The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused Hamas militants of violating international humanitarian law by "locating rockets within schools and hospitals, or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas." The European Union condemned Hamas, and in particular condemned "calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields." Confirmation of urban warfare was produced by France24, whose team filmed a rocket launch pad which was placed in a civilian area next to a hotel where international journalists were staying. Peter Stefanovic of Australia’s Channel Nine News tweeted that rockets had been fired "over our hotel from a site about two hundred metres away. So a missile launch site is basically next door.” Janis Mackey Frayer of Canada's CTV reported seeing a Hamas gunman dressed in a woman's headscarf with a "tip of a gun poked out from under cloak.” Harry Fear reporting for Russia Today tweeted that rockets were fired from near his hotel.  His tweet was later deleted, and he was expelled from Gaza. Several journalists who alleged Hamas use of human shields and rocket locations close to civilian infrastructure reported being threatened by Hamas.
In this Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 file photo, Palestinians look for their belonging after houses were destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, in southern Gaza Strip.AP
Israeli report on 2014 Gaza op accuses Hamas of war crimes
Six takeaways from the UN's Gaza war report
Why I need to tell my truth about serving in Israeli army
I spent a month in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. It was one of the worst and deadliest months I have seen in my life. The reality there was much more complicated than was seen from a safe distance in Europe or the United States.
Yes, Israel bombed Palestinian houses in Gaza. But Hamas is also to blame for its cruel and selfish game against its own people. I do not have hard evidence but for me, spending a month in the middle of this hell, it was obvious that they were breaking international rules of war and worst of all, were not afraid to use their own citizens as living shields.
The first incident happened late in the evening. I was in the bathroom when I’ve heard a loud rocket noise and my Spanish colleague, a journalist who was renting with me a flat near the Gaza beach, started to scream. He wanted to light a cigarette and came to one of the open windows. The moment he was using his lighter, he saw a fireball in front of his eyes and lost his hearing.
From what our neighbors told us later, a man drove up in a pickup to our tiny street. He placed a rocket launcher outside and fired. But the rocket failed to go upwards and flew along the street at ground level for a long time before destroying a building. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt or killed.
When we calmed down, we started to analyze the situation. It became obvious that the man or his supervisor wanted the Israel Defense Forces to destroy civilian houses, which our tiny street was full of. Whoever it was, Hamas, Iz al-Din al-Qassam or others, they knew that the IDF can strike back at the same place from which the rocket was fired. Fortunately for us, the rocket missed its target in Israel.
The second story happened in the middle of the day. I was sitting with other journalists in a cafe outside one of the hotels near the beach. During wartime, these hotels are occupied by foreign press and some NGOs. Every hotel is full and in its cafes many journalists spend their time discussing, writing, editing stories or just recharging the phones. Suddenly I saw a man firing a rocket from between the hotels. It was obvious that we journalists became a target. If the IDF would strike back, we all would be dead. What would Hamas do? It would not be surprising to hear about the “cruel Zion regime killing innocent and free press.”
For me, provoking is also creating living shields.
While I was interviewing people on the streets of Gaza, I couldn’t meet anyone who spoke something other than official propaganda. But some Palestinians, when they were sure my microphone was turned off, told me they have had enough but they are afraid. No one would dare to say publicly that Hamas is creating a hell inside Gaza. But they were also asking “what if not Hamas?” The Palestinian Authority government would have no authority there. So if not Hamas, they say, there could be somebody much worse. “The choice is between evil and evil plus,” one of them said.
The reality is much more complicated than can be seen from a distance.
The writer is a foreign news correspondent for Polish Radio.
During the 2008-2009 Gaza War
The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict that took place in 2008-2009 stated that it "did not find any evidence of civilians being forced to remain in their houses by Palestinian armed groups". The Mission "asked numerous witnesses in Gaza why they had stayed in their homes in spite of the shelling, bombing and Israeli ground invasion"; respondents stated they "did not think they would be at risk as long as they remained indoors or because they had no safe place to go". An Amnesty International report in 2009 criticized Hamas for human rights violations, but found "no evidence Palestinian fighters directed civilians to shield military objectives from attacks, forced them to stay in buildings used by militants, or prevented them from leaving commandeered buildings".
A review article in Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law stated that Israel warned residents to leave by using warnings such as roof knockingand phone calls, and that "Israel asserted that Palestinian civilians who did not abide by the warnings were acting as 'voluntary human shields,' and were thus taking part in hostilities and could be targeted as combatants." The article determined this assertion to be unsupportable in international law.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Hamas now regularly uses human shields to protect the homes of Hamas officials. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center accused Hamas and other armed groups of making extensive use of human shields as integral part of their war doctrine, in order to prevent the IDF to target them, during the Gaza War (2008-2009). The IDF released footage allegedly showing Palestinian fighters using ambulances for military purposes. Magen David Adom, the Israeli ambulance and medical emergency service, submitted to the UN a report concluding the accusation was unfounded.
In relation to Al-Fakhura school incident during the Gaza War of January 2009, Israel accused Hamas of "cynically" using civilians as human shields. A UN Board of Inquiry found that there was no firing from within the school and no explosives within the school. The Board could not establish with certainty whether there had been any firing from the vicinity of the school.