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Exposing the Human Shield Industry

Last week, I discussed the need for widespread use of cameras in the Israel Defense Forces. But having footage of the IDF’s interactions with Palestinians wouldn’t be useful only to refute false claims of brutality. A no less important use would be to expose the Palestinians’ human shield industry to the world.

Here’s one example of how this industry works: On the night of September 30, 2013, IDF troops opened fire at two Palestinians who were trying to sabotage the Israel-Gaza border fence, killing one and wounding the other. Both men later proved to be unarmed, so that’s naturally how the story was reported: Israel kills two unarmed Palestinians.

Four days later, I happened to be visiting friends whose soldier son was home on leave. It turned out his unit was involved in this incident, and he was furious over what the media reports left out: Standing just a few hundred meters behind the two men, he said, was a group of armed Palestinians waiting to see whether the attempt to break through the fence succeeded. In other words, the soldiers had every reason to believe the men sabotaging the fence were part of a much larger infiltration attempt, even though they couldn’t be sure those two were themselves armed (it was night, they were moving, and they were partially obscured by the fence). Thus the soldiers did what responsible soldiers do when facing an attempted terrorist infiltration: They used lethal force to stop it.

I don’t know whether the two unarmed Palestinians were volunteers or unwilling conscripts. But either way, it’s easy to see why this methodology is a win-win for the terrorists. If the unarmed men succeed in breaking through the fence without being detected, the terrorists will know they can follow safely. But if the IDF does detect the unarmed men and tries to stop them, the Palestinians get a propaganda victory: Look, Israel shot unarmed men for no good reason! And without photographic evidence, there’s no way for the IDF to fight such propaganda: Outside of Israel, who’s going to believe the unsupported word of a random Israeli soldier?

This is standard operating practice for Palestinian terrorist groups–and, incidentally, for Hezbollah as well. In both the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and the war with Hamas in Gaza in 2009, for instance, a significant portion of the Lebanese and Palestinian civilian casualties resulted from the fact that Hezbollah and Hamas routinely fired rockets at Israel from the heart of civilian areas, thereby ensuring that when Israel returned fire, there would be civilian casualties as well. Israel pointed this out at the time, but absent convincing footage to back up its claims, what most of the world believed was the Hezbollah/Hamas propaganda: that Israel wantonly massacres civilians.

This narrative has been devastating to Israel’s international image, and fighting it is essential. Yet the only way to fight it is for Israel to provide clear photographic proof of the use of human shields–not just in response to Palestinian or Lebanese allegations, but on an ongoing basis. And the sooner, the better.


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