Sunday, January 11, 2009

Israeli Use of Palestinian Human Shields

We hear a great deal about Hamas' use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. It is the IDF's favorite explanation for why they have butchered so many Palestinian civilians. In the fantasy world of Israeli hasbara, even those killed by IDF bombs belong in the category of "victims of Hamas." While it is undoubtedly true that Hamas' weapons are often stored in mosques, and that Hamas fighters do take shelter in civilian homes, it is nonetheless striking that the human shields claim should be offered so frequently without the slightest bit of evidence. An IDF spokesperson will somberly explain that they had to drop a one ton bomb on an apartment, and the only reason civilians died was because of Hamas using human shields.

But what of the use of human shields by Israel? The practice is widespread enough that, in 2005, the Israeli Supreme Court was forced under pressure from human rights groups to issue a ruling that banned the practice. However, the IDF has a long history of ignoring Israeli Supreme Court rulings when they conflict with the colonization of Palestine (these rulings are outliers; most of the time the court is quite happy to provide a legal rationale for whatever is needed to consolidate the occupation).

The legal status of the use of human shields has not been an exception. Indeed, here the IDF has had it both ways. As the MERIP report makes clear, the court delayed hearing a case about human shields as long as it could, even though evidence of both the practice's use and its status in international law were ample. Then, after the ruling was issued, the IDF simply adopted a lower profile in using Palestinian human shields. However, examples abound that the practice continued, see here, here, here, and here.

In 2006, the IDF used the human shields excuse with great abandon during its invasion of Lebanon. However, the hasbara took a hit when Human Rights Watch published its August report, which reported that they had found "no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack." Then in November Amnesty International published its report on the war, which confirmed the main points of HRW's.

Despite the beating the human shields excuse took in the Lebanon invasion, it is back with a vengeance in 2009. This time, apologists for Israeli terror have made a concerted effort to give the myth a scholarly veneer with the publication of "Hamas Exploitation of Civilians as Human Shields." Reading the 81 page report, one is struck by just how weak the evidence is. For example, the report repeatedly points out the placement of government buildings in densely populated areas, as if this signified some diabolical intent. More significantly, from the outset the report writes off any possibility of solidarity between Gazan civilians and Hamas. Every time civilians are found near fighting, it is an example of Hamas 'exploiting' civilians. However, Hamas is the democratically elected government of Palestine, and its support has increased throughout the Israeli assault. It is unsurprising, therefore, that ordinary Gazans would put themselves in danger to protect Hamas fighters.

The situation is similar to that of Vietnam during the American war. Fighters from the National Liberation Front enjoyed broad support in the countryside, often taking refuge in villages. Seeing this, the American military quite logically concluded that its war was against the entire population of Vietnam, and conducted the war accordingly. The same is happening in Palestine.

In addition to the genocidal logic of the assault, Israel has continued its practice of using Palestinian civilians as unwilling human shields. According to Amnesty International, Israeli fighters regularly take refuge in a civilian occupied building, and order the inhabitants to remain in the building to discourage Hamas from attacking. I wonder if we'll soon see a congressional resolution decrying this practice?