The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday blasted Palestinian terrorist organizations for urging Palestinian civilians to protect terrorists whose homes had been targeted by the IDF. "There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. "Whether or not the home is a legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm's way is unlawful."
Gaza: Use of human shields continues (Nov. 19)
The statement came in the wake of reports that hundreds of Palestinians rushed to the homes of two terrorists who had been warned by the army to leave their homes before the homes were destroyed. One case involved a commander in the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Muhammad El-Barud, who was given 30 minutes to leave his house in the Jabalya refugee camp. A similar warning was reportedly given to Wael Rajab, an alleged Hamas member in Beit Lahiya.
El-Barud summoned friends and relatives to his home to deter the air force from destroying his house. In Beit Lahiya, mosques broadcast a call to neighbors to flock to Rajab's house.
The IDF called off the attacks for fear of causing heavy civilian casualties.
According to HRW, Palestinian officials and leaders praised the tactic. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was quoted as saying, "We are so proud of this national stand. It is the first step towards protecting our homes."
A spokesman for the PRC was quoted as saying, "We call upon all the fighters to reject evacuating their houses, and we urge our people to rush into threatened houses and make human shields."
But HRW said this was wrong.
"Prime Minister Haniyeh and other Palestinian leaders should be renouncing, not embracing, the tactic of encouraging civilians to place themselves at risk." The statement also declared that "it is a war crime to seek to use the presence of civilians to render certain points or areas immune from military operations or to direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attack."
Even if the houses were not legitimate military targets, added HRW, it was still a violation of international humanitarian law to call on civilians to protect them.
At the same time, HRW demanded that Israel explain what its military objective was in seeking to destroy the houses.