Saturday, July 26, 2014

Human Shields

The main part of Israel's justification for the slaughter of civilians in Gaza is that Hamas is using the people as 'Human Shields'.  They say Hamas is launching rockets and fighting from populated areas, and when Israel provides advance warning that a neighborhood is going to be bombed, they say Hamas won't let the people leave.  Now, this is in varying degrees true and false - Gaza has a population of close to 2 million people in 139 square miles - about half the size of San Francisco. It would be difficult to fight only from lightly populated areas in a place so densely populated in the first place, and while Hamas is very likely guilty of preventing people from leaving in some cases, the Israeli track record for the veracity of difficult to verify statements like this leaves one somewhat skeptical.  After all, once they realized that preventing the civilians from leaving would not deter the Israeli air strike, it would become a tactic without a purpose. (Yes, Netanyahu says the purpose is the production of "telegenic dead bodies", but it's important to remember that the easiest way to tell if Netanyahu is lying is simply to check to see if his lips are moving.)

Now, the tactic of using human shields has a long, if spotty history.  You might remember Saddam Hussein detaining hundreds of westerners, including children, to be distributed throughout the country to military installations to deter western attacks.  But in most cases, human shields have not prevented attacks, and with the rise of air power the long accepted prohibition against armies targeting civilians and civilian areas has eroded.

But there are two considerations that make the situation in Gaza different.  First, Israel is not threatened in any meaningful way.  There is never any real urgency to the attacks. Before the current cease-fire, Israel had struck 2,400 ground targets from the air.  Think about that.  If Israel had struck only 1,900, or only 900, how many fewer innocents would have died?  Of COURSE Israel is choosing to kill these women, children and the elderly. The entire Gaza occupation is predicated on collective punishment, a specifically enumerated war crime in Geneva IV.

And that brings us to the other consideration.  Gaza is currently under occupation, and blockade, by Israel. That makes Israel RESPONSIBLE for the well being of civilians under occupation under international law.  The responsibilities of an occupying power are not ambiguous, they are clearly delineated in treaties that carry the force of law.  There might be a long military history of ignoring human shields, but when those humans are people whose well-being you are as a nation legally obligated to protect, and you choose to kill them anyway, that cannot be anything but a horrific war crime.


  1. Micky Rosenfeld of the Israeli police is reported as saying that the three teenagers who were killed were not killed by order of any centralised Hamas command. It was an affiliated but independent group. So this has been a war crime.

  2. I second the well said.

    Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini's article on Juan Cole's site (found here: ) on human shielding and the Israeli propaganda to legitimatize its bombing of civilians expands upon the subject.

    "The poster "Where do Gaza Terrorists Hide Their Weapons" is a paradigmatic example, where the subtext does the speaking: Houses, mosques, schools, and hospitals are legitimate targets because they are presumed to be weapon depositories."
    "The logic is straightforward: insofar as Hamas hides weapons in houses (illegitimate), Israel can bomb them as if they were military targets (legitimate). Within this framework, a single function (hiding weapons) out of many existing functions (home, shelter, intimacy, etc) determines the status of an urban site (in our case the house), so that the edifice's form loses its traditional signification.

    The question "when does it become a legitimate military target?" is merely rhetorical. Its real meaning is: "All houses in Gaza are legitimate targets" since all houses are potentially non-homes."

  3. when Israel provides advance warning that a neighborhood is going to be bombed, they say Hamas won't let the people leave

    Geography won't let the people leave.

  4. Just admit it... you want the Jews dead too. All the rest of this is just purple-prose b.s. Israel will always fight to defend itself and never make excuses for the actions of its enemies. This says all I've ever needed to know about the Arab-Israeli situation:

  5. The above is hilarious, but it's also telling. I mean, think about how hard it would be to try to defend or justify the Israeli butchery in Gaza? You can't provide a credible reason for mass murder and collective punishment, so you have to say that anybody who disagrees with you 'wants all the jews dead'. It's utterly laughable, but understandable when you ask yourself what rational argument might you make?

    1. The rational argument is that every surrounding country has wanted Israel dead since 1947. The land represents 3% of the total Muslim-controlled land available for Palestinians to establish a homeland yet they insist on, not just the same land Israel sits on, but the whole of it. They want the Jews dead. They want it so badly they are willing to place their own civilians in the target area as sacrifices to the cause of destroying Israel; knowing that easily duped, soft-hearted westerners will cry out for some kind of fairness and equity of casualties. If Hamas would protect their civilians and observe the prohibition against using protected sites for military uses, they would have as few civilian casualties as Israel. They DELIBERATELY use homes, schools, hospitals and mosques as weapon storage/firing areas. That tactic legitimately invalidates the sites protected status. I personally saw hundreds of Iraqi T-72 battle tanks painted with the red crescent-and-star of the Arab version of the Red Cross. This was during Desert Storm but the same principle is being applied by Hamas... uses the protected status of a building or a civilian crowd to attempt to shield military assets. You want to talk about hilarious... Your assertion that those deaths are anyone's responsibility other than Hamas is laughable. The assertion that you buy this notion that Palestinians are being butchered by big, bad Israel is laughable. You are a useful idiot in the propaganda game Hamas is playing. You are buying into the whole myth that, somehow, the Israeli people are evil or, at least indiscriminate, in how they engage their enemy. The exact opposite is true. It is the Hamas rockets that are indiscriminate and the Israelis that are applying the utmost scrutiny on engaging targets. The high death-rate of Palestinian non-combatants is the direct result of Hamas shielding weapon sites with civilians. If you cannot see this clear truth then you don't want to see it; hence you are part of the problem. My assertion that the author simply shares the Palestinian mantra of “Death to Israel” is supported by the statements I’ve read here. There can be no other explanation for such irrational thinking.

    2. You'll note, among the taxonomy of half-truths and misdirection included above, 2 very important unstated positions:

      1.) If the Israelis had restrained themselves and NOT created thousands of civilian casualties, well then Hamas would have overrun Tel Aviv and killed every Israeli Jew.

      2.) If Hamas hides among the civilian population in one of the most densely populated bits of land on earth, Israel has NO OPTION but to blow them and their human shields to hell. Because try as we might, we just can't think of any other thing we might (or might NOT) do...

  6. this is bull shit. you all suck.
    kill yourselves.
    p.s. fuck israel