Human shields, patriots, and a hidden happy ending

The web is teeming with pro-Israel responses to Hamas’ use of Gazans as human shields. Cartoons with Hamas militants wearing bulletproof vests made of children have created a vivid image of the organization’s inhumane behavior. While there should be no doubt that Hamas is a cruel movement that is using civilians to advance its goal of destroying Israel, it cannot be forgotten that it is also a political party elected by the people of Gaza. As such it must be assumed that the majority of the “innocent” Gazans support Hamas and are doing whatever they can to help it realize its dream of cleansing Palestine of Jews.

While Hamas’ buildup of its military capability must have come at the expense of some, it is most likely that tunnels under homes, hidden launchers on street corners, and ammunition stashes in schools were only possible through significant help from the local population. It is enough to watch the excitement of young boys at the sight of an armed Hamas militant to realize that many Gazans support the movement. The thought that Hamas can turn so many people into human shields is simply unrealistic. It also creates the false impression that Hamas and Gaza are two separate and opposing entities.

Ignoring—for the sake of argument—that Hamas is a terror organization, is it doing anything different from what Israel is doing? For the last couple of years, Israelis living along the Gaza border talked in positive terms of their being Israel’s “flak jacket”—i.e., human shields. Israelis are proud to be counted among those who have settled along the frontiers. During the 1930s, 52 settlements known as “tower and stockade” settlements were built in order to secure and defend the future State’s borders. As civilian military posts, they played an immensely important role during the 1948 War of Independence.

Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which today is under constant bombardment from Hamas fire, was established in 1951 by the Nahal brigade, an arm of the  IDF that combines military service with the establishment of new agricultural settlements. From its inception, Nahal Oz was intended to serve as a buffer between Israel and Gaza. Are the residents of Nahal Oz, Kfar Aza, Nirim, and Sufa therefore human shields—or Israeli patriots willing to risk their lives to defend Israel? I guess the answer depends upon willingness or unwillingness. If Israelis willingly live along Israel’s borders and defend them if need be, they are loyal citizens. If they are forced into these areas at gun point, they are human shields.

The same rule applies for Gaza. If Gazan civilians are being forced to protect armed men of Hamas with their own bodies they must be regarded as human shields. But if they are willingly protecting them, they are Gazan patriots. To my knowledge, it is yet to be proven that the 1.8 million people living in Gaza have been forced to be human shields. It is much more likely that the vast majority of them are willingly helping Hamas in one way or another.

This conclusion is sobering, because it means that the separation between Hamas and Gaza is a fiction. It means that Hamas’ commitment to destroy Israel is shared by the people of Gaza—as well as growing numbers of liberals no longer able to tell the difference between good and evil. It means that true peace is nowhere in sight and that Israel will have to be prepared for future conflicts, each more violent than the previous. Should I leave it at that? Is there no hope? My guess is that there is, even though I can’t find the script describing the happy ending waiting just around the corner.

About the Author
Ph.D. in Jewish history. Born in kibbutz; author of the book Flesh of our Flesh: Jesus of Nazareth in Zionist Thought (Carmel, 2008). Freelance writer for the monthly magazine Israel Today.