Australia/Israel Review

Human shields and scapegoats

Feb 29, 2024 | Khaled Abu Toameh

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar enjoying the relative safety of a Gazan tunnel (Image: IDF/ screenshot)
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar enjoying the relative safety of a Gazan tunnel (Image: IDF/ screenshot)

Hamas and the civilians of Gaza


Since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, leaders of the Iran-backed terrorist group have been trying to distance themselves from the atrocities by holding Palestinian civilians responsible for some of the crimes – including the murder, beheading, rape, torture, kidnapping, mutilation and burning of hundreds of Israeli men, women, and children.

These are the same civilians that Hamas has long been using as human shields in its Jihad (holy war) to murder Jews and obliterate Israel.

First, Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, then it accuses them of perpetrating atrocities against Israelis.

Hamas is right. Many ordinary Palestinians did participate in the October 7 assault on Israel. The civilians, however, could not have entered Israel without Hamas tearing down the security fence. The truth is that thousands of Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians participated in the carnage.

The participation of Palestinian civilians in the attack on Israel, though not surprising, refutes the claim by human rights organisations that ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip are not involved in the Israel-Hamas war.

Even Hamas leaders have publicly implicated Palestinian civilians in the October 7 atrocities.

In early February, after Israeli security forces managed to rescue two Israeli hostages who were being held in an apartment near the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Hamas sought to distance itself from the abduction.

Mohammed Nazzal, a senior Hamas official, claimed that the two Israeli men were being held by Palestinian civilians, not Hamas terrorists. “The two [Israeli] detainees were in a civilian apartment and were captured by Palestinian citizens on the 7th of October,” Nazzal told the Arabic media outlet Al-Araby. “There was no clash [between the Israeli commandos] and [Hamas’s military wing] Izaddin al-Qassam.”

The Hamas leader’s claim that the Israeli hostages were held by Palestinian civilians is yet further proof of how Hamas continues to use residents of the Gaza Strip in its terror activities. 

Consequently, Hamas has no right to complain about the deaths of civilians in the war it initiated against Israel while it uses its own people to hold innocent kidnapped Israelis. Does anyone seriously believe that the Palestinian civilians were holding the hostages without Hamas’ knowledge?

This was not the first attempt by Hamas to blame Palestinian civilians for the October 7 carnage.

On October 22, senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya claimed that Palestinian civilians and members of other Palestinian factions who crossed the border into Israel kidnapped dozens of Israelis and hauled them back into the Gaza Strip.

During the same month, Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri also blamed Palestinian civilians for committing most of the atrocities against Israelis:

“When the people in the Gaza Strip heard that the border had been breached and that the Israeli army in the area had collapsed, several young men and gunmen entered [Israel], and this caused a state of chaos”.

“There were [Israeli] civilians who were captured by people who entered, as ordinary people, who captured them and brought them into the Gaza Strip.”

Al-Arouri was later killed in an Israeli airstrike on his hideout in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.


Hamas tunnels are only for Hamas fighters

Hamas leaders leading lavish lives in Qatar and Lebanon do not care about the two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, nor do the leaders of the terrorist organisation who are hiding in the vast network of sophisticated tunnels in the Gaza Strip. All they care about is their own survival. They have already proven that they are prepared to sacrifice tens of thousands of Palestinians rather than release the remaining 134 Israeli hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip are undoubtedly surrounding themselves with many of the Israeli hostages to avoid being killed or captured by Israeli security forces.

When Hamas decided to drag the entire population of the Gaza Strip into another war with Israel on October 7, it did not care what would happen to Palestinian civilians. Hamas did not even bother to alert its people to prepare for the war.

Hamas’s disregard for the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was best reflected by Mousa Abu Marzouk, member of the Hamas political bureau. In an interview with Russia Today TV on Oct. 27, 2023, Abu Marzouk was asked: “Many people are asking: You have built 500 kilometres of tunnels, why haven’t you built bomb shelters, where civilians can hide during bombardment?”

The Hamas leader replied:

“We have built the tunnels because we have no other way of protecting ourselves from being targeted and killed. These tunnels are meant to protect us [Hamas] from the [Israeli] airplanes. We are fighting from inside the tunnels. Everybody knows that 75% of the people in the Gaza Strip are refugees, and it is the responsibility of the United Nations to protect them.”

Hamas’ most common uses of human shields include firing rockets from within, or near, heavily populated civilian areas; placing military infrastructure, such as tunnels, headquarters and bases in or near civilian areas, and combating the Israel Defence Forces from or near residential and commercial areas. Hamas also uses “expendable” civilians for dangerous intelligence-gathering missions.


Gazans push back

Jehad Saftawi, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who founded RefugeeEye, a non-profit organisation that supports refugee journalists, revealed on Feb. 13 that Hamas had built tunnels beneath his family home in Gaza City, adding:

“Since Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, the bustling and beautiful streets I knew have been dominated by terrorist chaos. Hamas is driven by an ideological stand originating in the concept of annihilating the state of Israel and replacing it with an Islamic Palestinian one. In striving to make this a reality, Hamas has continued to normalise violence and militarisation in every aspect of public and private life in Gaza.”

Saftawi recounted how his family discovered that Hamas terrorists were digging a tunnel under the new house that his family was building, after the woman living across the street from the new house’s site contacted them:

“She would hear sounds of loading and unloading and feel the vibrations of digging coming from the empty piece of land behind our houses. She suspected someone was digging a tunnel.”

When he confronted the masked Hamas terrorists who were at the site, Saftawi was told by one of them that they would continue as they pleased:

“He [the masked man] said I should not be afraid and that this would just be a small closed room to remain buried underground. No one can enter or exit. He said that only in the case of an Israeli ground invasion in this area and the displacement of residents would these rooms be used to supply weapons.”

According to Saftawi, he told the Hamas terrorist: “We don’t want to live above a stockpile of weapons.”

“When something goes unspoken for so long, it begins to feel impossible that the truth will ever be known. I always looked forward to a time in the future when my family and others like us would be allowed to speak about these tunnels, about the perilous life Hamas has forced upon Gazans. Now that I am determined to speak openly about it, I don’t know if it even matters.

“My family evacuated to the south [of the Gaza Strip] shortly after October 7. Months later, we received photos of our house and neighbourhood, both of which are in ruins. I may never know if the house was destroyed by Israeli strikes or fighting between Hamas and Israel. But the result is the same. Our home, and far too many in our community, were flattened alongside priceless history and memories.

“And this is the legacy of Hamas. They began destroying my family home in 2013 when they built tunnels beneath it. They continued to threaten our safety for a decade – we always knew we might have to vacate at a moment’s notice. We always feared violence. Gazans deserve a true Palestinian government, which supports its citizens’ interests, not terrorists carrying out their own plans. Hamas is not fighting Israel. They’re destroying Gaza.”

Saftawi is able to speak out against Hamas because, like many tens of thousands of Palestinians, he has fled the Gaza Strip since the terrorist group seized control of the coastal enclave in 2007. Most Palestinians who are still in the Gaza Strip are too afraid of retaliation to tell the truth about Hamas’ repressive measures against its own people.

In recent weeks, several Palestinians have complained that Hamas was stealing the humanitarian aid delivered to the Gaza Strip. According to one Palestinian man:

“The humanitarian aid is being stolen by those who call themselves resistance fighters. They claim they are defending us, but they are stealing all the aid coming into the Gaza Strip and then they sell it to the people for a very high price.”

Armed, masked men affiliated with Hamas atop trucks carrying humanitarian aid that arrived in the Gaza Strip via Egypt’s Rafah crossing (Screenshot)

A Palestinian woman noted:

“We hear about the aid but we don’t know where the aid goes. You can find most of the aid being sold in the markets. There is a big octopus that controls the market and raises the prices. Where are our leaders who have abandoned us? Why don’t they come and suffer with us? The leaders [of Hamas] are hiding underground and others are hiding in hell, while the people are suffering.”

On Feb. 15, sources in the Gaza Strip reported that Hamas terrorists killed Ahmed Abu al-Arja, a Palestinian boy, while he was trying to get food for his family.

The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have paid a hugely painful price for Hamas’ decision to hurl them into a savage confrontation with Israel.

Yet the participation of some Palestinian civilians in the October 7 massacre and the kidnapping of Israelis is extremely worrying: it illustrates that a large number of people in the Gaza Strip actually do support Hamas and its terrorism against Israel. 

Unless the Palestinians rise up against Hamas and distance themselves from the terrorist group and its Jihad against Israel, they will continue to suffer – and the price they pay will continue to soar.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning Arab-Israeli journalist based in Jerusalem. Reprinted from the Gatestone Institute ( © Khaled Abu Toameh, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved. 


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