Around the same time that attack was taking place on Sunday evening, Benjamin Netanyahu was charging Hamas on TV with using “human shields” to gather “telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause”. It has long been the Israeli case that the militants cynically and deliberately carry out attacks and store weapons in residential areas and have also stopped people living there from evacuating homes when fighting breaks out.
Are militants also deliberately placing themselves in residences which are then attacked? On the day that Al-Farouq was attacked, the Israeli military also carried out a missile strike on a home for the handicapped in Beit Lahiya, killing two disabled residents and injuring four others. A neighbour claimed that a member of the Islamic Jihad group and his wife had also lived in the building; but he could provide no names or dates for this.
Jamilla Alaiwa, a 59 year old social worker who founded the home 24 years ago said that this was categorically untrue. “If the Israelis have proof of this let them make it public. There was no one from Islamic Jihad or Hamas living there. We are not involved in politics.” The Israeli military stated they were investigating what happened; their conclusions have not reached Gaza. Were they, perhaps, fed false information?
Some Gazans have admitted that they were afraid of criticizing Hamas, but none have said they had been forced by the organisation to stay in places of danger and become unwilling human-shields. The Bani Sobeila area, near Khan Younis, where the Abu Jamaa deaths took place received leaflets dropped from the air last week warning them to leave.
Hamas can, however, be accused of making people complacent, repeatedly stating in the media that the Israeli warnings were psychological games and asking the population to ignore them. Some mentioned this as a reason for staying behind; returning home having initially left.
The counter-argument to that was the need to prevent panic spreading. Almost 85,000 people have been on the move, overwhelming the shelters set up by the UN by sheer numbers. Classrooms meant for 30 now hold up to 70, one typical example was the Girls Preparatory Secondary School, at a suburb of Beit Lahiya in the north, with a capacity of 800 which has taken in 1600. Homes of relatives, a traditional source of refuge, are also feeling the strain.
Gazans point out that the outside world remains largely unaware just how small and confined the place is – just 25 miles long and just a few miles wide. It is blocked in by closed borders to Israel in the north and east and Egypt in the south. There is no route out by the sea to the west with an Israeli naval blockade. Getting to travel abroad is an excruciatingly long process.
This may be due to Hamas and Islamic Jihad exporting violence, as Israel and Egypt claim, but it is the increasingly large percentage of the 1.7 million population being pushed by the violence into the already heavily congested centre, who are suffering as the relentless bombings and shootings continue.