has no open spaces for the conduct of war. Seven miles at its widest on the southern border with Egypt and 25 miles long, Gaza has the density of a city, its 1.7 million people filling an area no bigger than Philadelphia.

Civilians interviewed by media deny that Hamas is forcing them to stay home. The plaint of those who stay put is that there is nowhere to go that isn't under bombardment by Israel and they are not allowed to leave the walled-in Gaza Strip. Israel may be warning inhabitants with leaflets and phone calls but families decide on their own to stay when they hear of Israel bombing the shelters — such as the Khan Younis center or Pinpoint Fire: July 30: At least 20 people were killed when four Israeli artillery shells struck a United Nations school in Gaza where 3,300 Palestinians had taken refuge. An Israeli spokesperson said that militants had "opened fire from Israeli soldiers from that vicinity". The claim that Israel takes the utmost precautions not to endanger civilians was undermined by that person saying that the artillery unit had "responded by firing toward the origins of the fire".

the school in which sixteen civilians died. Earlier Israel had struck a hospital, killing five. And now, nine children are dead in Gaza City's main hospital, with either side accusing the other.

Netanyahu has a difficult case to make in his claim that Hamas is holding people in areas under attack. How then to account for the well over 100,000 who have fled their homes to go to shelters or move in with relatives.

Others say they refuse to give up their land to invaders. They also stay to try to defend their homes from destruction, saying that Israeli troops are in the practice of trashing the interiors. That family standing in defiance on the roof may be acting as human shields, not from some Hamas dictate, but simply to beseech Israeli aircraft not to destroy their house.

war crimes on both sides

Just as it is a war crime under international law for Israel to attack targets in the midst of civilians (which the 75% civilian ratio of casualties attests) so is it a war crime for Hamas to conduct its war in the midst of civilians. Both their crimes are an inevitable and unavoidable characteristic of the geography of this conflict. Judgment, then, tends to hinge more on degree. As in 2009, Israel (along with its U.S. ally) becomes far more the villain as the death toll mounts to over 1,000 Palestinians at this writing and the pounding of Israel’s infinitely more advanced (U.S. supplied) weaponry reduces Gaza to an uninhabitable state. That is weighed against over 50 Israelis dead, only two of them civilians owing to the country’s protection by “Iron Dome” anti-missile interceptors (substantially U.S. funded) which have been highly effective against the unguided and largely homemade Hamas rockets.

1 Comment for “Netanyahu’s Human Shield Claim Goes Largely Unchallenged”

  1. Bravo. I fully agree with you. We badly need more balance reporting. I found Aljazeerah extremely good and balanced. After all they have a large office in West Jerusalem.
    I spent a lot of time in Israel and the middle East. I am myself of far away jewish descent. Keep doing good work.
    I also agreed that the polarization of US domestic policy is extremely dangerous. My wife was american (I’m Belgian), I have family in the US. People of different opinions are political rivals, not enemies.
    Jacques Bekaert

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