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Operation Cast Lead: Hamas’s Human Shields

(Updated January 2009)

While the world is all too quick to blame Israel for the humanitarian situation and loss of civilian lives in the Gaza Strip operation, the real fault of the Gazans' humanitarian crisis lies with their own government - Hamas.

Palestinian terrorists have historically used civilians to shield them from Israeli military retaliation to attacks, knowing that Israel goes to great lengths to prevent civilian casualties. The current Israeli defensive against Hamas in Gaza has proven no different.

Since the Israeli ground operation started on Saturday, January 3, 2009, Hamas gunmen have hidden among the densely populated civilian buildings in the center of Gaza city. Hamas operatives have been seen hiding in maternity wards at civilian hospitals, sometimes even dressing as nurses and orderlies in order to escape Israeli detection. Hamas has also strategically planted the openings to weapons smuggling tunnels in houses around the Rafah border region, fully including the Gazans in terrorist activities.

The most horrific incident occurred on Tuesday, January 6 when Hamas forces hid themselves inside a UN-run school in Gaza and fired mortar shells at IDF troops. The unit immediately retaliated in its defense, firing its own mortars at the terrorists. Approximately 39 people were killed, including some Hamas armed forces.

On Friday, January 16, Hamas gunmen hiding near a UNRWA food storage house fired anti-tank missiles at Israeli troops. The IDF immediately retaliated and fired on the Hamas operatives. One of the shells accidentally hit the UNRWA warehouse and the building caught fire, destroying some of the aid supplies within and wounding two Palestinians and a UN employee. Israel greatly regrets this mistake but it could have been prevented had Hamas gunmen not hid themselves among Palestinian civilians and UN workers.

These unfortunate incidents have occurred during the second stage of Operation Cast Lead because Hamas is choosing to use its own civilians as protection. Hiding in crowded apartment complexes and schools, militants fire mortars and grenades at Israeli troops and then duck in among civilians - leaving them to fend for themselves against Israel's defensive acts.

On January 8 an Israeli paratrooper unit in Gaza discovered a Hamas-drawn map in which several main civilian centers were indicated as points of sniper attacks including mosques and gas stations in the Strip. Additionally, the map shows various civilian homes which Hamas has booby-trapped with explosives that would, if set off, invariably cause civilian casualties.

Some Palestinian casualties are the direct result of Hamas. For example, 5-year-old Hanin Abu Khoussa and her 12-year-old cousin, Sabah Abu Khoussa were killed in their home on December 27, 2008, by a missile fired by Hamas.  The two girls lived in Beit Lahiya, Gaza, and were killed when a missile intended to kill Israelis misfired and killed them instead.

Even before Israel's operation began on December 27, 2008, Hamas, who took over Fatah's power in the Strip in 2007, has been abusing its citizens by stealing from them, depriving them of necessary food and medical supplies and even killing or wounding any dissidents among them. Before Operation Cast Lead began it was rumored that extreme Islamists in the Hamas-run government had been physically punishing women who dressed immodestly or did not cover their hair.

After the Israeli operation Hamas's abuse of its own people became alarmingly clear. While the United Nations claims that Gazans are suffering from a lack of humanitarian aid, it has been discovered that Hamas operatives have been seizing control of all forms of aid supplies that are sent into the Gaza Strip.

It was reported that Hamas gunmen have been hijacking supply trucks from the border crossings that are intended for Gazan civilians. Additionally, Hamas leaders have openly confiscated large portions of flour and medicine from the stockpiles of internationally donated aid supplies. Hamas then turns around and sells these goods to Gazan citizens for a profit. These profits are used for weapons purchasing.

On Monday, January 12, Hamas gunmen raided 100 of the trucks allowed into Gaza, stole all of the goods and auctioned off the supplies to Gazan citizens for the highest possible price.

Hamas's actions show extreme cowardice and insecurity. It is clear that Hamas cares little about the well-being of its own people as its leaders have sacrificed the Palestinians' security and livelihood. While Israel itself has been trying to limit the amount of civilian casualties in Gaza, a significant amount could have been saved if Hamas would not use its people as human shields.

Sources: Yedioth Ahronot (January 7), Israel Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem Post (January 16), (January 20), Palestinian Media Watch (January 18, 2009)