The Associated Press reported on Friday that evidence disclosed since the end of this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas indicated that the Palestinian terror group had deliberately used civilians as human shields while launching rockets at Israeli civilians, and that even Hamas officials now admitted they had embraced the tactic. The wire bluntly noted that “discussion is not about whether the Hamas rockets were fired from civilian areas, but exactly how close they were to the actual buildings.”
Hamas officials cited by the AP defended their use of human shields by asserting that the population density of the Gaza Strip gave them little choice except to operate around civilians, a practiced codified as a war crime by the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Geneva Conventions:
Throughout the war, the Israeli air force compiled dozens of video clips showing alleged wrongdoing by Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction.
These videos, many of them posted on YouTube, appear to show rockets flying out of residential neighborhoods, cemeteries, schoolyards and mosque courtyards. There are also images of weapons caches purportedly uncovered inside mosques, and tunnels allegedly used by militants to scurry between homes, mosques and buildings.
Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad was specifically quoted declaring that “Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, is one uninterrupted urban chain.” The claim is false. A short study by Alan Dershowitz titled “The empty spaces in Gaza,” published last month by the Gatestone Institute, noted that “there are dense parts of Gaza, especially Gaza City, Beit Hanoun and Khan Younis, but there are far less dense areas in Gaza between these cities.” Dershowitz pointed to population density maps to emphasize that Hamas had embraced a “strategy of using human shields to maximize civilian casualties,” and questioned why there had not been more media coverage of areas:
There is no fighting going on in the sparsely populated areas, so showing them would be boring. But that’s precisely the point—to show areas from which Hamas could be firing rockets and building tunnels but has chosen not to. Or perhaps the reason the media doesn’t show these areas is that Hamas won’t let them. That too would be a story worth reporting.
Second, why doesn’t Hamas use sparsely populated areas from which to launch its rockets and build its tunnels? Were it to do so, Palestinian civilian casualties would decrease dramatically, but the casualty rate among Hamas terrorists would increase dramatically.
Hamas’s admission that it utilized civilian infrastructure for military purposes may prove awkward for journalists, analysts, and advocates who during the war denied that the Palestinian group was using human shields. BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen published in July that, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that civilian casualties were the result of Hamas’s decision to put them in the line of fire, he personally had seen “no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.” The claim was conveyed on Twitter by Ken Roth, the longtime executive director of Human Rights Watch.
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