Thursday, January 8, 2009

One of the most shameful aspects of the war Hamas is waging against Israel is the terror group’s effort to maximize Palestinian civilian casualties - and the way this story is often ignored or buried in Western media accounts. CNN and other outlets provide powerful images of Palestinian civilian deaths and U.N. officials’ statements denouncing Israel. On Tuesday, John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), told The Washington Post in an interview that both Israeli and Hamas leaders were to blame for civilian deaths in Gaza. This moral equivalence is slanderous. There is a mountain of evidence from Israeli and Palestinian sources suggesting that Hamas deserves overwhelming blame for the mounting civilian death toll.

On Tuesday, medical officials in Gaza were quoted as stating that scores of Palestinians were killed in an Israeli raid on the Asma school in Gaza. Israel countered that the school was being used as a launching pad for Hamas attacks. The Israeli Army told the Associated Press that two Hamas gunmen named Imad Abu Askar and Hasan Abu Askar were among the dead. Then, “Two neighborhood residents confirmed Israeli accounts, saying a group of militants fired mortars from a street near the school, then fled into a crowd of people in the streets,” the Associated Press reported. Israeli soldiers then opened fire, killing the pair. “The residents, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety, said the Abu Askar brothers were low-level Hamas officials.”

Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza need to be understood in the context of Hamas’ ideology, which celebrates the use of noncombatants to shield its fighters from Israeli retaliation. In February, a Hamas representative in the Palestinian Authority Legislative Council expressed pride in the fact that women and children are used as human shields in fighting Israel. He explained that the Palestinians “desire death” with the same intensity that Israelis “desire life,” according to a translation by Palestinian Media Watch.

Last week Hamas Television announced that most of the Palestinians dying were members of its armed forces. The Israeli YNet news service quoted Palestinian civilians saying that Hamas members prevent them from fleeing their homes and hide out in UNRWA ambulances, mosques and civilian homes and stairwells.

Increasingly, Gaza Palestinians are denouncing Hamas’ efforts to use them as human shields. Case in point: A Palestinian girl whose family members were killed in a Dec. 28 Israeli air attack in Gaza was interviewed the following day on Palestinian Authority Television, operated by Hamas’ Palestinian rival Fatah. Who did she blame for the tragedy that befell her family? “I say Hamas is the cause, in the first place, of all wars,” she said.

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