A brave few are reporting on Gaza’s human shields

By Con Coughlin , August 7, 2014
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In the chaos of any military conflict, even the best generals can find it difficult to work out precisely what is taking place between the warring factions.

Amid the rapidly changing landscape of the battlefield, fighters on the ground need to take spur-of-the-moment decisions to gain the advantage and protect the lives of their comrades. Even with the benefit of sophisticated communications, modern-day combatants will rarely have any profound understanding of what is going on elsewhere on the battlefield.

If this is the predicament facing those actively engaged in the fighting, then just imagine the difficulties experienced by international media organisations charged with providing 24/7 news coverage of a conflict, particularly when their correspondents on the spot have little, if any, contact with those directing operations on either side.

The extensive media coverage of the Gaza conflict is a case in point. Day after day, we have been treated to harrowing accounts, in words and pictures, of the appalling suffering of Palestinians.

But while this is unquestionably an important part of the story, it is not the only issue that needs to be covered. What about the circumstances that led to the attacks in the first place? What about the provocative acts, such as Hamas firing rockets into Israel?

The problem facing those covering this terrible war is that invariably they arrive in the aftermath of an attack, completely oblivious to what transpired before the bombs started falling.

And yet, after the implementation of a 72-hour ceasefire, new details have emerged about how Hamas has deliberately used Gaza’s civilian population as a propaganda tool by employing them as human shields. Indeed, the IDF now claims it has recovered a copy of a Hamas manual on urban warfare that reportedly details the “benefits of human shields”, and suggests the use of civilians against the IDF has been “intentional and pre-planned”.

The IDF’s claims appear to be supported by reports from a handful of Western journalists who have reported seeing rockets fired by Hamas from civilian areas in Gaza. For example, John Reed, the FT Jerusalem Bureau Chief, this week tweeted seeing “two rockets fired toward Israel from near al-Shifa hospital, even as more bombing victims are being brought in”. In response to reports by Mr Reed and other journalists who have made similar claims, Hamas have issued death threats against them, claiming they are “fabricating information for Israel”.

Meanwhile, there is little focus on what is taking place on Israel’s side of the border due to the fact that, thanks to the Iron Dome system, there are no dead Israeli babies to photograph.

Which means that, so far as the media coverage is concerned, Israel is a victim of its success in protecting its people from the murderous, and unprovoked, attacks by Hamas.

Con Coughlin is the Daily Telegraph’s Defence Editor

Last updated: 11:08am, August 7 2014