Israeli “human shield” rhetoric is — at its best — a marketing scheme misrepresenting reality and — at its worst — an excuse for exterminating the Palestinian population.
Discourse regarding Hamas’ alleged use of Palestinian civilians as human shields remains widespread, as Israel strives to contain increasing international condemnation and outrage over the atrocities of Operation Protective Edge.
Of course, the context of “international” must be defined in order to accommodate different and diverging narratives. Israel’s allies do not fall into the condemning category — rather, they promulgate the “human shields” accusation against Hamas in a feeble attempt to retain hegemonic assertions. Combine “human shields” with “legitimacy,” though, and the equation for blatant misrepresentation is perfect.
With Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression numbering more than 1,000, pressure on Israel to explain the deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians through the Israeli Defense Force’s lauded precision strikes is growing stronger. In an attempt to ward off criticism, Israel has launched a new marketing strategy: “Hamas sacrifices Gaza for its extremism.” The idea behind the campaign, as explained in the Jerusalem Post, is to deflect blame from Israel and onto Hamas. According to an unnamed Israeli official paraphrased in the Jerusalem Post, “Israel wanted to impress upon the world that it is not as if the battle started elsewhere and ‘rolled into civilian areas’ like Shejaia, but rather that Hamas set up its command centers, rocket launchers and attack tunnels in the civilian areas to begin with.” The implicit message is that Hamas’ “extremism” forced the commencement of the current massacre, thus relieving Israel of any liability.
Evidence collected by Defence for Children International Palestine regarding Israeli troops’ conduct on various occasions testifies to Israel’s use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. Furthermore, video evidence clearly portrays the manipulations of the Israeli military in their West Bank incursions. In one video, Israeli soldiers detain Palestinian children to stand in front of a military jeep and force a Palestinian teenager to stand at gunpoint while a house is searched.
In the current context — which, according to Israel, renders the entirety of Gaza a legitimate target — Hamas is blamed for anticipating and wanting an extreme Palestinian death toll to garner unbridled sympathy. On July 20, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Hamas needs an abundance of “telegenically dead Palestinians” to further its cause.
Netanyahu also erroneously declared that Israel uses weapons to protect its “civilians” — which should read settler-colonialists — while Hamas uses civilians to protect its weapons. In addition, the IDF’s Twitter account has kept up a steady stream of propaganda mainly consisting of “terror tunnel” discoveries and detonations, including statements such as “Gaza terrorists could have used this tunnel to abduct or murder Israelis. We found & detonated before they could.” Never mind the uncertainty regarding whether the tunnel was used or not — tunnels have become an integral part of Israel’s violent rhetoric, rather than Hamas’ allegedly “terrorist” actions.
The IDF’s Twitter account is also obsessed with interpreting “Hamas’ world” according to Israeli conjecture that is permanently disassociated from the ramifications of settler-colonialism, forced displacement, and the Gaza siege. The world is informed that “hospitals are command centers, ambulances are transport vehicles and medics are human shields.” In more accurate wording, the statement reflects Israel’s predisposition to display its military capabilities on any given target and its abundant contempt for international law.
Much emphasis has been placed on allegations of Hamas utilizing U.N. Relief and Works Agency schools to store weapons — a topic that has been exhausted by the Jerusalem Post — resulting in the incessant bombing of facilities even after UNRWA admitted the alleged weapons were handed over to officials with the unity government.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness tweeted on July 24, “Over the course of the day UNRWA tried to coordinate with the Israeli Army a window for civilians to leave and it was never granted.”
Human shields rhetoric, therefore, is little more than an excuse for Israel to murder the greatest number of Palestinian civilians possible, leaving UNRWA staff and other Palestinians to gather mutilated bodies and severed limbs into plastic bags for a semblance of a decent burial.
An enclave of incarceration
Rather than insisting upon the human shield rhetoric, it is imperative to focus on Gaza as an incarcerated enclave. Israel has recently started advocating for the demilitarization of Gaza as a step to further the subjugation of the resistant population that is thriving despite increasing hardships and isolation, in particular following the rise to the presidency of Egypt’s Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who closed the Rafah border crossing and aided Israel in its initial pursuit of destroying the Gaza tunnels — Palestinians’ only link to the world beyond the enclave.
Operation Protective Edge has reinforced the focus on Gaza’s reality through inscribing indiscriminate and unjustified murder upon the entire enclave. Perpetuating false reassurances, Israel then claims that Palestinians are being used as human shields, despite absolute evidence to the contrary, and it blames Hamas for firing rockets from civilian and densely populated areas — hence, the one-sided justification of Israeli-inflicted carnage.
If rockets are stored and fired from civilian areas, the blame lies solely with the creation of Israel in 1948 and its subsequent maintenance, which, among other human rights violations, has created unsustainable conditions in Gaza that can only be repelled through resistance, not diplomacy. So far, diplomacy has failed to address issues such as restrictions placed upon education, the deprivation of basic services such as water, as well as the lack of freedom of movement exacerbated by the reality of incessant forced displacement faced by Gazans living there.
Blaming Hamas for the ramifications of colonial violence perverts history and manipulates the present reality. Just as the endless charters allegedly meant to safeguard human rights were created as a response to human rights violations, Palestinian resistance is a response to the illegal existence of Israel’s settler-colonial state. The imposition of Israel upon Palestinian territory fuelled Palestinian resistance as a rightful and legitimate measure for liberation. Since Israel’s ongoing colonial massacre, the liberation of historic Palestine has gained ground. Discourse regarding the two-state solution is now less prominent, as Palestinians have united behind the renewed resistance exhibiting traits of the historical resilience enshrined within the charters of various factions.
Despite Zionist propaganda, the termination of Operation Protective Edge will not annihilate Palestinian resistance, and the rhetoric of human shields will be shelved for the next designated massacre that aims to bring about a slow extermination of the Palestinian population. Israel has exploited the macabre and entirely fictional imagery of unwilling civilians forced to their deaths by “militants” allegedly more concerned about piles of martyred bodies than the safeguarding of the indigenous population.
Considering the restrictions imposed by Israel upon Palestinians in Gaza — including the prohibitions imposed upon Palestinian civilians wishing to return to their neighborhoods — it is little wonder that the human shields rhetoric would escalate within the given context. Departing from the premise that Israel is the entity utilizing human shields, it follows that the enclave has been conveniently designated as a human shield by the settler-colonial state — a typical Zionist characteristic involving the constant extermination of Palestinians with the ultimate aim of furthering colonial expansion.