Catholic priest and nun human shields against Israeli bombing

American Catholic priest and nun spent several hours at the home of a Palestinian militant on Wednesday acting as human shields to protect the house from destruction by Israeli military forces.

The International Herald Tribune reports that Michigan-based Fr Peter Dougherty, 65, and Sr Mary Ellen Gundeck, 55, said they were sent by God to help protect the Palestinians.

They arrived Wednesday morning at the family home of Mohammed Baroud, a militant involved in rocket attacks on Israel, and stayed for several hours.

After sundown, Fr Dougherty said they had left the house and did not plan to return.

For the past week, Palestinian militants and civilians have crowded into five militants' houses, to bodily thwart Israeli threats to hit them with missiles. The use of human shields is a new tactic in the Palestinians' war against Israel's mighty military.

Since militants allied with the ruling Hamas party kidnapped an Israeli soldier in June, the Israeli air force has destroyed the homes of at least 73 militants, usually after calling owners and warning residents to evacuate.

Fr Dougherty and Sr Gundeck said they had visited several of the houses under threat on Tuesday, and on Wednesday reached Baroud's three-story home. "It is wrong for Israel to bomb people's houses," Fr Dougherty said. "We are here in solidarity, and to try communicate to the world what is really going on."

The nun and priest, dressed in shirts and pants, said they were staying for several hours at each of the targeted houses. They were warmly welcomed by Ahmed Baroud, a brother of the militant.

The building's rooftop has been decorated with Palestinian political faction banners. Local leaders of the rival Hamas and Fatah groups spend the nights there, gathering around a small fire to show Israeli aircraft they are still in the targeted house.

In the past, a call by the Israeli military would send residents rushing from targeted houses in panic, carrying blankets, savings, and identity cards.

Hamas said it would continue to use the tactic. Local Hamas leader Nizar Rayan called on Palestinians to conduct their Friday prayers - the highlight of the Muslim religious week - on the rooftops of the five targeted houses. Other Palestinian factions have endorsed the move.

However, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said militants calling on civilians to act as human shields was a "war crime."

"There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. In a statement, the rights group also criticised Israel's policy of shelling houses.

However, Fr Dougherty said civilians thwarting shelling was "a wonderful non-violent action."

Nun and priest act as human shields to protect militant house from Israeli bombing (International Herald Tribune, 22/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Fr Peter Dougherty, Michigan Peace Team
Peter Dougherty (Wikipedia)

Vatican envoy deplores "illegal Israeli action" (CathNews, 21/11/06)
Benedict prays for end to Gaza bloodshed (CathNews, 6/11/06)
New Gaza settlement tenders concern Caritas Jerusalem (CathNews, 8/9/06)
Biblical lamentations as Gaza descends into disaster (CathNews, 7/12/06)
Vatican official commends Israel withdrawal from Gaza (CathNews 26/8/05)
Caritas Australia provides assistance to Caritas Jerusalem (CathNews 18/4/02)

24 Nov 2006