The Palestinian use of human shields to protect armed gunmen and rocket launching crews from Israeli responses is a widespread but largely unreported aspect of this conflict. On November 2, amidst the ongoing warfare in Gaza, armed Palestinians entered a mosque in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, to escape from IDF units. A standoff developed and on November 3, Hamas broadcast a radio appeal for women to go to the mosque and act as human shields for the gunmen. Hundreds of women then went to the mosque, providing cover for the gunmen to escape. At least two gunmen and two women acting as human shields were killed. Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister “saluted the women of Palestine … who led the protest to break the siege of Beit Hanoun.”
The use of human shields contravenes Protocol I (1977) to the Geneva Convention, article 51 (7), which states that “the parties shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.”
Neither Human Rights Watch nor Amnesty International has commented on this abuse of international law, (as of November 8). Other international NGOs such as the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Christian Aid and Oxfam have also failed to comment on this use of human shields.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) which states that its goal is to “protect human rights and promote the rule of law in accordance with international standards,” did not condemn Hamas’ use of human-shields. Instead, PCHR accused Israel of conducting “state-sponsored terrorism” in its press release of November 4, called the IDF actions “collective punishment in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention” and condemned the IDF for not using “proportional” force “against Palestinian resistance activists in civilian neighborhoods.” The statement also misrepresented events of November 3 stating that “a group of about 300 women…organized a demonstration and headed to Beit Hanoun”, implying that it was a spontaneous action not coordinated by Hamas.
Al Mezan, in a press release of November 5, also grossly misrepresented the incident and did not acknowledge that the people in the mosque were gunmen or that the women protesters had been coordinated by Hamas. The release stated that “after the IOF had rounded-up a group of Palestinians … a group of women walked toward the mosque at … in an attempt to protect the besieged Palestinians [emphasis added].” Al Mezan went on to condemn Israel for its “grave breaches to international humanitarian law” and called for “international intervention.”