Palestinians aren't using human shields, Israel is
The state of Israel is feeling the walls closing in on it, and by walls, I don't mean the borders it shares with its Arab neighbours, but rather the incredible pressure applied by the international community in response to the ongoing killing of unarmed Palestinian protesters by the Israeli military.
Israel, however, never apologises, accounts for its wrongdoings, or cedes its self-perceived moral high ground. Instead, it denies and doubles-down, while its propagandists spin, pivot, deflect and blame Palestinians for their own deaths.
When Israeli snipers shot and killed 21-year-old Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar two weeks ago, footage of her death went viral on social media, causing a global outcry, one that threatened to completely unravel the many lies that underpin continued western support of the Israeli state.
So Israel did what it always does: it lied.
Initially, the Israeli military said al-Najjar had been shot mistakenly, claiming the sniper was aiming at a protester. But when Israel realised the attempted killing of an unarmed protester failed to meet any reasonable standard of justification, it took a different tack by coordinating a smear campaign against her.
It put out a video with the words, "Hamas' Use of Human Shields Must Stop,", a statement that falsely accused her of shielding militants disguised as protesters.
Read more: Razan al-Najjar was a threat to Israel, and they knew it
In the video, you can see al-Najjar apparently say to the journalist who is interviewing her, "I am here on the frontlines and I act as a human shield." But what al-Najar actually said is "I'm a human shield as a rescuer for the injured on the frontlines." In other words, her humanitarian aim is to shield, treat and rescue the injured.
At more or less the same time the Israeli military released its falsified clip, a cartoon began circulating on social media that depicted an Israeli soldier standing in front of a baby stroller while an opposing Palestinian militant hid behind it. Again, Israel is attempting to conceal its atrocities by falsely claiming Palestinians use their own children as human shields, and thus implying that Israeli soldiers sometimes "accidentally" kill Palestinian civilians while trying to kill militants.
|It's Israel that uses indiscriminate and disproportionate violence against civilian populations|
The "accident" theme was expanded upon last week during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the United Kingdom. When a former leader of Britain's conservative party confronted the Israeli leader over the deaths of more than 100 unarmed Palestinian protesters, Netanyahu replied, "People died accidentally."
But al-Najjar's death was no "accident", and she certainly wasn't a human shield. She was a qualified medic who gave her life while providing medical relief to those shot by Israeli snipers while expressing their grievances over the inhumane conditions forced upon them by a merciless Israeli regime.
Facts, however, have never prevented Israel from smearing every Palestinian a terrorist, or every slain civilian in Gaza as a "human shield", but the facts are clear: It's Israel that uses indiscriminate and disproportionate violence against civilian populations, and it's the Israeli army, not the Palestinians that uses human shields.
Israel's high court confirmed this in 2002, when a group of Israeli human rights activists brought accusations of the Israeli military using Palestinians as human shields, before the highest court in the land.
The justices found more than 1,200 instances of the Israeli military putting Palestinian civilians in dangerous situations in order to protect its soldiers, and placed a ban on the practice, claiming it was a violation of international law.
"You cannot exploit the civilian population for the army's military needs, and you cannot force them to collaborate," said Aharon Barak, Israel's chief justice at the time. "Based on this principle, we rule it illegal to use civilians as human shields."
The court found that Israeli soldiers forced Palestinian civilians to walk in front of patrols, enter buildings first to ensure they weren't booby-trapped, send messages to militants during fire fights, and on some occasions even tied Palestinians to the hood of their jeeps.
In other cases, Israeli troops essentially turned Palestinian homes into forward operating bases, forcing the family to stay in one room of their home while turning the rest of the house into a sniper position, "effectively using the families - both adults and children - as human shields and putting them at risk," Amnesty International have said.
When the ruling was handed down, Israel's then defense minister Shaul Mofaz tried to convince the high court to change its ruling, arguing that the use of Palestinians as "human shields" served as an "early warning" procedure for Israeli soldiers. Not only have Israeli soldiers testified that the "procedure" continues in defiance of the ruling, but the United Nations also found evidence supporting their testimonies.
"Palestinian children arrested by (Israeli) military and police are systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture, are interrogated in Hebrew, a language they did not understand, and sign confessions in Hebrew in order to be released," said a 2013 UN report.
|The court found that Israeli soldiers forced Palestinian civilians to walk in front of patrols, and enter buildings first to ensure they weren't booby-trapped|
In short, the Israeli military continues to use Palestinians as human shields because no Israeli soldier is ever seriously punished for doing so.
In fact, most cases are never investigated, according to Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, and in the few occasions investigations that do occur, lenient sentences are handed down, if at all.
So, what about Israel's claims Palestinians use their own people as human shields?
Well, a 2009 investigation by Amnesty International found "no evidence Palestinian fighters directed civilians to shield military objectives from attacks, forced them to stay in buildings used by militants or prevented them from leaving commandeered buildings".
The human rights group, however, did find evidence Hamas militants stored weapons in buildings, including schools, but did not force civilians or students to remain at these sites during times of armed conflict, and - in fact - when Israel bombed these sites during its 2014 siege of Gaza, it was found these sites were empty of civilians.
|Facts have never prevented Israel from smearing every Palestinian as a terrorist|
Despite these objective findings and evidence, however, false accusations made by Israel concerning the Palestinian use of human shields lays at the heart of Israel's propagandistic effort to blame Palestinians for their own deaths, but it's a lie that is slowly unraveling, leaving the world with a clear view of who really is the oppressor and aggressor in this 70 year old conflict.
One only has to be reminded of the fact that 123 Palestinians and zero Israelis have been killed during the past two months of protests to appreciate that reality.
Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.