Commentary Magazine


Topic: human shields

Hamas Reaps Perverse Rewards of Its Media Strategy

If anyone still wonders why Hamas locates its military installations in schools, hospitals, and mosques, the answer comes back in all the headlines being run all over the world: “Israel Bombs Babies” or some variant thereof.

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If anyone still wonders why Hamas locates its military installations in schools, hospitals, and mosques, the answer comes back in all the headlines being run all over the world: “Israel Bombs Babies” or some variant thereof.

Hamas has presented Israel with a no-win situation: Either the Israel Defense Forces declare Hamas militants and weapons off-limits for attacks (in which case Hamas can continue barraging Israel with its rockets and sending its terrorists to infiltrate via tunnels so they can kidnap and kill Israelis) or Israel attacks Hamas installations and produces inevitable collateral damage which then creates sad but true stories of innocent civilians getting killed.

The world, perversely if expectedly, draws a simple moral from all this: Not that Hamas is guilty of war crimes (which it is) by hiding its military infrastructure in civilian areas but that Israel is guilty of war crimes (which it isn’t) for targeting that infrastructure while doing its level best to avoid civilian casualties.

Even observers who are willing to admit that Israel has a right to self-defense then play the Hamas game by subjecting every single Israeli military operation to the kind of minute scrutiny that no other military in the world–not even the American Armed Forces–must face. For instance, there is this New York Times investigative article which begins: “An examination of an Israeli barrage that put a line of at least 10 shells through a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians here last week suggests that Israeli troops paid little heed to warnings to safeguard such sites and may have unleashed weapons inappropriate for urban areas despite rising alarm over civilian deaths.”

I have no idea precisely what happened during the operation which apparently hit a school in Gaza on July 30–and neither does the New York Times, because its reporters were able to get only one side of the story. That is, they are able to get the story provided by Hamas, which is happy to allow Palestinian civilians to be interviewed as long as they say what they’re supposed to say (namely, to blame all casualties on the Zionist imperialists).

Journalists know they are at risk of violent retribution from Hamas if they report how that terrorist organization is, for example, firing rockets from the parking lot of Al Shifa hospital, something that was only reported by an obscure Finnish TV reporter.

Or as an Italian journalist tweeted after leaving Gaza: “Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.”

Those journalists who remain in Gaza, whatever their noble intentions, are serving as a mouthpiece, intentional or not, for the story that Hamas–an organization openly dedicated to genocide–wants the world to hear. This is a brilliant use of “information warfare” on the part of the terrorists, but it’s a disgrace that so many well-meaning people fall for the Hamas line without bothering to learn anything about the extraordinary care that Israel takes to avoid civilian casualties including routinely dropping leaflets on buildings before they are targeted.

Does the IDF still make mistakes and kill civilians they shouldn’t have killed? Of course. That’s the nature of war. Especially of a war fought against an enemy that disdains the most basic laws of war, which call for fighters to openly identify themselves and not shelter behind human shields. Is it tragic that Palestinian civilians are being killed? Of course.

But at the end of the day it’s hard to see what more the IDF can do to avoid public opprobrium without simply giving Hamas a free-fire license. As the Israeli novelist Amos Oz (no hawk he) says: “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”

Unfortunately few people around the world bother to grapple with the moral complexity of his question–or to imagine what their own governments would do if thousands of rockets were raining down on their territory. It’s much easier to simply blame big bad Israel for the supposed “disproportionality” of its response.

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Israel and the Burden of Being Right

Generally when someone says they “hate to say I told you so,” it’s fair to doubt they really hate saying it. But in Israel’s case it’s believable. The current conflict with Gaza is proving Israel correct about its various claims with regard to Hamas, and the result is the treacherous urban warfare the world is currently witnessing.

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Generally when someone says they “hate to say I told you so,” it’s fair to doubt they really hate saying it. But in Israel’s case it’s believable. The current conflict with Gaza is proving Israel correct about its various claims with regard to Hamas, and the result is the treacherous urban warfare the world is currently witnessing.

As Evelyn Gordon wrote earlier, the vast tunnel networks prove Israel was right about letting in dual-use items that Hamas would only appropriate for its terror war against Israeli civilians. The West should, in fact, be embarrassed by its enabling of those tunnels: pressuring Israel to let in those materials was the international community’s way of using Israeli civilians as guinea pigs in a grand experiment. They didn’t believe Israeli predictions, and wanted the premises tested. Now they have been, and innocents are paying the price.

While we’re on the topic of dangerously boneheaded diplomatic fumbles by the Obama administration, the FAA ban on flights to Israel’s major international airport–conspicuously imposed not when the rockets started flying but when John Kerry needed leverage to box Israel into a cease-fire–proved another point. The grotesque body-counters among the press like to treat rockets from Gaza as barely more than fireworks which do not lead (because of Israeli and American technological genius) to a comparable number of fatalities.

But the FAA ban is the Obama administration’s way of inadvertently admitting otherwise: rockets from Gaza are such a threat, according to the Obama administration’s actions, that Tel Aviv should be treated as more dangerous for commercial flight than countless other locations that would give anything for a safety record even resembling that of Ben-Gurion. Thus, the possibility that rockets will escape Iron Dome is sufficient to treat them as the act of war they are intended to be. Israel was right about the need to stop and deter the rockets, not least because of America’s reaction to them.

The tunnels and the rockets are Hamas’s primary threat to those living inside Israel, and they also shine a light on another of Israel’s verified claims: Hamas’s practice of turning civilians and their property into instruments of war. As I wrote on Tuesday, journalists have witnessed Hamas fighters using a hospital as a command center and moving rockets into mosques. And Hamas is using UN schools to store weaponry as well.

But reporters have also opened a window into why there’s not as much coverage of the use of human shields as one would think. Yesterday, a Wall Street Journal photographer tweeted an image of a Hamas official at Shifa hospital and wrote: “You have to wonder w the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media.” He then deleted the tweet. At the Jerusalem Post, Lahav Harkov offers a window into the threats journalists are getting on social media for recording Hamas actions:

On Wednesday, Peter Stefanovic of Australia’s Channel Nine News tweeted: “Hamas rockets just launched over our hotel from a site about two hundred metres away. So a missile launch site is basically next door.”

An account called @ThisIsGaza said this was Stefanovic’s fourth time “passing and fabricating information to Israel… from GAZA” and threatened to sue him.

Another account, @longitude0 wrote: “You are a cretin. Are you working for the IDF” and “in WWII spies got shot.”

Financial Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief John Reed reported seeing “two rockets fired toward Israel from near al-Shifa hospital, even as more bombing victims were brought in.”

Shifa, in Gaza City, is the main medical facility in the Strip.

In response, @Saritah_91 tweeted: “We’ll hold you responsible if Israel uses your tweet to bomb the hospital & then justify it.”

The Hamas supporters are making use of the term “informant,” treating the media as their allies (I can’t imagine why) who then betray the cause when they report what they see. There has also been an interesting desire on the part of journalists to obfuscate the implications of their own reporting. For example, in an article detailing Hamas’s brazen use of human shields, New York Times reporters Anne Barnard and Jodi Rudoren write:

Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare. 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.

Hamas is using civilians as human shields, but let’s not jump to any conclusions. Barnard and Rudoren don’t cite their source for international law, but here is the plain text of the Geneva Conventions:

The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.

But even by the Barnard/Rudoren account, it’s pretty clear that Hamas, in turning civilian areas into military targets and then prohibiting civilians from using the reinforced bunkers under those areas to which Hamasniks then retreat when the counterattack arrives, is using civilians as human shields.

Again, Israel said all this–and has said it for some time. But there’s not much consolation in being right about these claims, because it means Hamas’s sacrificial use of Palestinian civilians and the group’s genocidal war against the Jewish state continues.

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Censorship vs. Accountability in Journalism

Last week, there was a bit of an uproar when NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was covering Gaza for the network, was replaced with a more experienced anchor. There were concerns that Mohyeldin was being rotated out of Gaza due to his apparent sympathy for the Palestinian side. After an outcry, he was sent back to Gaza. But it’s now becoming clear that NBC had good reason to have second thoughts about putting its coverage in Mohyeldin’s hands.

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Last week, there was a bit of an uproar when NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was covering Gaza for the network, was replaced with a more experienced anchor. There were concerns that Mohyeldin was being rotated out of Gaza due to his apparent sympathy for the Palestinian side. After an outcry, he was sent back to Gaza. But it’s now becoming clear that NBC had good reason to have second thoughts about putting its coverage in Mohyeldin’s hands.

CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter looked into the controversy and did a segment on it over the weekend. In an accompanying article, he explains that NBC had Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel arrive in Israel midweek and that the network was prepared for the possibility it would only have time for one broadcast, and decided to make it Engel’s. That proved to be wise call.

The day Engel arrived, Mohyeldin witnessed the attack on a Gaza beach area that killed four Palestinian children. That earned him a chance to do the segment. But NBC higher-ups were disappointed in the quality of Mohyeldin’s proposed script, and crunched for time, gave the nod to the more experienced Engel. It was a very sensitive story, and Mohyeldin had dropped the ball.

That didn’t stop complaints that Mohyeldin was being punished (or “censored,” a patently ridiculous claim) for his perceived pro-Palestinian bias. But there’s a difference between sympathy for the Palestinians and whitewashing Hamas at the expense of getting an accurate story. And now back in the region, Mohyeldin is showing why NBC was uncomfortable with his work. On a segment on Gaza with MSNBC host Chris Hayes last night, Mohyeldin was asked about the tendency of Hamas to use Palestinians in Gaza as human shields. Here was his response to Hayes:

MOHYELDIN: Well, we just put that statement, exact statement to Hamas spokesperson who’s categorically denied that Hamas or its fighters are
using the civilian population as human shields. We have not — I have not in my specific time here in Gaza, and I’ve covered three separate wars – have ever seen Hamas fighters using civilians as human shields.

But more importantly, what they say about that allegation, they categorically reject it, they deny. They say the entire world’s media is present here on the ground in Gaza. If there are any evidence, or if there are any reporters, that should be sufficient, but none of those have emerged, according to Hamas. Officials, they say there simply isn’t any documentation to suggest that Hamas uses hospitals or uses mosques or schools to store weapons.

Now, the U.N. has countered that. The U.N. has said that last week, it found 20 rockets in one U.N. facility, although that was not substantiated. That is a claim the United Nations, which oversees schools near Gaza, claims to have found.

For its part, though, Hamas denies that allegation entirely.

To put it simply: if Mohyeldin has reported from Gaza for three wars and never witnessed the use of human shields, he is failing comprehensively to do his job. This is likely what NBC saw: a reporter missing the key stories his competitors were covering to instead offer Hamas’s official explanation. Some NBC executives were very likely uncomfortable not with Mohyeldin’s supposed sympathy for Palestinian children but that he was taking a wrecking ball to NBC’s credibility.

Perhaps he was in over his head; Gaza is a tough beat. Whatever the reason, NBC had to do something. Now that they’ve returned him to Gaza, he continues chipping away at their efforts to get some accurate sense of the conflict.

It’s not as though Hamas has all the media fooled (as Mohyeldin hints). The Washington Post has been quite busy getting the story. The Algemeiner has a roundup of Post stories on the topic. They note that the Post covered the fact that Hamas was using a hospital as “a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders,” and that the Post ran stories detailing the use of mosques to store rockets. In one story, the Post reporter witnessed Hamas fighters moving rockets into a mosque during a temporary cease-fire. It’s also a bit baffling that Mohyeldin played down the rockets discovered in a UN school, when other press followed the progress of those rockets being returned to (Hamas-linked) Palestinian officials.

To be fair, Mohyeldin isn’t alone. The New York Times’s Anne Barnard complained on Twitter this morning that criticism of her one-sided coverage isn’t fair because it’s too dangerous to cover Hamas accurately. I sympathize, and admire reporters for putting themselves in harm’s way for their job. But it’s all the more reason to salute the reporters who are doing so while actually getting the story.

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Hamas’s Human Shield War

Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

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Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

As I noted yesterday, even the New York Times found it necessary to report that the Israel Defense Forces are issuing warnings to Palestinians living in and around Hamas missile launchers and operations center in Gaza. But having decided to escalate another round of violence by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, the Islamist group is still hoping to use the presence of Palestinian civilians around legitimate military targets as a weapon against the Jewish state.

In the past, this merely meant putting missile launchers next to schools, hospitals, and mosques as well among civilian homes in the densely populated strip. But as Israel has stepped up its efforts to try and spare civilians even as it seeks to silence the terrorist fire, Hamas has also increased its efforts to ensure that as many inhabitants of Gaza as possible are hurt in the fighting.

As Memri.org reports, speaking on Tuesday on Hamas’s Al Asqua-TV in Gaza, the group’s spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri urged the population of the strip to refuse to heed warnings and to use their bodies to shield Hamas facilities:

This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people, who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood. The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation. Also, this policy reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy, in order to protect the Palestinian homes.

The talk of defending “Palestinian homes” with “bare chests” is an allusion to the fact that instead of evacuating buildings after IDF warnings, Palestinians have instead surged into them in an effort to either deter the attack or to incur the maximum casualties from the attack.

The cynicism of this tactic is transparent but even though Hamas is making no secret of its intentions, the news reports about the conflict remain centered on the “disproportionate” force used by Israel and the contrast between Palestinian and Israeli casualty figures.

It is true that Hamas’s weaponry is no match for the sophisticated Israeli missile defense system that has, with U.S. help, been created to shield civilians from rocket fire from Gaza. Since, as the media continue to remind us, Palestinians have no “Iron Dome” system to protect them against Israeli counter-attacks, it is assumed that the war between Israel and Hamas is not a fair fight. In this manner, Hamas, cheered on by the so-called “moderate” Palestinians like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas who accused Israel of “genocide” in its attacks on Gaza, reinforces the idea that it is a “David” fighting the Jewish “Goliath.”

That Israel faces challenges in what is a classic case of asymmetrical warfare is a given in this conflict. The Palestinians have perpetuated this war by continually refusing to make peace and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. They are also attempting to manipulate Western opinion into believing their version of the conflict in which they falsely portray Israel as a “colonial” power occupying another people’s land rather than admitting that the dispute is part of an existential struggle aimed at wiping out the one Jewish state on the planet. The lopsided casualty figures bolster these specious talking points.

But it cannot be emphasized too much that Palestinian intent plays a much greater role in the casualties than technology. Hamas situates its weapons and fighters next to or among civilians not just because Gaza is crowded but because it is hoping that Israel will kill as many of their own people as possible. It indiscriminately fires rockets at Israeli population centers in part to kill as many Jews as possible though it has, to date, failed in that effort. But it is just as important to them to generate the Israeli counter-attacks that inevitably lead to Palestinian civilian deaths even if those numbers are inflated because many of those killed are actually Hamas terrorists.

In a war of perceptions, Hamas’s human shield tactics have given its leaders a winning strategy even if the result is tragedy for their own people. But the problem with those who draw superficial conclusions from the casualty figures is not just that they don’t understand what Hamas is doing to inflict as much pain on their own people as they can. It’s that these numbers obscure the basic point of the conflict. Hamas is not seeking to end the occupation of Gaza or the West Bank or to force Israel to draw its borders differently. Hamas’ purpose is to destroy Israel and kill its people. When they speak of “resistance” it is not an effort to push back against particular Israeli policies but a refusal to accept the permanence of the return of the Jews to their land. The misleading blood feud narrative adopted by the media in response to the carnage may seem even-handed. But there should be no mistake about the fact that the human shields of Gaza are merely a ploy aimed at diverting the world from the truth about Palestinian intentions.

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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.

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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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