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Citations Needed

Feb 7, 2024

"Viet Cong Use Children as Human Shields," the Associated Press alleged in 1967. "'Civilian casualty?" That's a gray area," Alan Dershowitz argued in The Los Angeles Times in 2006. "We can’t ignore the truth that Hamas uses human shields,”"Jason Willick wrote in The Washington Post in 2023.

For more than five decades, military forces with overwhelming firepower, including the U.S., Israel, and others have accused enemy combatants of using “human shields.” According to these allegations, militant resistance throughout the world, from the Vietnamese National Liberation Front to Palestinian militants, herd civilians in front of them, or hide in hospitals, religious institutions, and other public places, in order to evade attacks. In turn, they force the enemy to “risk” killing civilians, and they themselves bear responsibility for those who are killed.

But rarely, if ever, have these accusations been true. Indeed, the term “human shields,” despite having a clear legal definition, has become a catch-all for militias or insurgency groups that merely operate among a civilian population, functioning as a convenient pretext for invading, occupying and colonial forces to kill civilians, and reinforcing racist conceptions about besieged populations. So why, and how, do media provide cover for governments that lie about and instrumentalize supposed “human shielding”?

On this episode, we dissect the decades-old “human shields” accusation, examining how it dehumanizes and militarizes people living under occupation and invasions, demonizes resistance movements, and sanitizes civilian-killing aggressors as reluctant actors who "simply had no choice."

Our guests are Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini.