Pictured: A group of Palestinians during a riot at the border fence with Israel on May 14, 2018. Two of the young men are preparing to attack Israeli soldiers with slingshots. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
When Hamas launched its weekly demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel 10 months ago, it first sent its men and their family members to participate in the protests. A few weeks later, however, Hamas instructed its men to stay away from the border after many were detected and killed by the Israeli army. Most of the Hamas men who were killed during the violence belonged to the group's military wing, Izaddin al-Qassam. Others belonged to the military wing of another terrorist group, Islamic Jihad.
It is worth noting that the Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who were killed while participating in the violence near the Gaza-Israel border did not come there dressed in military uniforms or carrying their weapons. Instead, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad men participated in the weekly protests dressed in civilian clothes. They pretended they were ordinary and innocent civilians protesting against the economic crisis in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Later, however, Hamas was forced to admit that dozens of its members were killed in the first three months of the protests near the border. Salah Bardaweel, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, revealed in May 2018 that at least 50 Hamas members were killed during the violent demonstrations, which had begun two months earlier.
Hamas was also forced to admit that most of the victims were "fighters" after their identities were revealed by their families and by hospitals in the Gaza Strip. Hamas was probably hoping that the identities of its men would remain a secret so that the group and other Palestinians could accuse Israel of targeting innocent and defenseless civilians.
After the Hamas ploy was uncovered, the group and its supporters in the Gaza Strip resorted to a different tactic: sending children and women to the Gaza-Israel border. This, of course, is an old tactic that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been using for decades. The Palestinian terrorist leaders know that when women and children get wounded and killed near the border, that draws the attention of most foreign journalists and international human rights organizations. Hamas's goal: to depict Israel as a state that deliberately targets Palestinian women and children.
In recent weeks, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been sending thousands of women and children to the border with Israel to participate in the violence. The groups have been encouraging the children and women to throw rocks, explosive devices and firebombs at Israeli soldiers. They have also been encouraging the women and children to try to infiltrate the border by damaging the security fence.
The latest victim of Hamas's cynical exploitation and brainwashing of children took place February 8, during violent demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel border. Hassan Shalabi, a 14-year-old boy from the Gaza Strip, was among thousands of Palestinian children and women who were dispatched by Hamas to the border to participate in violent attacks against Israeli soldiers.
Like the thousands of other Palestinians sent to the border, Shalabi was told by Hamas that the goal of the so-called "March of Return" is to pave the way for millions of Palestinians to move into Israel. The "March of Return" is not about improving the living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It is called the "March of Return" because its main objective is to force Israel to allow Palestinian refugees and their descendants to enter and turn it into a country with a Muslim majority where Jews would be allowed to live only as a tiny minority under Islamic rule.
Like most Palestinian groups and leaders, Hamas lied to the boy when it told him that throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli soldiers would facilitate the "right of return" for millions of Palestinians supposedly to return to their homes from which they fled after five Arab armies attacked on the newly born State of Israel on May 14, 1948.
The boy believed that by trying to destroy the security fence and infiltrate Israel, he and his friends were helping Palestinians achieve their "right of return."
The naive women and children did not know that any army that is confronted with thousands of rioters trying to infiltrate the border would be forced to use all available means to defend its soldiers and civilians. One can only imagine what would have happened had thousands of Palestinian rioters managed to cross the border and reach one of the nearby Israeli towns.
Last week, a 43-year-old woman, Amal al-Taramsi, also fell victim to the Palestinian terrorist groups' exploitation of women and children. The woman, who was among thousands of Palestinians dispatched by Hamas to the border to engage in a violent confrontation with Israeli soldiers, was also killed when rioters tried to infiltrate the security fence.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said they have noticed in recent months that Hamas and Islamic Jihad were no longer sending their men to the sites of the clashes. The terrorists prefer to keep a safe distance from the view of the Israeli soldiers, evidently preferring to hide behind women and children. The leaders of the terrorists are also cowards. They often briefly show up at the site of the demonstrations to give statements to the journalists before going back into hiding in their villas and offices.
When Shalabi was killed last Friday, the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were visiting Cairo, where they always stay in five-star hotels. They are in Cairo to talk with Egyptian intelligence officials about reaching understandings with Israel concerning a long-term truce along the Israel-Gaza border. While they are in Cairo, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders continue to send thousands of women and children to engage in violent attacks on Israeli soldiers. These leaders do not care about the safety or welfare of their women and children. On the contrary; the more dead women and children, the better. That way, they can blame Israel for killing innocent civilians and incite more Palestinians to join the jihad against Jews.
Needless to say, these leaders always make sure that their own wives and children stay away from the combat zone.
What is disturbing is not that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are exploiting women and children as human shields. Rather, what is outrageous is the continued silence of the media and the international community. International human rights organizations and journalists are falling into the terrorists' trap by parroting the blood libel that Israel is "deliberately targeting innocent civilians, especially women and children."
If anyone is to be condemned, it is those who are sending women and children to die on the border with Israel.
Those who are encouraging women and children to take part in a violent confrontation with the Israeli army should be held accountable for war crimes. It is time for the international community to call on Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip to stop hiding behind women and children and to stop using them as human shields in their jihad to eliminate Israel.
Bassam Tawil is an Arab Muslim based in the Middle East.