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The Truth About Human Shields

Hamas’s use of its own people as human shields is clear and unambiguous.
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November 29, 2023
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The other day, I saw that an old friend of mine had posted about the term “human shields,” a term which Israel uses to describe Hamas’s reckless endangerment of civilian lives in Gaza to deter Israeli attacks or score propaganda victories. 

This friend called the term “a racist, wanton, craven, and evil way to describe the people you are killing.” 

She’s right to sense that there’s evil afoot here, but beyond that she seems to be confused. It’s evil to use human shields, not to critique the use of them. 

That said, she’s not alone in her confusion. Just a week ago, the Washington Post was pressured to remove a political comic mocking the Hamas practice. 

The backlash against the term “human shields” rests on the idea that the accusation is not only false, but racist and dehumanizing. Let’s examine both of these charges. 

First off, it’s not false. In fact, it’s widespread and well-documented. To list just a few examples, Hamas has urged its citizens to ignore evacuation orders from combat zones, they have built tunnels under UN schools, they have stored rockets in al-Rantisi hospital, and senior Hamas official Khaled Mashal has openly stated that he knew how many Palestinian lives would be “martyred” for the sake of the October 7 attack, adding in the same interview that he fully intends on repeating the attack. 

If my friend has any further doubt as to whether Hamas is capable of such depravity, she might want to consult the Hamas “manual” which contained instructions for the terrorists who attacked Israel on October 7.

As reported by the Atlantic: “After the hostages are brought together, it says, they should be culled (‘kill those expected to resist and those that pose a threat’); the others should be bound and blindfolded, then ‘reassured,’ to keep them docile. ‘Use them as human shields,’ it says, and use ‘electric shocks’ to force compliance.

‘Kill the difficult ones,’ it adds.”

It’s not racist or dehumanizing for Israel to call out such practices. In fact, Hamas’s use of this tactic is proof that Israel does not see civilians in the same debased way that they do. Otherwise, the tactic would not be effective.

Ironically, this means that Hamas has a better opinion of Israel than many American anti-Zionists. Hamas at least knows that Israel works to avoid civilian deaths. This is why they use human shields in the first place.

Ironically, this means that Hamas has a better opinion of Israel than many American anti-Zionists. Hamas at least knows that Israel works to avoid civilian deaths. This is why they use human shields in the first place.

As Sam Harris stated in a recent episode of the “Making Sense” podcast, “Whenever an armed conflict breaks out, some groups will use human shields, and others will be deterred, to one degree or another, by their use.”

At the center of this debate is Israel’s operation at the al-Shifa Hospital, which Israel has long claimed is a “command center” for Hamas. The world waited anxiously to see what would turn up when the IDF searched the compound, as it would cast some light on the matter.

Well — what has the IDF found so far?

If you’ve seen the viral infographic called “Helpful Context for Frustrating Conversations About Gaza,” you would be led to believe that the IDF found “a laptop, a grab bag, a box of dates, and a calendar in Arabic, among various other items.”

This graphic was by an account called “So Informed” in collaboration with an account called “Let’s Talk Palestine.” The post has been liked by upwards of 150,000 people, all of whom are less informed than they were before they came across the post. 

A “grab bag” sounds like something you get at a kid’s birthday party, but it’s actually a duffel bag with a Kalashnikov and ammunition in it. Multiple such bags were discovered, not one.

As for “various other items,” this refers to live grenades, drones, rifles, Hamas uniforms, and other explosives. Why does “So Informed” mention the box of dates but not the grenades? 

Also recovered was video of Israeli hostages being taken to Shifa hospital after their capture, as well as evidence that some hostages were executed there or in the immediate vicinity of the compound. Beneath the hospital, a tunnel network was uncovered complete with (in the words of Haaretz’s Yaniv Kubovich, who visited the site), “well-lit, air-conditioned rooms that contain tables and beds” and which were hooked up to the hospital’s electrical system. Independent U.S. intelligence has it that these tunnels were used for Hamas operatives.

Pro-Israel sources see a smoking gun. Anti-Israel sources say there’s nothing to see here. As is so common in our media landscape, two sets of people look at the same set of facts but draw completely different conclusions.

Let’s try and navigate a middle path. We can admit some doubt as to whether this is Hamas’ main headquarter. There is no room for doubt, however, that Shifa was used by Hamas for military purposes. They also apparently ate some dates there.

The takeaways from this incident should be clear. One, Hamas, which has sworn up and down that no military activity has ever taken place at Shifa, should not be considered a reliable source of information on anything. Two, anyone who claims to value Palestinian life should be praying for the day that Hamas’s rule comes to an end.

But while the discoveries at Shifa are important, in some ways they are distractions. Hamas’s use of its own people as human shields is clear and unambiguous.

That Hamas started this war at all is proof enough that they are willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent Gazans on the altar of a futile, never-ending war against Israel, one whose aim is not Palestinian liberation but rather the destruction of Israel and the genocide of the Jews.

Hamas believes that the chance to revel briefly in Jewish blood and humiliation is worth the death and immiseration of their own people. I cannot think of anything more wanton, craven and evil than that.


Matthew Schultz is a Jewish Journal columnist and rabbinical student at Hebrew College. He is the author of the essay collection “What Came Before” (Tupelo, 2020) and lives in Boston and Jerusalem.  

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