- The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights is a Gaza-based
Palestinian NGO mandated "to promote, protect and prevent violations
of human rights in general, and economic, social and cultural rights in
particular, to provide effective aid to those victims of such violations,
and to enhance the quality of life of the community in (Gaza's) marginalized
- It monitors and documents violations, provides legal
aid and advocacy, and helps Gazans on "fundamental issues such as
basic human rights, democracy, and international humanitarian" matters.
It also produces reports and publications on its work.
- In April, it published a seven-case study update of its
July 2008 report titled: "Hiding Behind Civilians - The Continued
Use of Palestinian Civilians as Human Shields by the Israeli Occupation
Forces." This article reviews both reports to highlight what international
law unequivocally prohibits. Nonetheless, it's customary IDF practice even
though Israel's Supreme Court banned it on October 6, 2005.
- One Palestinian woman described her experience:
- "They handcuffed and blindfolded me. Then, they
forced us to move out of the room, pushing me with their hands and guns
to move although I was blindfolded and pregnant. I heard them pushing others
to hurry up as well. I got exhausted and fell down many times. I told them
that I was four months pregnant and couldn't continue but a soldier threatened
to shoot me."
- Other witness testimonies related similar stories, at
times with tragic consequences for its victims. Israel is a party to various
human rights laws and conventions. As a result, it's obligated to respect
and protect the rights of people it controls.
- Under Article 3 of the UN General Assembly's 1948 Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): "everyone has the right to life,
liberty and security of person."
- Under Article 5: "no one shall be subjected to torture
or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
- Under Article 9: "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary
arrest, detention or exile."
- The General Assembly's 1977 International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) affirms the same rights. Under Article
17: "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference
with his privacy, family, home or correspondence."
- Both international humanitarian law (IHL) and international
human rights law (IHRL) protect life, well-being and dignity. ILH deals
with armed conflicts while IHRL applies to peace as well as war. Hague
and Geneva Conventions comprise the main body of IHL, and strike a balance
between military necessity and humanitarian considerations. As an occupying
power, Israel is obligated under them.
- Fourth Geneva protects civilians in war time, including
those in Occupied Palestine. It restricts the use of force and prohibits
seizing non-combatants as hostages, including persons who've laid down
their arms or can't fight because of illness, injury or any other reason.
- Article 34 states: "the taking of hostages is prohibited."
Article 28 states: "the presence of a protected person may not be
used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."
Article 29 states: "the Party to the conflict in whose hands protected
persons may be, is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its
agents, irrespective of any individual responsibility which may be incurred."
- Protocol I, Article 51, paragraph 7 states: "the
presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians
shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military
operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from
attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations." In other
words, using civilians as human shields is prohibited under all circumstances.
- Further, the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Rome
Statute, Article 8 prohibits the "Taking of hostages." Israel
isn't a Court member but is obligated under international law. Nonetheless,
it flaunts it with impunity.
- Al Mezan collected sworn testimonies of people's homes
seized and used as military posts for days with their residents confined
for prolonged periods, beaten and abused, prevented from normal activities,
and put in harm's way.
- Another practice was called the "neighbor procedure,"
later changed to "the prior warning procedure" to get around
a Court prohibition. Israel commandeers civilians, has them knock on neighbors'
doors, usually at night, to deliver military orders to submit to arrest.
Hostages are put in harm's way when violence at times erupts that may result
in deaths or injuries.
- Finally the practice was banned, but Israel blatantly
disregarded its own High Court ruling as well as its clear obligation under
IHL. It continues to use civilian men, women and children as human shields.
- During the Second Intifada (especially for Israel's large-scale
West Bank Operation Defensive Shield incursion), Amnesty International
(AI) said the following in October 2005:
- AI "investigated tens of cases where the Israeli
army used Palestinians, children as well as adults, as 'human shields'
during military operations in towns and refugee camps throughout the Occupied
Territories. Palestinians were forced to walk in front of Israeli soldiers
who, at times, fired their weapons while shielding themselves behind the
civilians. As well (they) were made to enter houses ahead of Israeli soldiers
to check for explosives or gunmen hiding inside, to inspect suspicious
objects, to stay in their houses when Israeli soldiers took them over to
use as sniper positions, or to enter the houses of wanted, possibly armed,
Palestinians to tell them to surrender to Israeli forces."
- B'Tselem reports that Israel routinely uses "human
shields (as) an integral part of the orders received by Israeli soldiers...."
Al Mezan documented "dozens of cases" in Gaza in spite of specific
High Court prohibitions, usually at times of incursions. Case studies below
refute Israeli claims about respecting civilians, not using them as shields,
and abiding strictly according to international and its own case law.
- Israeli officials lie. As standard practice, they seize
Palestinian civilians randomly, including women and young children, then
force them into harm's way. Usually to:
- -- let soldiers commandeer their homes as military posts
and for sniper positions;
- -- check for possible booby-traps in buildings;
- -- order occupants inside to leave;
- -- remove suspicious objects anywhere soldiers may go;
- -- shield them from gunfire or thrown rocks; and
- -- perform whatever other tasks soldiers order under
very real threats they'll be shot if they refuse.
- Orders to conduct these practices come from top commanders,
not soldiers in the field.
- Case Study Examples - 2008 and 2009
- Number 1
- On July 10, 2008, the IDF forced Rana Mofeed Awad An-Nabaheen,
age 11, to visit a relative's house delivering orders to leave. On return,
she was shot in the stomach by other soldiers, unaware she was acting under
orders. Family member Mahir Hamdan Mheisin An-Nabaheen provided eyewitness
sworn testimony. At about 4:30AM, vehicles, helicopters and gunfire woke
- "I peeked through a window and saw Israeli soldiers
breaking into my family member's house and forcing them to get out."
Rana delivered orders to leave. He then heard heavy gunfire. "I peeked
out and saw Rana near the gate screaming and saying: 'I am injured.' I
stepped back into the house and gave her my hand....I pulled her back into
the house. The gunfire became heavier. I left Rana bleeding and took cover
behind a wall. Rana crawled two steps and lay on the floor....I saw her
entrails coming out of her abdomen.
- A physician in military uniform came, brought a bandage,
and put it on her abdomen. The commander fastened Rana to a carrier, then
ordered two soldiers to carry her." This case is typical of many others.
- Number 2
- It involves the arrest of civilians, including a pregnant
woman, from the As-Sreij neighborhood in eastern Al-Qarara village in Khan
Younis. They were held in an agricultural field and forced to accompany
soldiers towards the separation border. The men were detained, women and
children ordered to leave. They were shot at en route, then used as human
shields during the operation. Out of fear of reprisals, the witness remained
- On April 3, 2008, at 7:30AM, her husband wasn't answering
his mobile at the time an Israeli force entered the area where he was working.
She rushed there with his ID card. "When I was on my way, I heard
somebody shouting and ordering me to stop and come towards him....I tried
to explain that I had come to give my husband his ID card but they threatened
to shoot me."
- "They led me to a room where I saw seven men and
a woman with her two daughters, who were detained. The men were handcuffed
and blindfolded. They handcuffed and blindfolded me. Then, they forced
us to move out of the room, pushing me with their hands and guns although
I was blindfolded and pregnant....They stopped for a while and took off
my blindfold....I saw them taking the men across the border, and then heard
one of them ordering us to leave the area....I heard heavy gunfire."
- "I had to crawl for a long time to leave the area....I
found (soldiers) who forced me to stop. I tried to explain what happened
but they threatened to shoot me and forced me to sit down with a child
of (a) family....One soldier forced the child to take his shirt off and
tied his hands with it. There were many explosions and intensive firing."
- "I managed to go home at around 13:00 on the same
day. My husband returned home at around 21:00 on the same day. I knew he
was detained in a military post close to the border line."
- This is another human shield example that "demonstrates
the complete disregard of the soldiers for the life of a pregnant woman
and her unborn child." They were used as cover for Israeli forces
to withdraw from the area.
- Other cases were of medical teams forced to carry out
life-threatening tasks, homes used as military posts and their residents
as human shields, and a 14 year old boy used for the same purpose.
- On April 9, 2009, Al Mezan presented an updated report,
containing seven new case studies "based on comprehensive field investigations
and witness statements," these based on incidents during Operation
Cast Lead and one earlier in 2008.
- "In endangering the lives of civilian men, women
and children through systematically using them as human shields, the (IDF
committed) crimes against humanity according to IHL." This is one
of many violations against non-combatant Palestinian civilians.
- Number 1: 15-year-old child used as a human shield
- After being used for that purpose, the child was detained
in a hole in the ground with about 100 others for four days. He now suffers
from serious mental health difficulties and refuses to speak to strangers.
With help from his parents, Al Mezan got him to tell his story and presented
excepts from it below. At home with his parents, he was terrified by days
- "I was lying on the floor sheltering with my mother."
His uncle then said: 'Come downstairs.' "So we all went downstairs.
As soon as we opened the door, I saw a large number of soldiers. One of
them was pointing his weapon at me....I saw my uncle and brothers lined
up against the wall. I saw the soldier signaling at me to stand beside
them. So I did....he wanted me to put my hands up. So I did. Another soldier
came and searched me from top to bottom....He tied my hands to the hands
of the people next to me."
- "I stood by the wall. A few minutes later one of
the soldiers came and kicked me. About two hours later, they ordered us
to walk....they made us go into Khalil al-Attar's house....Then they told
us all go, as a chain, into one of the rooms." They took us outside
the house....I heard the sound of a huge explosion in the area. From there
they took us to a farm."
- "They made us sit on the ground until dawn the following
day. Then they took us outside the field (and) blindfolded my eyes....they
led us to a low-lying area. They made us sit on the ground....They tied
my hands in front of my stomach. They searched me a third time and made
me sit on the ground....After they took of my blindfold....I realized where
the low-lying area was. It was a hole made by Israeli forces....south of
the American school."
- "We spent the whole night in this hole. I couldn't
sleep. The weather was really cold and I wasn't wearing a lot of clothing.
We stayed in this hole for four days....I could hear the sound of shooting
and explosions" close by. We got one meal each afternoon...."On
the third day I saw a soldier making a wire fence around the hole (and
bring) a lot of people to the hole until the number reached around 100.
On the morning of the fourth day, an Israeli soldier untied me, my brother
Ali, my cousins Hussein and Khalil. They told us and the women to go to
- Case 2: Majdi al-Abed Ahmed Abed Rabbo, male, age 40
- On January 5 at 9:30AM, he was at home when he heard
a loud sound and someone say, "Open the door....I arrived at the door
and opened it. I was surprised to see an (IDF) soldier hiding behind a
man in his twenties and pointing a gun at me. He said in Arabic, 'Take
off your pants.' I took" them off. He ordered him to strip naked,
then get dressed. About "15 - 20 Israeli soldiers then entered the
courtyard of my house....one grabbed my neck from behind and put his gun
to the back of my head."
- "Two other soldiers hid behind me....They told me
to lead them to the roof, where they searched pigeon coups that I keep
in two rooms there." A soldier then asked about the adjacent house,
belonging to his cousin and connected to his home by a common roof. "There's
no space between the two houses, just the wall."
- "After that, one of the soldiers brought a demolition
tool and said, 'Drill a hole there.'....Then three soldiers went through
the hole to (his cousin's) house." He was told to come as well along
with more soldiers, then told, "Get up. Get up," and grabbed
violently. "I got up and entered with them through the hole back to
my roof, and they all went as a group down the stairs. This happened quickly....The
whole group was running."
- "The soldiers led me outside. I found myself in
a mud road....One of the soldiers was holding me and making me run with
him. Another soldier was bringing the young man with him the same way,
and (he) had his hands tied. They pushed me in the mosque through its main
door to the north....They tied my hands in front of my stomach and tied
my legs and sat me down (in one corner). We entered the house adjacent
to the mosque. They took us out and turned us toward another house,"
then sat us down nearby.
- In one house, a soldier said, there were gunmen and we
killed them. "Go take their clothes off and bring their guns and come
- "I refused. I asked him to let me return to my family.
I said to him:" going into that house "means death, and I don't
want to die." The soldier responded, 'You are here to do what we tell
you (and said) Go.'
- "I walked about 200 meters to the house....I went
in...I went alone....but couldn't find anyone. I expected the worst."
He encountered three armed men wearing badges saying Al Qassam Brigades.
He said he was forced to come. They told him to go back and say what he
saw - "three gunmen in the house, still alive....then the soldier
said to me, 'The officer says he's crazy and if you are lying to him he
swears by his mother he will shoot you."
- "A short time later, I heard the sound of heavy
gunfire nearby. Twenty minutes passed....and a soldier said to me; 'We
killed them now. Go get them.' I refused. I told them that they had told
me that if I returned they would kill me, and he shouted at me: 'We killed
- He went again and found one man seriously injured and
bleeding and the others alive. He reported back what he saw, then heard
heavy gunfire and a very loud explosion. A soldier said; 'Go and make sure
they are dead. We bombed the house again with planes...."With difficulty,
I entered the apartment. Inside, I saw the three men still living, but
they were under the rubble."
- Majdi al-Abed Ahmed Abed Rabbo located his wife and children
after the IDF released him. His home was totally destroyed by military
bulldozers, and he's deeply distressed. Numerous other examples are similar
to his account - human shields illegally used by IDF soldiers in violation
of international law and Israel's High Court ruling.
- The above cases are examples of customary Israeli practice
in gross violation of international law and Israel's High Court ruling.
They endanger civilian lives and cause "long-lasting psychological
- IHL considers using civilian human shields a war crime
and when used systematically against non-combatants a crime against humanity.
It's essential to hold parties guilty of these crimes accountable as the
way to stop this heinous practice.
- Al Mezan condemns Israel's disregard for the law and
says that "the continued failure of the international community to
fulfill its obligations and its silence on Israeli violations encourages"
similar acts in the future - by Israel and others engaged in this outrageous
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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