A constant of Israeli propaganda is that Palestinian fighters use Palestinian civilians as human shields to force the humane, heroic soldiers of the “most moral army in the world” to kill a huge number of Palestinian civilians. This oft-repeated allegation lacks any supporting evidence, while abundant evidence shows Israel routinely committing this particular war crime.

Mick Napier
18 November 2015

There is abundant evidence on the Israeli military’s routine use of Palestinians – including very young children – as human shields, one of many war crimes planned and carried out routinely by the Israeli military. The practice violates parts of the 1998 Rome Statute and the 1949 Geneva Convention, Article 28 of which expressly prohibits the use of civilians as human shields by placing them alongside soldiers in order to obtain immunity from attack.

human shieldAvichay Sharon, 25, served as an Israeli commando from 2000 to 2003 and told CBS News in April 2007 that the human shield practice remained common."Everyone has done it, seen it, witnessed it," he reported.

In October 2005 Defence Minister Mofaz defended the use of human shields and announced publicly he was going to appeal against a Supreme Court ruling banning the practice, a ruling that followed a furore when one Palestinian human shield was shot dead in crossfire.

Since the Israeli Army frequently ignores Supreme Court rulings, the message the appeal sent to the soldiers on the ground was clear – carry on using Palestinians as human shields, including children, with your officers’ full support. Israeli investigative group B'Tselem reported that the practice was widespread and systematic both before and after the Supreme court ruling: “[F]or a long period of time following the outbreak of the second intifada Operation Defensive Shield, in April 2002, the IDF systematically used Palestinian civilians as human shields, forcing them to carry out military actions which threatened their lives".

B'Tselem reported that in 2006

during an incursion by Israeli forces into Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip, on 17 July 2006, soldiers seized control of two buildings in the town and used residents as human shield… the soldiers held six residents, two of them minors, on the staircases of the two buildings, at the entrance to rooms in which the soldiers positioned themselves, for some twelve hours. During…intense exchanges of gunfire between the soldiers and armed Palestinians…soldiers also demanded that one of the occupants walk in front of them during a search of all the apartments in one of the buildings, after which they released her.

In a video broadcast by the BBC in March the following year, Matthew Price (who cannot remotely be accused of pro-Palestinian bias) commented on the film of Israeli soldiers pushing children as young as eleven in front of them while on occupation duty and interviewed Jihan Dadoush, aged 11, on her traumatic experience at the hands of the heavily armed soldiers raiding her community. Price reports that, “The Israeli Army says it doesn’t allow its soldiers to use civilians during military operations and yet Palestinians here in Nablus and indeed across the occupied territories will tell you it is a widespread practice!”. Price concluded that “Palestinian civilians are still apparently being used during military occupations”.

human shieldCatching the practice on video is hazardous and difficult, so the film evidence should be treated as the tip of what Palestinians claim is a very large iceberg, Israel commonly carrying out this war crime. The 2013 video here shows a group of Israeli soldiers in Israeli-occupied Abu Dis using a handcuffed teenager as a human shield while shooting at stone throwers. When Associated Press cameramen filmed Israeli soldiers still using Palestinian human shields in Nablus, the Israeli Army feigned outrage and promised a severe response. "Violations of the law or of rulings of the Israeli High Court of Justice are viewed with severity," claimed Army spokesperson Noa Meir.

Following leaked evidence that caused a furore, two soldiers were put on probation for forcing a nine year-old Palestinian child, Majid Rabah, to open suspected booby-trapped bags during their massacre of 1,400 people in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead in 2008.

As far as repeated Israeli assertions of Hamas also using civilians as human shields, an accusation backed up by no evidence whatsoever, Jeremy Bowen of the BBC wrote after a visit there that he “saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

Despite a barrage of assertions from the Israeli Government that were widely reported, the UK Daily Mail, the New York Post and others that Hamas was using human shields 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". An Amnesty International report in 2009 accused Israel of using human shields but, although critical of Hamas, 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 scholarly review of the UN Goldstone Report in Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law dismissed Israeli assertions "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 facts speak very loudly and unambiguously on this issue; Israeli war crimes include systematic and routine use of Palestinians, including failies and very young children, as human shields. As US senator Daniel Moynihan famously quipped, "You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts."

Mick Napier
West Calder
18 November 2015
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00 44 (0)795 800 2591

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