The New York Times’s erroneous and shameful defense of Hamas

Click photo to download. Caption: The webpage of a July 23 New York Times article that columnist Debra Feuer calls an "erroneous and shameful defense of Hamas," regarding the Palestinian terror group's use of human shields. Credit: Screenshot of New York Times website.

By Debra Feuer/JNS.org

What a sad day when New York Times, the U.S. “newspaper of record,” defends the way Hamas deliberately endangers its own citizens. 

According to the paper, Hamas intentionally embeds its weapons and fighters in and around houses, mosques, schools, and hospitals—thereby drawing fire to them. It discourages civilians from heeding warnings to leave those areas. But for the NY Times, if Hamas doesn’t quite force those civilians to stay, it isn’t technically using “human shields.”

Actually, utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas, or military forces immune from military operations constitutes a war crime—whether or not civilians are forced to stay.

In some cases, after Israel warns civilians to evacuate, Hamas may discourage them from fleeing without physically pinning them down. That is malevolent enough. But Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that rules over Gaza. When it directs civilians to stay, disobeying that directive is a difficult and dangerous choice for a Gazan family. 

According to Nathan Thrall, the NY Times’s latest human rights expert, when Hamas deliberately embeds its weapons and fighters among civilians, it is just trying to level the playing field. And it may be acting out of desperation, not as part of a political strategy.  

This line of reasoning constitutes profound legal and moral obfuscation. International law does not condone terrorists deliberately embedding their military apparatus among civilians if the terrorists are “desperate.” Besides, desperate to do what—shoot rockets and otherwise attack Israelis? That hardly seems like desperation cognizable under international law.

Hamas had a clear and legal way out of its desperation. It could have used its resources to build up Gaza, instead of turning it into a launching pad for rockets and incursions into Israel aimed at eradicating the Jewish state. Hamas and Gaza’s civilians alike would have been safe—and infinitely better off.

In the meantime, although Hamas has provided no shelter for its civilians, it has built a network of underground bunkers to shelter its own leaders and fighters. Every civilized person must pity the people of Gaza, whose so-called leaders exploit them that way. 

Israel can, and must, continue to defend its citizens from rocket fire and terrorist incursions.

Israel does everything it can to limit civilian casualties in these terrible circumstances. Israel’s multiple warnings to civilians, the field hospital it built for the Palestinian wounded, the countless times the Israel Defense Forces has declined to fire because civilians were in harm’s way, and the poignant photos of Israeli soldiers escorting Gazan children and elderly out of harm’s way—these are powerful reminders that no country on earth has done more to protect the enemy’s civilians.

Debra Feuer

The NY Times’s attempt to defend Hamas’s abhorrent behavior demonstrates how thoroughly it has lost its moral compass. Hamas started this conflict by firing rockets at Israeli population centers—by now it has fired well over 2,500. The Palestinian terror group embeds its machinery of war among its citizens, including in hospitals and schools. Hamas knows that it scores points every time it kills an Israeli, and it scores public relations points every time Israel hits a Palestinian civilian.  

Shame on the NY Times for falling right into Hamas’s trap—and even whitewashing it. The NY Times, and other like-minded media, would serve the Palestinian people far better by roundly condemning Hamas’s depraved tactics, and thereby undermining its diabolical calculation. 

Debra Feuer is an attorney based in Bethesda, Md.

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Posted on July 30, 2014 and filed under Israel, Opinion, U.S..