In the early part of the current Israeli campaign in Lebanon, we heard macho noises indicating that the IDF would be relying on the "kill 'em all let God decide" school of military tactics in its fight against Hizbullah. Israeli Minister of Justice, Haim Ramon, declared on 27 July that: "All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah". This meant basically tough luck to those thousands of south Lebanese civilians too poor to leave, or too sick, or with nowhere to go, or stranded because the IAF had destroyed their roads and bridges, or scared to leave in case they met the same fate as the convoy from Marwaheen that followed the IDF's instructions to flee north only to get killed by the IDF as they fled. Apparently they were all fair game.
It's all very well being gung ho and going into battle proclaiming:
"Over here, everybody is the army... Everybody is Hezbollah. There's no kids, women, nothing."
"We're going to shoot anything we see."
But it's kind of embarassing when the dust settles, and it turns out that large numbers of those "Hizbullah operatives" you have been killing turn out to be real-life flesh-and-blood women and children after all. Because then you find yourself having to back-track rapidly, and manufacture excuses why all those hundreds of civilian deaths really aren't your fault. The first thing you can try is the "blame the victims" strategy: after all, they knew it was a war zone, so why didn't the stupid saps get out? (And what a strange new chapter in Zionist logic that is. In 1948 and 1967, they told us that refugees who flee a war zone deserve to lose their homes. In 2006, refugees who fail to flee a war zone apparently deserve to die).
The other argument you can use is to claim that really you were aiming for military targets, but killed the civilians because the military targets were hiding among them. We've heard a lot of claims from Israel's apologists in the last few weeks, blaming Hizbullah for using civilians as human shields, even though to seasoned observers on the ground that accusation doesn't hold much water. Peter Bouckaert, an experienced researcher for Human Rights Watch, reported from Tyre in south Lebanon:
I've documented civilian deaths from bombing campaigns in Kosovo and Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq. But these usually occur when there is some indication of military targeting: high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's regime present in a house just before it is hit, for example, or an attack against militants that causes the collateral deaths of many civilians.
In Lebanon, it's a different scene. Time after time, Israel has hit civilian homes and cars in the southern border zone, killing dozens of people with no evidence of any military objective.
And via jews san frontieres, reporter Mitch Prothero - formerly the UPI bureau chief in Baghdad, now based in Beirut - pointed out that hiding among civilians is very much at odds with Hizbullah's usual modus operandi:
Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around those targets to destroy them, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths -- the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far -- on "terrorists" who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.
But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters -- as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers -- avoid civilians like the plague. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators -- as so many Palestinian militants have been.
Whether or not it is true of Hizbullah, it cannot be denied that there really is a long-standing and well-documented tradition of soldiers in the region using civilians as human shields.
24 August 2003
Photo: An Israeli soldier leans his hand on the back of a handcuffed unidentified Palestinian resident as he is made to enter before the soldiers inside a building during a search operation in the Old City of the West Bank town of Nablus, in this Sunday, Aug. 24, 2003 file photo. Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005, banned the military's practice of using Palestinian civilians as 'human shields' in arrest raids, saying it violates international law. The court ruled in response to petitions by human rights groups. (AP/Nasser Ishtayeh)
22 April 2004
The boy, 13-year-old Mohammed Bedwan, and three adult protesters were tied to border police vehicles last week during one of what have become almost daily demonstrations against the routing of the Israeli government's barrier through Palestinian land.
The photograph, taken by human rights activists in the village of Biddo, north-west of Jerusalem, shows Mohammed tied by an arm to a mesh on the jeep windscreen - a mesh intended to protect the vehicle and its driver against stones and rocks. Police said last night that the Justice Ministry's police complaints unit was investigating the case."
-- Inquiry After Israeli Forces Caught Using Boy as Shield, Donald Macintyre, The Independent.
Photo: News Article from The Daily Mail (UK), 23 April 2004, via palestinefr.net.
18 June 2004
Soldier: "A lot of times, we told ourselves, they'll surely start shooting when it gets dark, at six, so why shouldn't we start shooting at 5:30, to deter them? Or they go up with the armored personnel carriers into Abu Sneina and start to spray the iturim, the selected buildings, from close up. To make a show of presence."
Interviewer: And afterward, you hear the military reporters saying, "Our forces returned fire toward the sources of the shooting," and what do you think?
Soldier: "That the media have totally failed. The basic feeling is that the reporters aren't searching for the truth in the field ... The IDF spokesman can tell a newspaper that the army doesn't confiscate the keys to Palestinians' cars, when this is something that has been done hundreds or thousands of times (The exhibition also includes a collection of such confiscated keys). I don't think that there are liars sitting in the IDF spokesman's office, but whoever is conveying information to them from the field is just deceiving them. For example, the whole matter of the `human shield,' which was denied many times and which the High Court forbade. I can attest that dozens of times after the High Court decision, we still used Palestinians as human shields, out of habit."
Interviewer: How is that done?
Soldier: "Using a 'human shield' means grabbing some fellow and sending him to open the door to a suspect's house, so if he shoots, this guy will take the bullets and not us. A 'human shield' is when there's a suspicious object on the road and you grab a Palestinian and send him to pick it up. It's done a lot - let it explode on him and not on me."
Interviewer: Did you ever see anyone get killed in such circumstances?
Soldier: "No, but it's completely a matter of luck."
-- Testimony of Yehuda Shaul, IDF reservist and organiser of the Breaking the Silence exhibition. [Footnote]
17 May 2005
4 September 2005
"The Israel Defense Forces is still using Palestinians as human shields, in defiance of a High Court of Justice ruling forbiding the practice, Haaretz has learned.
An IDF force broke into Mahmoud Rajabi's home in the Jabel Johar neighborhood in eastern Hebron at about 4 A.M. last Wednesday and forced three brothers to serve as human shields. Some 15 soldiers, armed with rifles, machine guns and observation equipment, took over the fourth-floor apartment where the 16 members of the Rajabi family live, at least half of them minors... Family members said the soldiers ordered most of them to leave, but held three of Rajabi's sons - Nabil, 30, Raja'ai, 19 and Najah, 13 - captive in the apartment. The three were used as human shields during the soldiers' stay, against their will...
At first, the IDF spokesman denied that the three brothers were being held against their will and said they could leave whenever they wanted. But the force's commander told Haaretz that they were holding the three until the operation ended. Apparently unaware of the IDF's obligation under the High Court decision not to use civilians as human shields, Liron said it was normal procedure intended "to protect his soldiers' lives." He was also unaware of the IDF Spokesman's denial that the three were being held until the end of the operation...
The IDF has said in the past that it obeys the court ruling and denied that such means are still in use."
-- IDF still uses human shields, in violation of High Court ruling; Arnon Regular, Ha'aretz.
6 October 2005
"Israel's supreme court has banned the use of Palestinian human shields in arrest raids, saying the practice violates international law. The court issued a temporary injunction against the practice in 2002 after a teenager was killed when troops made him negotiate with a wanted militant. Human rights groups who brought the case say the Israeli army has repeatedly violated the temporary ban...
The court ruled out both the placing of civilians in front of soldiers on operations and as well as an "early warning" procedure employed by the army. In this practice the army forces local Palestinians to flush out wanted militants by making them approach their homes first and asking them to surrender....
[ed - This "early warning" procedure is also referred to by the IDF as the "Neighbor Procedure", and one such operation was photographed by Gihad Nga:
See also: 'The neighbour procedure' leads to death of 19-year-old; The Irish Examiner, 16 Aug 2002]
The state argued that its rules were necessary to arrest wanted militants and did not endanger Palestinian civilians who - it argued - gave their consent to take part in the operations. But that was disputed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Israeli Arab human rights organisation Adallah, who brought the case.
Adallah submitted an affidavit by one Israeli reservist who said: "No civilian would refuse a 'request' presented to him at 0300 by a group of soldiers aiming their cocked rifles at him." "It's an important decision, but we need to see if the military will abide by it," said Adallah lawyer Marwan Dallal. "
-- Israel bans use of human shields; BBC News.
25 July 2006
"The Israeli army has been accused of using Palestinian civilians as human shields in an operation in northern Gaza.
According to the Israeli human rights group, B'tselem, six civilians including two minors were subjected to the illegal tactic during an incursion into the town of Beit Hanoun last week...
The three brothers were blindfolded, says Hazem, and their hands tied behind their backs... He shows me where the soldiers positioned them: outside the entrance to his flat on the third floor, in the stairwell, facing down the steps. "I think they put us here because they were expecting suiciders to come into the flat because none of the soldiers were on the stairs - they were all inside the flat. They put us here so we'll be shot first."...
"This was a very blatant violation of the prohibition of the use of human shields," [Yekhezel Lain, research director with the Israeli human rights group B'tselem] tells me. "It was just soldiers hiding behind the back of civilians who were held with force in their homes."
B'tselem says it is investigating reports of other, similar incidents in Gaza during the past month."
-- Israelis accused of 'human shields' tactic; BBC News.
The phenomenon of attributing to others behaviors that you are guiltily aware of performing yourself, is a recognised condition in medical literature. It's called "Projection".
It's defined as: "A defense mechanism to cope with internal or external stressors and emotional conflict by attributing to another person - usually falsely - thoughts, feelings, wishes, impulses, needs, and hopes deemed forbidden or unacceptable by the projecting party".
And it's a mental disorder.
Footnote: The link is to a cached version of the Breaking the Silence web site. The main site is under repair after being hacked. Really sucks to find out how The Most Moral Army In The World™ actually behaves, doesn't it?
Related Link: Read the testimonies of some of the Palestinians used as human shields by the IDF during the al-Aqsa intifada.
Update, 3 Aug 08: I have consolidated my various posts on the subjects of Israel's use of Palestinian civilians as human shields into a single post, here.