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Human Shields Are People Too
If you find yourself about to justify the killing of children, stop and reconsider
There’s a scene near the beginning of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” movie introducing Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot: A violent band of armed terrorists has taken people hostage in a bank, including a group of children, and they have rigged the building with enough explosives to take out “four city blocks.” Enter Wonder Woman, who single-handedly takes out all of the bad guys and their explosives, and protects all of the hostages from coming to any harm. We all universally recognize what Wonder Woman does here as being heroic, and thus we know that Wonder Woman is one of the “good guys” in the film. What if, however, instead of going into the bank and taking out the bad guys individually, Wonder Woman had simply used her super-strength to demolish the building on top of the criminals and victims alike, killing them all? That certainly seems like it would have been easier for her, and would have more assuredly guaranteed the safety of the rest of the city. The reason that they didn’t have Wonder Woman do this is that we in the audience would all universally recognize that what she did in that scenario was nothing short of the mass-murder of innocent civilians, and we would no longer recognize her as being one of the heroes of the film, but as a villain.
Yes, superhero movies are works of fiction and real life is far more nuanced than any movie about good vs. evil could be, but I don’t think this analogy is very far off the mark. If we know that Wonder Woman killing everyone is wrong then why is it that some people believe that Hamas using Palestinian civilians as human shields against the Israeli government somehow justifies the Israeli government killing those civilians on purpose? And yes, if you fire missiles into residential areas where you know there are innocent civilians you are killing those civilians on purpose even if they’re not necessarily the targets per se.
Going back to the Justice League example, nobody would ask, “Well, why were those terrorists hanging out in a bank in the first place” had Wonder Woman simply killed everybody. Just as those civilians in the film were victims of the criminals, innocent Palestinians are victims of Hamas. They don’t get to choose where Hamas fires rockets at Israel from, they didn’t get a vote on whether or not Hamas would go into Israel and butcher innocent Israeli civilians, and they are the ones who suffer from Hamas hoarding food, water, and medical supplies.
I argued previously that Western governments like the United Kingdom and United States have made themselves legitimate military targets by Russia in their war with Ukraine, but that doesn’t mean that innocent British or American civilians would be legitimate military targets. I, for example, do not support President Biden in any sense of the word, and outright oppose his policies regarding the Russia-Ukraine war, but even a civilian who did “support” Biden and his policies would still not be a legitimate target as they have nothing to do with the war-effort itself. Likewise, even Palestinians who support Hamas in some nebulous sense are not legitimate military targets of Israel, let alone those who, I assume secretly, out of fear of reprisal, oppose Hamas. Yet, for some reason, their lives are forfeit because a terrorist organization hides out in their buildings, hospitals, and places of work? How is it possible to ignore the evil of that sentiment?
You might reply, yes, it is evil, but it’s Hamas’s evil in using them as human shields in the first place. I will agree with that statement, but Israel doesn’t have to go after Hamas by dropping bombs everywhere they suspect a Hamas terrorist is hiding. As I’ve argued previously, Israel has some of the most elite military forces in the world, due to being surrounded by hostile neighbors (such as Hamas), and could infiltrate the Gaza Strip and pick off Hamas in precision raids. This would have the benefit of at least minimizing civilian casualties by Israel, but may lead to more casualties of the Israeli Defense Forces. Unfortunately, defense and justice aren’t free; they come at a cost and sometimes the cost may not be worth it. Israel can do what’s necessary to go after the people who are actually responsible for the brutal attack on October 7th, or they can continue bombing everyone in the Gaza Strip. If they choose the latter, then they don’t get to balk and scream “Antisemite!” when people point out that they’re engaged in mass-murder and simply creating the next generation of Hamas terrorists who will almost certainly come up with the next October 7th.