The Israeli propaganda machine has been in full swing since 30 March when the Great Return March saw tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza march to the fence with Israel demanding that they be allowed to return to their home towns and villages and for an end to the 11-year immoral siege on Gaza. The object is to once again dehumanise the Palestinians, presenting them as violent people intent on attacking and killing Israelis, rather than people with the backing of international law articulated in UN Resolution 194 which gives them the right to return.
Israeli hasbara was working overtime to deny the peaceful nature of the demonstrations and their origin as a grassroots movement. Even before the first march to the fence, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) circulated a document entitled “Hamas-led Confrontation Campaign”, which detailed the main talking points for Israel’s public diplomacy on the march. As the title of the document implies, Israel wanted to strip the march of its peaceful and civilian framing calling it a “provocation” and claiming that “Hamas is spending more than $10 million to finance the current confrontation campaign, paying Gazans to get them to participate”. There is of course no evidence that Hamas did such a thing. Palestinians (not Gazans) marched under their own free will. Families went out to the camps with their children in the hope that they could walk peacefully through the fence to their homes.
Another talking point was that “Israel has the right to defend its borders and to prevent infiltration into its sovereign territory”. What the document fails to explain is where exactly Israel’s borders are. Since Israel continues to occupy Gaza, controlling ingress and access for both people and goods, as well as keeping the population registry, the fence at which its troops were placed is artificial. It also has not built a wall along the whole border to allow it easy access to the besieged strip to flatten crops and to carry out murderous attacks against the population at will.
Israel reacted to the peaceful marches with tear gas and live ammunition that has resulted in 120 deaths and over 10,000 injuries. There has not been a single injury to an Israeli citizen, military or civilian during the marches.
The Israeli MFA document also goes on to claim that “Hamas continues to exploit the civilian population of Gaza as human shields”. This is an accusation it makes regularly to deflect the world’s attention from its crimes and to blame Hamas, not its murderous actions, for the death and maiming of Palestinians. During the 2014 war on Gaza, it claimed Hamas was firing rockets from civilian areas, even from civilian homes, schools and hospitals.
Israel claims Hamas has been paying Palestinians to go to the border, risking life and limb, taking their children, all to serve as human shields to provide cover for its operatives, planning attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. The Palestinians reject this claim, stressing that it is the organisers of the march that determine its development, not Hamas, and that Palestinians go to the fence of their own free will.
Israel even had the temerity through the publication of a misleading, edited video clip to smear 21-year-old medic Razan Al-Najjar accusing her of throwing an object at the fence and of acting as a human shield for Hamas. In fact, what Razan said in the full interview was “I act as a human shield as a rescuer for the injured on the front lines”.
The claim of Israel that Palestinians use Palestinians as human shields is false. In fact, Israel uses both Palestinians and Jews as human shields. The Israeli Army regularly uses Palestinians as human shields as outlined by B’Tselem. This includes ordering them to “remove suspicious objects from roads, to tell people to come out of their homes so the military can arrest them, to stand in front of soldiers while the latter shoot from behind them, and more. The Palestinian civilians were chosen at random for these tasks, and could not refuse the demand placed on them by armed soldiers”.
In 2010 two Israeli soldiers were convicted of using an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield in Gaza when they used him to open bags suspected of being booby trapped.
What may not be so apparent to observers is that the largest group of human shields in historic Palestine are Israeli settlers. Since its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has built colonies for Jews only, which it placed strategically, both for political and military reasons. The political reason is to make it impossible for a viable and contiguous Palestinian state to ever emerge. It is also a means of judaising Jerusalem and Hebron. By planting settlers illegally into Palestinian neighbourhoods, Israel deliberately puts them in harm’s way for political reasons, whether as pawns or human shields. When settlers occupy a Palestinian home in Hebron or Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, they are political human shields.
It was Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who articulated the military rationale. He claims that from his perspective, “it’s clear that the settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and those here in the area of Jericho and the Dead Sea are the State of Israel’s true defensive wall”. This is therefore an admission, that the settlers that populate these colonies are used as human shields by Israel to protect what is until now a state without definitive borders. Lieberman has been championing the settlement enterprise and has indeed vowed to continue to build illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The rise in settler terrorism is another use of the settlers as pawns to provoke Palestinian retaliation and to push Palestinians off their land. The army stands behind them as they carry out their terror, effectively using them as human shields.
The false claim that Hamas has used 40,000 civilians as human shields comes nowhere near Israel’s use of 700,000 human shields that are the illegal settlers. With a settler-led Israeli government there are plenty of prominent Israeli leaders that live in illegal settlements, making them human shields for Israel’s political and military goals.
Avigdor Lieberman, the former nightclub bouncer from Moldova now Israel’s defence minister, is himself a settler residing in the illegal Nokdim settlement in Gush Etzion. It turns out Israel’s most famous human shield is its defence minister.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.