Via Rania Khalek:
Both houses of the US Congress are considering passing a resolution that condemns Hamas for using human shields despite not having any evidence to prove Hamas is employing this tactic.
Over the last 22 days, the Israeli army has deliberately bombed family homes, UN shelters, schools, places of worship, hospitals, water infrastructure and more, killing more than 1,300 Palestinians, 80 percent of whom have been civilians, including nearly 300 children.
In propaganda echoed by the US State Department, the Israeli government has repeatedly claimed that Hamas is using women and children as human shields to protect its weapons and rocket launchers, forcing Israel to massacre innocent Palestinians.
The only evidence Israel has provided for this unsubstantiated accusation is cartoon sketches.
But even The New York Times has conceded that “There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack.”
The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, similarly declared, “I saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.”
But Israel’s pathetic drawings are all the evidence US elected officials need to absolve Israel of responsiblity for war crimes.
The New York Times article referred to by Rania Khalek does elaborate, however:
There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack — the legal definition of a human shield under international law. But it is indisputable that Gaza militants operate in civilian areas, draw return fire to civilian structures, and on some level benefit in the diplomatic arena from the rising casualties. They also have at times encouraged residents not to flee their homes when alerted by Israel to a pending strike and, having prepared extensively for war, did not build civilian bomb shelters.
So there is no evidence that Palestinians are actually being physically forced to stay in the path of Israeli air strikes. There is evidence, however, that Hamas militants operate in civilian areas, which would partially explain why the Israeli military fires on civilian infrastructure in Gaza.
That being said, this doesn’t really absolve the Israeli military of responsibility for civilian deaths in Gaza. First, it is demonstrably untrue that every civilian death in Gaza is the result of Gaza militants firing on the Israeli military from civilian buildings. Last week, a Palestinian resident uploaded a video of an Israeli sniper murdering an unarmed man as he was searching for surviving relatives. The Israeli military has bombed Gaza’s only power plant, effectively shutting off electricity to all of Gaza. This not only has obvious negative effects on the quality of life for Gaza’s residents, but also affects access to clean water:
Nearly all Gaza’s water is brackish and is filtered with electric pumps to make it drinkable. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency is distributing bottled water to more than 200,000 Gazans displaced by the fighting, and Mercy Corps is trying to rent water delivery trucks to assist.
Such a tactic suggests a desire to collectively punish the residents of Gaza, as opposed to merely confining military targets to Hamas militant infrastructure.
Second, the Israeli military is the one pulling the trigger here. Official IDF policy on the question of avoiding civilian deaths is internally inconsistent, and states that saving IDF soldiers and resources is more important than avoiding civilian deaths:
"There is both a strong and formal "when possible, try to avoid killing civilians" order, but also a message of "show them we mean business" and, of course, "protect the troops at all cost" (which can mean you bring down the building rather than try to clear it room by room to avoid civilians). So I think Israel often tries to do both proportionality and deterrence, and as a result both suffer.
Third, even if we accept the argument that Hamas’s tactics allegedly force the Israeli government to choose between civilian deaths in Gaza and passively accepting rocket attacks into Israel, the Israeli military would still not be absolved of moral responsibility, as Max Fisher ably summarizes:
The argument over moral responsibility for civilian Palestinians often makes a fundamental mistake by assuming that culpability is zero-sum: that either Israel is responsible because it uses unnecessarily overwhelming force in civilian areas or Hamas is responsible because it attacks Israel from within civilian communities.
This fundamentally misses the point; both sides independently bear responsibility for the degree to which their tactics lead to civilian deaths. If one side abdicates that responsibility then this does not absolve the other. Both sides, by treating moral responsibility as zero-sum, are giving themselves permission to overlook their own role in driving up the civilian casualty rate, and thus continuing the killing.
More symbolically, treating moral responsibility as zero-sum — Hamas is free of blame because Israel bombs too much; Israel is free of blame because Hamas embeds itself among civilians — assumes that Palestinian civilian deaths only matter for the degree to which they make one side look better or worse. And that lack of regard for the hundreds of Palestinian civilians killed, the apparent sense that their lives only matter at the moment of their death so that it can be blamed on one side or another, is perhaps the most fundamental truth of the Israel-Gaza war.
Fourth, it seems evident to me that the Israeli military would probably show a lot more restraint in Gaza if the civilians who were in the path of their bombs in Gaza happened to be Israeli citizens (particularly if they happened to be non-Arab Jewish citizens). Israel once released 1,027 prisoners in exchange for a single IDF soldier. So they clearly regard the lives of Israelis as worth a great deal of sacrifice.
Lastly, even if we assumed that the Israeli government’s “human shields” argument was true, it’s not really all that compelling. It’s comparable to a situation where police responding to a hostage situation try to justify shooting through a hostage victim because it’s necessary to kill the evil hostage taker standing behind them. I think most people would agree that shooting through hostages to take out the hostage taker is the wrong way to resolve the situation. That’s effectively what the Israeli military does when it drops bombs in highly populated civilian areas to take out Hamas targets. But I guess killing hostages doesn’t matter quite as much when you really don’t give a damn about the hostages.