Dec 24, 2006 3:40 pm


In an earlier post, I discussed the widespread use of human shields by terror groups. In all of the cases cited there (Hizballah during the recent Lebanon war, Palestinian terrorists holing up in the Church of the Nativity, the Taliban, Palestinian gunmen in Beit Hanoun) only the last (early November) was a case of civilians volunteering to serve as human shields, which the BBC described as"unprecedented".

Then in late November, in an effort to thwart Israeli retribution, an American priest and nun spent several hours inside the home of Mohammed Baroud, leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), the terrorist group specializing in firing rockets and shells into Israeli cities and towns. Israeli forewarning of its imminent targeting of Baroud's home only resulted in the PRC calling upon Gazans to converge of his home to act as human shields. They did so in their hundreds and the Israelis called off their attack. Jamila Shanti, who pioneered the successful human shield campaign in Beit Hanoun, says"We consider it a new kind of resistance, highly successful, one that will serve us well against the Israeli enemy".

New it may be; highly successful it certainly has been, until now; and it may indeed serve the Palestinian terrorists well for the moment, inasmuch as it deters Israel from acting to protect its own people from deliberate assaults. But it is unlikely that even the Israelis will be permanently deterred from preferring the preservation of Palestinian civilians lives to that of their own. Nor should they, for the following reason: Civilians who volunteer to collaborate with military forces forfeit the usual protections afforded by international law and Western military practice. This goes doubly where their collaboration is aimed at protecting the very people indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians.

A further point: Israel incurred considerable criticism over its inadvertent killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun. Since conducting legitimate military operations appears to be no defence against such criticism, where then was international condemnation of Palestinian groups carrying out mere gang warfare in recent days and recklessly killing their own civilians in Gaza City, including firing shells inside hospitals? Those earlier expressions of concern for Palestinian civilian lives were evidently political statements, not humanitarian ones.

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