Shielded from truth
In the 1998 scifi action film Soldier, Kurt Russell plays Sgt Todd, a soldier who has been trained from birth to be a ruthless and efficient killing machine. To illustrate Todd’s complete absence of empathy, there’s a scene at the beginning of the film where he is in a battle in Moscow, walking through blasted ruins mowing down enemy Russian soldiers with his machine gun. A Russian soldier takes a civilian woman hostage, and holds her in front of him as a shield. The ruthless Sgt Todd shoots the civilian and the soldier without blinking. Todd’s complete dedication to the mission is chilling. We know that he is wrong; we know that he is not a moral person.
Watching Soldier on the television the other night it struck me that this is what a ‘human shield’ looks like. A non combatant intentionally placed in the line of fire to stop the opposing side firing on troops and military assets. It’s a term we’ve been exposed to relentlessly in the past couple of weeks.
It’s been one of the criticisms levelled at Hamas – that they are using civilians as human shields. And this has been used extensively by apologists of the Israeli government to defend the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza. Make a comment critical of Israel’s military actions and it won’t be long before a pro-Israel astro turfer rolls out the human shield defence. The reasoning usually applied is one of the following:
– Hamas are using human shields, so Israel has no option but to kill those human shields in order to kill Hamas.
– Hamas are using human shields, so it’s inevitable that Israel will unintentionally kill those human shields whilst trying to kill Hamas.
Neither options can be considered moral. Both scenarios mean that civilians will die as a result of the Israeli government’s military actions, and that the Israeli government knows it.
There’s no doubt that Hamas is waging it’s war on Israel from the neighbourhoods of Gaza, and have been caught storing weaponry in empty schools. But Gaza is a city of over two million, and it quickly becomes clear that Hamas’ war is being waged from inside a heavily populated area, not behind the people of Gaza. To make it worse, the civilians of Gaza are pinned in place by Israel and Egypt with no place to run. They are trapped.
And yet, Israel continues to launch high explosive ordinance at that small patch of land packed with humans.
This is no defence of Hamas or its allies. I wouldn’t want anyone to live in a state run by religious extremists who ban freedom of speech, murder their political enemies and zealously execute sharia law with often deadly consequences.
The saying goes about the first victim of war being truth, and the Middle East is no different. Using the human shield claim as absolution for killing the innocent is staggeringly dishonest and cowardly.