November 1, 2023 | New York Post

Hamas officials admit its strategy is to use Palestinian civilians as human shields

November 1, 2023 | New York Post

Hamas officials admit its strategy is to use Palestinian civilians as human shields

An interviewer recently posed a logical question to Mousa Abu Marzouk, a senior member of the Hamas politburo: “Since you have built 500 kilometers of tunnels, why haven’t you built bomb shelters where civilians can hide during bombardments?”

Abu Marzouk said the tunnels are “meant to protect us” from Israeli aircraft and facilitate attacks on Israeli targets.

“Us” meaning Hamas. Not civilians.

Hamas chooses not to build bomb shelters in Gaza because that would undercut its ability to use the population as human shields.

By putting civilians in or above its military positions, Hamas knows it cannot lose.

Either it will prevent Israel from attacking, since the Israeli military tries to minimize harm to civilians, or if Israel does attack, the use of human shields will ensure high civilian casualties.

Hamas can then hold the death toll against Israel while generating sympathy for itself.

Hamas uses its hundreds of miles of tunnels for military purposes: to transport weapons and ammunition, store supplies and train its members without exposing them to enemy surveillance and fire.

Equally important, the tunnels are a convenient way for Hamas to hide its military assets underneath civilian infrastructure. That is a textbook use of human shields, which international law prohibits.

Reliant on civilians to protect it from Israeli counterattacks, Hamas cannot afford to let Gaza’s civilian population seek refuge from clashes with the Israel Defense Forces.

Accordingly, Hamas leadership ordered civilians in northern Gaza to defy the IDF’s advice to “evacuate south for your own safety” in advance of Israel’s ground invasion.

Eyad al-Bozom, a spokesman for Hamas’ interior ministry, encouraged Gaza’s residents to “stay put in your homes and your places.”

To its credit, the Biden administration has called out Hamas for employing a strategy whose essence is the commission of war crimes against the same people Hamas supposedly represents.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby explained on CNN, “Hamas actually gave a counterorder telling Palestinians in Gaza to stay at home. Why? Because having human shields, they think, protects them.”

Hamas’ use of human shields is not new. Hamas has come close to confessing its exploitation of civilians before.

During an organized 2016 uprising at the Gaza border, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar admitted the group “decided to turn that which is most dear to us — the bodies of our women and children — into a dam blocking the collapse in Arab reality.”

After acknowledging Hamas builds tunnels to protect fighters but not civilians, Abu Marzouk ventured that it is the job of the United Nations, not Hamas, to protect civilians.

It might have been hard to say that with a straight face, since Hamas also has a long record of turning UN facilities into part of its wall of human shields.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), whose mission is to provide relief for Palestinians, has repeatedly found stores of Hamas rockets hidden in tunnels beneath its schools.

In 2018, Congress passed the Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act, which has lain dormant since becoming law.

The Shields Act, which specifically calls out Hamas, requires the president to impose sanctions on individuals determined to be using human shields, but neither Biden nor his predecessor designated any Hamas leaders. Now would be a good time to start.

Doing so is unlikely to change Hamas’ behavior, but it would send an important message both to Americans and leaders in other democratic nations.

It is not Israel but Hamas that bears moral responsibility for the death of civilians in this war.

Hamas seeks to win by generating enough pressure on Israel from its allies to force an end to Israel’s military operations. Washington should make clear it will never fall for this ruse; nor should anyone else.

Natalie Ecanow is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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