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Human-shield tactic works again in Gaza
The Globe And Mail, Nov. 20, 2006
JERUSALEM-- A weekend standoff in which hundreds of Palestinians, including women and children, formed protective human shields around the homes of two militants has forced Israel to reconsider missile strikes on buildings in Gaza, and prompted vows from Palestinians to repeat the tactic in the future.
`We consider it a new kind of resistance, highly successful, one that will serve us well against the Israeli enemy,` said Jamila Shanti, a Hamas lawmaker from Beit Hanoun and founder of the party`s women`s wing.
The fiery 50-year-old former philosophy professor is widely credited for coming up with the new strategy of using women as human shields to fend off Israeli attacks. She led the demonstration of women in Beit Hanoun on Nov. 3, which allowed dozens of Hamas militants to escape an Israeli siege on a mosque.
Saturday night, Dr. Shanti got a call from Mohammed Baroud, the local leader of the Popular Resistance Committee, who had just received a warning from the Israeli army that he and his family should leave their house, which was to be destroyed in an imminent air strike.
Another Hamas militant received a similar call -- a standard procedure for the Israeli air force in recent months in order to avoid civilian casualties. The PRC and Hamas have both claimed responsibility for recent rocket attacks against Israel.
`I told [Baroud] they should refuse to depart. Then I offered to bring more people to his house to protect them, like we did at the mosque in Beit Hanoun,` recalled Dr. Shanti, who holds a doctorate in English. `We fully expected the Israelis to fire at us, but if they did, we would face it with strength.`
It was decided that a group of men would guard the two homes that night and a team of women would stand in at sunrise. The homes are between Beit Lahiya and the Jabiliya refugee camp.
Hundreds of protesters gathered on the rooftops and nearby balconies throughout the night, firing guns into the air and chanting `Death to Israel. Death to America.` Apache helicopters circled overhead, then retreated.
Yesterday morning, Ms. Shanti divided dozens of women into smaller groups who took to the roofs in two-hour shifts.
`We wanted to give the men a chance to sleep and the women a chance to work and pick up their kids from school,` she explained.
Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas arrived at Mr. Baroud`s home later in the morning to show his support.
`We are so proud of this national stand. It`s the first step toward protecting our homes, the homes of our children,` he told reporters, climbing onto the roof.
Eventually, the Israeli army called off the air strikes because of the crowds, according to a spokeswoman.
`What happened over the weekend was very worrisome to us,` Noa Meir said.
`Not only are they using their civilians as human shields, they continue to endanger the lives of our civilians with their rocket attacks,` she said. `It presents us with a very difficult dilemma because we want to do everything possible to keep civilians out of harm`s way, but we need to protect our people by ending rocket fire.`
She acknowledged that the army saw no easy answer to the problem.
Last night, eight rockets fired by Hamas militants landed in the Israeli town of Sderot, seriously injuring one person. Three hours later, Israelretaliated with an air strike in Gaza City, killing a Palestinian man and wounding nine others, including two Hamas militants and four children.
Dr. Shanti vowed that human shields will be used more often.
`If they threaten to destroy any one of our houses, they will have to destroy hundreds of us first,` she said.
Her own home was destroyed earlier this month by Israeli tank shells that killed three people, including two Hamas militants. Dr. Shanti escaped without injury.
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