Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Foreign journalists in Gaza witness rockets fired from Shifa hospital and other civilian populated areas

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Hamas' tactic of using civilians in Gaza as ‘human shields' by firing rockets from highly populated areas and institutions, and storing military assets in civilian buildings has been a central issue during debate over the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. While this has been the subject of some controversy, new reports from journalists should now lay to rest any doubts.

In response to both media and political criticism for the Palestinian death toll, the Israeli government's response has been unwavering: Hamas is deliberately firing rockets from mosques, schools, homes and hospitals, making civilian casualties, however regrettable and tragic, unavoidable.

Indeed, this was the sentiment offered by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a July 27 interview with CNN's Candy Crowley.

When asked about the death toll of Palestinian civilians the Israeli PM said:

"We don't want to see a single civilian casualty, we're not targeting a single civilian but we're faced with a very ruthless terrorist enemy...and they don't care not only about targeting our civilians but hiding behind their civilians as human shields. "

He continued:

"When we ask civilians to leave the places from where the terrorists are firing at us, Hamas is telling them to stay because they want to pile up more and more dead bodies of Palestinian civilians."

While Israel has provided numerous videos and photos which it says prove its case (some of them collected here), critics of Israel have nonetheless tried to debunk assertions about Hamas using civilians in Gaza as ‘human shields', often arguing that there is no evidence from independent sources, or that Gaza is so small and crowded that inevitably military assets will be located near civilian buildings.

Part of the problem is that, as a number of commentators have noted (see here and here) there are virtually no media pictures or video coming out of Gaza of either Hamas rocket fire or of armed militants in action during this conflict. As AIJAC has previously suggested (here and here), this appears to be in large part because Hamas has successfully intimidated journalists into not taking such pictures or footage, or just plain physically prevented them from doing so by confiscating their equipment.

Nonetheless, foreign journalists stationed in the Gaza Strip are increasingly publishing firsthand accounts, if not video, of having witnessed terrorists firing rockets into Israel from hospitals and other highly populated civilian areas.

On August 2, France 24 English's TV correspondent, Gallagher Fenwick, was reporting live from Gaza City when he disappeared from the screen, attempting to shield himself from the explosion of a missile being fired into Israel from an adjacent area.

Then there was the case of a correspondent from France 24's Arabic program who was also caught mid-sentence reporting from the Strip when she was startled by a rocket launch in her immediate vicinity.

Meanwhile, a clip of Finnish TV reporter, Aishi Zidan, of Finland's Helsingin Sanomat, (Helsinki Dispatch) broadcasting live from outside the Shifa hospital in Gaza has gone viral after the journalist saw Hamas militants firing rockets from the hospital's parking lot.

After spending the night at Shifa hospital, Zidan said live on TV:

Right in the back parking lot of Al Shifa Hospital, a rocket was launched, two o'clock in the morning.

"Really, it happened right in the area, the sound of it was really loud... It's true that rockets are launched here from the Gazan side into Israel."

Indeed, many journalists have been too fearful of reprisals or abuse from Hamas to report when they see militants walking down the halls of Gaza's Shifa hospital, weapons in tow, or launching rockets from within civilian areas. Such fear of intimidation, or worse, for daring to report these facts was the focus of a recent AIJAC blog post, which can be found here.

Importantly, even John Lyons, the Australian newspaper's Middle East correspondent known for his highly critical reporting on Israel, said in an August 2 interview with ABC Radio National that during the last major conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2012 he was at Shifa hospital and saw a missile fired by Hamas militants from right near the building.

"This confirms what the Israelis often say about the human shield theory," Lyons said.

Lyons' account, along with the footage of journalists reporting in the shadow of rocket-fire from adjacent civilian areas, confirm Israel's long-held claim that Hamas is deliberately firing rockets from major civilians structures such as hospitals. It would be inane to argue that rockets are being fired from the hospital parking lot because Gaza is crowded - it has to be something that Hamas operatives are choosing to do.

Indeed, this perverse feature extends to Hamas also storing and launching rockets in UN schools, homes and mosques - making these legitimate targets under the laws of war, but still guaranteeing Israel will be condemned for supposedly "targeting" civilian buildings.

Nonetheless, despite the increasing amount of evidence coming out of Gaza of this deliberate Hamas tactic, one can be sure that, as with everything else in the context of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, the most ardent Israel critics will try to find a way to spin the facts and information to make Israel appear monstrous and Hamas as blameless victims. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Gabrielle Debinski

 

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