The Guardian, as with a relatively small but vocal and influential segment of the Western Left, is defined ideologically by their insistence that all people – and all political movements – are reasonable, and share more or less the same values regarding the sanctity of human life that they do. This dynamic – characterized by one academic a liberal cognitive egocentrism – is most pronounced in the Guardian’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, particularly when focus turns to the actions of Islamist extremist groups in the region.
Within their coverage of the current war, their correspondents (Peter Beaumont, Harriet Sherwood, and others) seem to process undeniable evidence of Hamas war crimes, such as their long-time use of human shields, as something akin to Zionist propaganda – ‘smears’ against the Palestinians which they seem determined to refute. (Indeed, such Guardian obfuscations about human shields are not deterred by the fact that Hamas spokespersons have admitted that the practice is effective.)
Harriet Sherwood’s July 24th article, ‘In Gaza, Hamas fighters are among civilians. There is nowhere else for them to go‘ represents a classic example of this dynamic.
Her article begins thusly:
The charge is laid relentlessly by political and military leaders and media commentators, repeated in conversations by members of the public and echoed in the comments of foreign politicians and diplomats. On the other side of the conflict, the accusation is vigorously denied by Hamas and others in Gaza.
The truth is lost amid the propaganda battle being waged alongside the shells, bombs, guns and rockets. What is certain is that the picture is more complicated than either side claims.
Then, Sherwood writes:
Israel claims Hamas routinely uses hospitals, mosques, schools and private homes to launch rockets at Israel, store weapons, hide command and control centres, shelter military personnel, and conceal tunnel shafts.
Here’s a video demonstrating Israeli “claims” that Hamas uses schools to launch attacks:
On Wednesday, the IDF released a series of maps purporting to show Hamas military sites close to – but not in – schools, hospitals, mosques and residential buildings. It also released video, which it said showed militants using an ambulance to flee after coming under attack by IDF troops, and said the grounds and vicinity of al-Wafa hospital in Gaza City had been “repeatedly utilised by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a command centre, rocket-launching site, and a post enabling terrorists to open fire at soldiers”.
But the hospital’s director rejected the Israeli assertion that the hospital had been used for military purposes by Hamas or other militant groups
It’s likely that neither hospital director, nor Sherwood, saw the following video:
Additionally, reporters covering the war have reported that another hospital, al-Shifa, has been used as a command center for Hamas.
William Booth wrote the following in a July 15th column for the Washington Post:
the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, crowds gathered to throw shoes and eggs at the Palestinian Authority’s health minister, who represents the crumbling “unity government” in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The minister was turned away before he reached the hospital, which has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.
The Jerusalem correspondent for the Financial Times (a publication not known for its pro-Israel sympathies) Tweeted this:
Watched two rockets fired toward Israel from near al-Shifa hospital, even as more bombing victims were brought in. Not over yet. #Gaza
— John Reed (@JohninJerusalem) July 23, 2014
Then, Sherwood’s article takes an even stranger turn, seeming to suggest that even if Hamas fires from civilian areas, it’s arguably justified by their asymmetrical nature of the war.
The current war is not being fought on a conventional battlefield. Israel is pounding Gaza from the air, and its troops are increasingly fighting battles against a guerrilla army in densely populated urban areas – which constitute much of the Gaza Strip. As Israeli tanks and troops push further into the towns and cities, it is increasingly likely that Hamas will launch attacks from positions close to civilian buildings.
The separation between “civilian” and “military” in Gaza is much more blurred than with a conventional army – both physically and in the Gazan psyche. Hamas and other militants are embedded in the population. Their fighters are not quartered in military barracks, but sleep at night in their family homes.
Of course, the Geneva Convention prohibition against the use of human shields doesn’t grant a loophole for “guerrilla armies” operating in “populated urban areas”. If there was such an exception, every terrorist group in the world would exploit it to ‘legally’ put innocent civilians in harm’s way when carrying out attacks on Western targets. Additionally, Gaza’s population density (exaggerated though it is) seems to have little relevance in Hamas’s decision (over the course of several wars) to use mosques, hospitals and schools to hide arms and fire rockets.
Then, Sherwood audaciously attempts to impute moral equivalence between Hamas and the IDF:
Israel, meanwhile, does not have an unblemished record in the use of human shields. In 2010, two soldiers were convicted in an IDF military court of using an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield in its 2008-09 operation in Gaza. The pair ordered the child to search bags they suspected of being booby-trapped.
Investigations by news organisations and human rights groups have suggested the IDF has used Palestinians as human shields in operations in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Of course, the key words in this passage about this solitary instance of using human shields are “two soldiers were convicted”, unwittingly demonstrating that such acts run completely counter to IDF policy. Indeed, as the article Sherwood linked to noted, “IDF protocols strictly prohibit the use of civilians as human shields.” Moreover, like any good propagandist, Sherwood uses this one example – representing the rare exception in the context of any army which goes to unparalleled lengths to protect Palestinian civilians – to impute a moral equivalence which any sober commentator would know is patently absurd.
Here’s Former Col. Richard Kemp, who led British forces in Afghanistan, talk briefly about the media’s complicity in parroting the Hamas PR strategy:
Much like Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi diplomat most known for making comically inaccurate claims during press conferences with Western reporters in the early stages of the 2003 War, Sherwood’s obfuscations on behalf of the terrorist movement (which cynically exploits its own civilians to gain such propaganda victories) will likely one day be treated as a case study in the kind of propaganda which serves to defend the indefensible.