Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields. You’ve heard the claim echoed ad nauseam in Western corporate media. Yet numerous reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have found the allegations, which are brought to bear by Israeli officials nearly every time Gaza hits the news, to not only be untrue, they’ve discovered that Israel itself has consistently engaged in wanton use of Palestinian civilians, including children, as human shields.
In 2014, Amnesty International said of allegations that Hamas was using human shields:
Amnesty International is monitoring and investigating such reports, but does not have evidence at this point that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to “shield” specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks. In previous conflicts Amnesty International has documented that Palestinian armed groups have stored munitions in and fired indiscriminate rockets from residential areas in the Gaza Strip in violation of international humanitarian law. Reports have also emerged during the current conflict of Hamas urging residents to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate. However, these calls may have been motivated by a desire to minimize panic and displacement, in any case, such statements are not the same as directing specific civilians to remain in their homes as “human shields” for fighters, munitions, or military equipment. Under international humanitarian law even if “human shields” are being used Israel’s obligations to protect these civilians would still apply.”
The International Red Cross defines “human shielding,” the term used in international humanitarian law to describe the practice, as “the act of placing a civilian in front of a military objective to deter attacks due to their civilian status.”
Despite their accusation against Hamas, the Israeli Defense Forces themselves regularly used Palestinian civilians as human shields under an Israeli military doctrine called the “neighbor procedure” until it was outlawed by the Knesset in 2005. This left Israeli military officials incensed. Former Israel Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz even appeared in court to argue for the ban’s repeal.
— Anonymous Palestine (@PalAnonymous) August 17, 2014
B’Tselem, a prominent Israeli human rights organization operating in the occupied territories, reports that since Israel’s 1967 occupation, Israeli security forces have reportedly exploited Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as human shields. The rights group found that:
Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, Israeli security forces have repeatedly used Palestinians in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip as human shields, ordering them to perform military tasks that risked their lives. As part of this policy, soldiers have ordered Palestinian civilians to remove suspicious objects from roads, to tell people to come out of their homes so the military can arrest them, to stand in front of soldiers while the latter shoot from behind them, and more. The Palestinian civilians were chosen at random for these tasks, and could not refuse the demand placed on them by armed soldiers.”
Israel is often touted as the only democracy in the Middle East; its robust legal system is praised as a panacea to the dictatorial regimes and monarchies of neighboring Arab states. One could infer, therefore, that since it was outlawed by the Israeli Knesset in 2005, the Israeli Defense Forces have halted the barbaric practice, and any soldiers caught resorting to it would be swiftly brought to justice per Israel’s own legislation.
Yet ‘Breaking the Silence,’ a group of former Israeli soldiers and conscientious objectors who speak out about human rights abuses by the Israeli military, say the practice continued unabated well after it was outlawed in 2005. Dozens of highly publicized cases, both inside and outside of Israel, corroborate their claims.
On May 13, 2022, 16-year-old Ahed was left traumatized after being used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers. Defense for Children International reported that:
Israeli soldiers forced Ahed Mohammad Rida Mereb, 16, to stand in front of an Israeli military vehicle on May 13 around 8 a.m. in the Al Hadaf neighborhood of Jenin as Palestinian gunmen shot heavily toward the Israeli forces’ position… Israeli forces ordered Ahed to stand outside the military vehicle for around two hours while they sat inside.”
Just one week later, Israeli forces were photographed forcing a Palestinian man into acting as a human shield during a raid into the occupied West Bank after Palestinian resistance fighters began firing on invading Israeli troops.
Despite its ban under Israeli law, justice has eluded Palestinian victims of the practice. In fact, the last time an Israeli soldier was punished for using a Palestinian as a human shield was in 2010 for an act committed during the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza.
B’Tselem summed up the charges against the two offending soldiers as follows:
The two soldiers in question had ordered a nine-year-old boy, at gunpoint, to open a bag they suspected was booby-trapped. Despite the gravity of their conduct – putting a young child at risk – the two were given a three-month conditional sentence and demoted from staff sergeant to private, some two years after the incident took place. None of their commanding officers were tried.”
There is little evidence to suggest that Israel has plans to ditch the practice either. There have been multiple cases documenting Israeli troops using human shields since the events of October 7, 2023.
A video posted to X by renowned Palestinian human rights activist Isso Amro on November 10 shows an Israeli soldier ducking behind a bound and blindfolded Palestinian man during an IDF raid in the Al Fawar Refugee camp in Hebron.
Watch how Israeli soldiers used a Palestinian detainee as a Human Shield in Al Fawar Refugee camp in Hebron . pic.twitter.com/pV9HcPXZi4
— Issa Amro عيسى عمرو (@Issaamro) November 10, 2023
Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts the show ‘Palestine Files’. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe’. Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47