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Israel’s human shields: Its own people

February 3, 2024 at 12:44 pm

Back dropped by the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, an Israeli right-wing activist holds the national flag [GALI TIBBON/AFP via Getty Images]

In recent years, there has been extensive reporting on Israel’s use of Palestinians as human shields during their military operations. Human shields are defined by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as: “A method of warfare prohibited by IHL where the presence of civilians or the movement of the civilian population, whether voluntary or involuntary, is used in order to shield military objectives from attack, or to shield, favour or impede military operations.” We intend to demonstrate that Israel also uses its own people as human shields to favour its military operations to colonise Palestine.

Israel’s settler colonial project uses violence to forcibly displace Palestinians from their land and replace dispossessed Palestinian towns and villages with Israeli settlements. Palestinians are then forced into remnant neighbouring Palestinian areas, where they dream of returning to their land. The result is Israeli settlers then living near the areas aggrieved Palestinians have been pushed into.

The Israeli state propaganda machine incentivises Israelis to move to settlements financially and through religio-nationalistic narratives while conveniently neglecting the realistic probability of Palestinian resistance. Many settlers even willingly consented to moving into the land while being aware of the high probability of Palestinian resistance.

When Palestinians inevitably resist and attempt to reclaim their stolen land, Israeli settlers will inescapably be the first ones in the firing line. When settlers become casualties, Israel exploits their deaths and injuries to curry favour for their disproportionate military responses to Palestinians from within the area where the attack emanates. Typically, this violence is followed by renewed attempts to occupy said territory.

Watch: Zionist settler leader discusses plans to build illegal settlements in Gaza ‘in her lifetime’

While in no way do we condone violence against non-combatants, we seek to highlight how, through settler colonialism, Israel uses settlers as pawns to justify their violent escalations against Palestinians in the surrounding areas to occupy even more land. Put simply, all settlers are human shields. This strategy was played out in the build-up to and aftermath of 7 October.

Human shields surrounding Gaza


Between 1947 and 1949, Zionist military forces heavily escalated its Nakba campaign against Palestinians and began to frequently conduct massacres to dispossess the indigenous population from their land. As seen in the picture above, the land around present-day Gaza was no exception to this. Palestinian villages near the Strip were destroyed and people were forcefully displaced to Gaza. To solidify Israel’s hold over the areas, the colonial project began building settlements around the Gaza Strip.

Though, consolidation of occupied territory was not the ultimate aim for Israel. Rather, it was to place Israel’s population close enough to the Gazan Palestinians so that one day, when the indigenous Palestinians inevitably decide to reclaim their land, the first to be affected is Israel’s own people. This insidious plan came to fruition in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October.

[Middle East Eye]

In recognition of the historical context in which these attacks arose, Palestinian armed groups sought to regain land lost 75 years ago. The inevitability of 7 October comes as a result of Israel’s establishment of Gaza as an open-air prison, the continuous massacring of Palestinians in Gaza and the rejection of any meaningful framework by which Palestinians could non-violently resist Israeli occupation.

Though much of the media discourse has proclaimed that an Israeli takeover of Gaza is not on the cards after the war, Benjamin Netanyahu nevertheless shares his occupational intentions when he states that after the war, “overall security responsibility” over Gaza will be in Israel’s hands. This deceptive wording practically entails Israeli military occupation of Gaza with the public justification of “security reasons”.

The Israeli government has also announced it has no intention to allow northern Gazans to return to their homes, echoing the rhetoric that followed Palestinian dispossession from the beginning of Israel’s colonial project in the early 1900s until today. Even during the so-called humanitarian “pause”, Israel shot Palestinians for attempting to return to their homes in northern Gaza. Other officials have publicly made it clear that there are even plans to displace Gazan Palestinians to the Sinai Peninsula.

Tellingly, all these occupational narratives arose in the direct aftermath of settlers’ deaths on 7 October. This chain of events reveals Israel’s policy of using its population as human shields through settler colonialism to favour its military methods and colonial objectives. The premeditated nature of this plan is further reinforced by the fact that Israeli officials knew about the attack more than a year ago but, nevertheless, did not instruct its settlers around Gaza to evacuate. Israel’s blatant disregard for these settlers’ lives was also demonstrated by Israel’s initial refusal to negotiate with Hamas for their release after they were taken hostage, despite the risks Israel’s bombing of Gaza posed to their lives.

Read: Smotrich promotes approval of 7,000 West Bank settlement units

Human shields in the occupied west bank

The Israeli population in the West Bank are also used as human shields to favour Israel’s military objectives of dispossessing Palestinians from their land and fragmenting different Palestinian areas. Settlements, alongside apartheid road systems, cut Palestinians in the West Bank off from one another to prevent unified Palestinian resistance movements. Once Palestinians are dispossessed from their land, either by the Israeli military or military-protected groups of armed settlers, Israel incentivises its people to populate these illegal new settlements and thus solidify Israeli control over the West Bank.

All Israeli settlers in the West Bank are illegally occupying Palestinian land and, therefore, are the most obvious targets for Palestinian resistance to occupation and dispossession. Although many settlers’ ideological convictions make them willing to put themselves on the frontline in this way, they often forcibly move children with them who cannot consent to the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Similar to the hysteria around the falsified story of Hamas beheading Israeli babies, if children deliberately moved to the frontlines are killed, Israel uses their deaths as the perfect opportunity to advance its military occupation. When two British-Israeli teens and their mother were killed on apartheid roads near the illegal settlement of Efrat as retaliation for Israel’s bombing of Gaza and south Lebanon, their deaths were weaponised to “remind [Israelis] how relevant the threat of terrorism in its various forms is,” create roadblocks in the area and “start a pursuit of the terrorists.”

Moreover, when Israel attacks Palestinians and other Arabs, settlers are one of the only reachable targets for Palestinians in the West Bank, whose movement is heavily restricted. Any such attacks on settlers then actively favour Israel’s settler colonial objectives in the West Bank. Israel essentially sold Zionist propaganda to these girls’ parents, resulting in them leaving the relative safety of Britain to become cannon fodder to advance Israel’s illegal colonial project.

Israeli anti-Semitism

Israel’s repeated and active usage of its population as human shields to advance its militaristic and colonial aims reveals the anti-Semitic nature of the Zionist settler colonial project. As Israel willingly deploys its Jewish population to settlements illegally built on dispossessed Palestinian land, it effectively endangers Jews – especially Jewish children – for political and military objectives. If anti-Semitism is, at a fundamental level, understood as the disregard for Jewish life and wellbeing, then Israel indeed upholds the very evil it claims to be fighting against.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.