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Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2006, 16:40 GMT
Palestinians' high-risk human shield tactic
Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza

Palestinian "human shields" on top of a building in Beit Lahiya, Gaza
The "human shields" have deterred at least one Israeli air strike
Schoolgirls chanting their defiance of Israel were among the crowd that gathered to defend the two-storey home in the town of Beit Lahiya.

Along with the girls had come old men, neighbours and militants.

All of them were ready to defy the Israeli air force. They were ready to put themselves in the line of fire.

But they knew too that a similar human shield tactic had worked a few days earlier.

The Israelis had backed off knowing that to strike would cause large numbers of civilian casualties which would, of course, have played very badly in the court of international opinion.

For years Palestinians have been completely at the mercy of the Israeli air force.

But they clearly believe that now they have found a weakness.

If they know an attack is coming they can probably foil it by massing in the target zone.

The Israelis can no longer expect to limit civilian casualties by calling ahead and clearing people out.

'David and Goliath'

Of course the tactic is dangerous and it takes courage.

Nobody rushing to a threatened home will know whether or not this time the Israelis will strike.

But for Palestinians the new strategy has benefits way beyond protecting the odd target.

The tactic is symbolically important and a propaganda coup.

From militant leaders to schoolgirls, Palestinians can unite in confronting their enemy and the passive resistance of the human shields will be admired from around the world.

The boys on the roofs, armed only with Palestinian flags and facing down war planes, are a David and Goliath image for the modern age.

But nobody should imagine that the likes of Hamas are suddenly being won over wholly to the strategies of pacifism.

If they possessed anti-aircraft guns, they would surely blaze away at the circling planes.

Civilians have reportedly been defending the building

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