Israel bans army from using ‘human shields’
JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday banned the army from using Palestinian civilians as “human shields” during arrest operations aimed at flushing out wanted militants from hiding places.
The ruling that the practice violates international law followed petitions filed three years ago by two human rights groups in Israel. The Supreme Court, the country’s highest court, had already issued a temporary injunction against the practice in August 2002, after the petition was filed in May of that year.
Israeli soldiers, however, have continued to use Palestinian civilians as decoys by forcing them, often at gunpoint, to approach homes or places where wanted militants are hiding so that they can be extracted and arrested.
Chief Justice Aharon Barak wrote that it was impossible to determine whether a warning for a wanted militant to come out may endanger the life of the Palestinian civilian “human shield”.
“In light of the inequality which exists between the apprehending force and the local resident, the civilian cannot be expected to resist the request to pass on an alert,” he was quoted as writing in the ruling.
Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, one of the groups which lodged the petition, claimed it was a war crime for soldiers to force civilians living near buildings where militants have barricaded themselves, to knock on the doors and ask the suspects to come out.
“The petitioners argued that the armys use of Palestinian civilians as human shields and/or as hostages is inhumane treatment and violates the right to life, physical integrity, and dignity,” the organisation said. “The petitioners argued that this practice constitutes a ‘grave breach’ of the Geneva Convention and thus, amounts to a war crime,” it added.
Adalah lodged the petition along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel
Left-wing Israeli MP Zahava Gal-On lauded the ban as a “good decision... preventing the harming of innocents and the discrimination against the Palestinians,” she was quoted as saying by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper’s oneline edition.
But MP Efi Eitam from the right-wing National Religious Party blasted the ruling for hampering the militarys capability to deter militant activities.
“High Court Judges demonstrated today that their pity for the cruel will prove cruel to the merciful and will expose IDF soldiers to more danger,” Eitam said.
The Israeli army refused to comment on the ruling, referring all immediate reaction to the government.
Rights activists deplored the “shields” practice, giving an example of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy caught on film in 2004 tied to the hood of an army jeep during rock-throwing protests by Palestinians in a West Bank village.
“The true test of (Thursday’s ban) will be implementation. It is not just enough to issue a ruling. There has to be a very strict process of implementation,” said Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for leading Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem.
“It is crucial that the army brief all soldiers on the issue which is the only way to eliminate any illegal behaviour.”
The Israeli army says it has never deliberately put Palestinian civilians in harm’s way during its operations to contain a Palestinian uprising since 2000. It says Palestinian militants have put civilians in danger by routinely using them as cover in teeming urban neighbourhoods. agencies