Hiding Behind Civilian: April 2009 Update Report Al Mezan report onThe Use of Palestinian Civilians as Human Shields by the Israeli Occupation Forces

In this update report Al Mezan presents seven case studies on the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). These case studies, based on comprehensive field investigations and witness statements, demonstrate that the IOF continues to systematically use Palestinian civilians as human shields, in breach of international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law (IHRL) and even Israeli domestic law. Six of these incidents took place during Operation Cast Lead launched against the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, and one took place earlier in 2008.

In endangering the lives of civilian men, women and children through systematically using them as human shields, the IOF is committing crimes tantamount to war crimes and crimes against humanity according to IHL. Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have taken all steps within their power to protect Palestinian civilians from this cruel and lethal practice, winning in 2005 a legal battle to secure a prohibition on the use of civilians as human shields under Israeli law. The Israeli authorities continue to refuse to implement the orders of their own highest judicial body, let alone adhere to their clear obligations as an occupying power under IHL. These practices, and the culture of impunity within the Israeli military system, compel the international community, and especially the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to act.

The practice of using human shields is just one of many grave violations perpetrated against Palestinian civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). The State of Israel continues to impose a near total blockade on Gaza, carry out expulsions and home demolitions in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and kill civilians on a daily basis. During Operation Cast Lead alone, when Israel launched a wide-scale 22-day military offensive, at least, 1,410 Palestinians were killed (including 324 children and 109 women) and at least 4,004 were injured (including 860 children and 448 women). Thousands of houses were destroyed as a result of targeted air strikes and demolitions carried out by the IOF, as well as hundreds of vital public facilities, including police stations, the main prison in Gaza and civilian ministry buildings.

The first section of the report briefly presents relevant legal provisions related to the use of Palestinians as human shields. The second section presents seven case studies which provide yet further evidence of widespread and systematic grave violations of IHL and IHRL.

In the first incident a 15-year-old boy was used as a human shield by the IOF and then detained in a hole for four days. The boy now suffers from serious mental health difficulties.

In the second incident a 10-year-old boy was forced to carry-out life endangering tasks
. When he was unable to complete a task, he was hit by an IOF soldier.

In the third incident an elderly man was forced to run in front of IOF soldiers to protect them from potential attacks in an area that was under fire, placing the life of the man in grave danger. In the fourth incident, IOF soldiers ordered a civilian man to go into a house where Palestinian fighters were hiding to retrieve their weapons thereby putting his life in grave danger. The victim now suffers from psychological problems.

In the fifth incident, the IOF used two brothers as human shields. One brother was shot and bled to death after the IOF fired on a rescue convoy including Red Crescent ambulances and a UN vehicle. The other brother was injured, denied medical care and as a result had two fingers amputated.

In the sixth incident, a young man was used as a human shield by the IOF and severely beaten.

In the seventh incident an old man is used as a human shield for several days and detained in Israel before being sent back to Gaza. The final section of the report calls on the international community to uphold its legal obligation to take immediate and effective action to protect Palestinian civilians

Ref. Mezan

Were IDF close-range killings in Gazan justified? ( Israeli soldiers killed 93 Palestinians at close range with rifles)

Among the 1,400 Palestinians killed during Operation Cast Lead last December and January, 1,085 died in Israeli air strikes, according to a study by the Gaza-based human rights group Mezan. Israeli soldiers killed 93 Palestinians at close range with rifles, according to the study, which was requested by Haaretz.

Even assuming a margin of error, Mezan has confidence in the statistics, which show that less than 7 percent of the dead were struck by bullets at close range. Because these are close-range killings, journalists often focus on them, from various points of view. Soldiers’ views, for example, were made public after the soul-searching comments by graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course earlier this year.

Did the Israel Defense Forces carefully examine each instance of close-range killing and find that they were justified? Do all the soldiers, sometimes the only eyewitnesses to such killings, share the army’s position?

Raya Abu Hajaj, 65, and her daughter Majeda, 35, were among the people fleeing the Juhor Ad-Dik agricultural area, four or five kilometers south of the Karni crossing into Israel. At 6:30 A.M. on January 4, the first Sunday of the ground attack, one of many shells falling in the area crashed through the northern wall of the Abu Hajaj family’s home; a young girl suffered a shrapnel wound on her hand. According to Salah Abu Hajaj, Raya’s son, Israeli soldiers interrupted local radio broadcasts and ordered residents to leave their homes carrying white flags. Abu Hajaj and the neighboring Safadi family – 29 people in all – decided to flee to Gaza City.

The adults walked at the front of the group carrying small children; Majeda and Ahmed Safadi waved white rags. They walked to the west toward Salah Ad-Din Road. Near a house under construction by the Dughmush family, about 300 meters west of the Safadi home, they could make out a group of tanks at a standstill. The two families continued walking. One tank stood in a field to the north and began moving west, parallel to their route.

Suddenly the tank fired, apparently machine-gun fire while the tank was on the move, causing great panic in the group. They began to run back, to the east. Salah saw a soldier emerge halfway from the tank’s turret. The tank was now between 50 and 100 meters from them. Salah heard shots. He saw his mother and sister fall. Their bodies would be collected from the spot two weeks later.

Did someone higher up know?

Haaretz sent the following question to the IDF Spokesman’s Office on May 19: “Was the decision to shoot from a tank at a line of people walking and waving white flags made by an individual soldier or according to orders from someone higher up? Are we talking about an officer inside the tank or elsewhere? Was there intelligence about an armed fighter hiding among these civilians, based on which a decision was made to fire on the civilians, according to IDF regulations? Did the people pose a threat to the lives of the soldiers in the tanks, and how is it that there was no fire from the tanks to the west of the road, near the Dughmush home? Do the names of Raya and Majeda Abu Hajaj appear on the IDF list of people killed?”

On May 21, the spokesman’s office replied: “The information given us by the reporter was checked over a period of several days by the IDF units on duty in the area. From this examination it became clear that the incident described is unknown to the army. We would be glad to receive further information that may be of use from the reporter, with her permission. It should be noted that during Operation Cast Lead, Hamas cynically exploited the civilian population and used it as a ‘human shield.'”

On January 5, between 4 P.M and 5 P.M., soldiers apparently from Golani infantry units broke into the home of Samir Rashid in the Izbet Abed Rabbo neighborhood in east Jabalya. They broke through the house’s western wall and entered the stairwell. The house faces a mosque where three members of Hamas’ Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades were entrenched. The army shelled this house between January 5 and 6. According to several interviews by Haaretz, at those hours, IDF soldiers forced Palestinian civilians to march in front of them, break into homes and search them.

Using shock grenades, the soldiers walked up to the second floor of the Rashid home, where the entire family had gathered. Samir and Munir Rashid opened the door to the soldiers, immediately putting their hands over their heads. The soldiers demanded that Munir bring them the key to the iron entrance gate, and made Samir accompany them in searches of apartments on the upper floor. A few minutes later, when Munir returned with the key, he saw soldiers carrying his brother on a stretcher.

Samir was dressed only in his pants; blood ran from his naked chest. His dead body remained at the front of the building until January 14. From bloodstains discovered later it is possible to conclude that Samir Rashid was shot on the southeast porch of the four-story house. Two weeks later, after the attack had ended, there were no signs of shooting on the porch wall.

‘They returned fire at the terrorists’

Haaretz asked the IDF Spokesman’s Office: “Samir Rashid worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. According to his family, the agency and reporters have already asked the IDF why Samir Rashid was shot. The IDF answered that Rashid was trying to escape, according to the family. Is it possible to conclude that Samir Rashid was killed at close range? Has the IDF examined the circumstances surrounding Samir Rashid’s killing?”

The spokesman responded: “Upon examination it came to light that IDF soldiers were fired on during their mission in the area under discussion, and they returned fire at the terrorists. During the exchange of fire in a combat zone, a man was hurt. The claims of shooting at close range are completely baseless.”

The date when Jamila Da’ur, 61, and her son Mohammed, 32, were killed is unknown. On January 18, their bodies were found at the entrance to their home in the Atatra neighborhood. Someone had covered the woman’s body with a blanket, apparently a few days after she died, because there were no signs of blood on the blanket. Mohammed was found with his hands in the motion of raising his shirt.

On the night of January 3, a Saturday, when the explosions and shelling increased, the Da’ur family wanted to escape from their home. But fleeing was also dangerous; shells fell all around, a rocket injured one of them, and glass shattered over people’s heads in the distance. The Da’ur family did not get further than a hundred meters from their house, spending the night wide awake and frightened at a neighbor’s.

The next day Jamila and Mohammed somehow managed to return home, apparently to gather up documents and some valuables. In the afternoon, the IDF dropped white phosphorous shells on the area, killing five members of the Abu Halima family. The last telephone communication with the Da’urs took place Sunday night. Two mattresses in a corridor and an ashtray filled with cigarette butts were discovered the day the fighting ended, so the family has concluded that the two were still alive that Monday morning. A mobile phone and ID cards they had on them have disappeared.

Haaretz asked the IDF Spokesman’s Office: “Were the two killed because they were in an area that residents were asked to vacate? Were they killed because they were suspected of being armed or because armed people were in their vicinity?”

The office replied: “The matter was investigated, and is unknown [to us]. On the surface it appears the journalist has reached conclusions based on guesses and pieces of information. The army spokesman denies any statement that IDF soldiers intentionally shot, without reason, at Palestinians who were not involved [in fighting]. IDF soldiers and their officers have been trained and act in accordance with international legal regulations on warfare, and a great effort is made to reduce injury to the civilian population, even despite the monstrous use of civilians by Hamas.”

Ref: Haaretz

Palestinian brothers: Israel used us as human shields in Gaza war

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Human shield allegations Link to this video

Israel has been accused of using Palestinian human shields during its invasion of Gaza, a breach of the Geneva conventions that prohibit intentionally putting civilian lives at risk.The Guardian has interviewed three Gazan brothers who described how they were taken from their home at gunpoint, made to kneel in front of tanks to deter Hamas fighters from firing and sent by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian houses to clear them.

“They would make us go first, so if any fighters shot at them the bullets would hit us, not them,” said 14-year-old Al’a al-Attar.

His brothers, Ali, 15, and Nafiz, 16, described how when the three of them were being led through built-up areas in their home town of ­Attartra, the soldiers would order them to suddenly stop ‑ then fire their rifles over the brothers’ shoulders and between their legs.

The use of “human shields” is prohibited under article 28 of the fourth Geneva convention, which states: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” Israel has ratified the convention and is therefore bound by it.

An Israeli internal army magazine left behind by the troops shows Nafiz at the beginning of his ordeal being led bound and blindfolded in a line of men before he was stripped of his clothes.

Another article in the magazine’s online edition details a separate incident, titled: “For a week and a half they [Israeli soldiers]lived with a family of Palestinians whose home became their stronghold.” In it an officer talks openly of using the house as a base for operations while keeping the family in a downstairs room.

“At the top floor of the house we have established an improvised operational room and soldiers’ bedroom, we have opened firing positions and observation points in the three additional rooms,” the officer was quoted as saying. “In addition, we have established another guarding position on the entrance door of the family home.”

Though the officer claims the family stayed in the house out of choice, using their house as a base while civilians were on the premises could still be a violation of international law.

The Attar brothers’ ordeal began on 5 January when Israeli troops entered the town of Attartra, 1.2 miles (2km) from the border with Israel, and began firing into their house. They were led away blindfolded and at gunpoint in single file as the gunfire carried on around them. At one point the boys were forced to march in front of and alongside Israeli tanks.

They were then forced to kneel in a makeshift Israeli encampment for three days and three nights as tanks fired off shells around them. Human rights groups believe they were held there to deter Palestinian fighters from attacking.

“After being here for a day and a half, they put barbed wire around us, then empty tank shells kept landing on us, a rock or shrapnel came flying toward us. We spent a further three days here, right here,” said Nafiz.

After five days Ali and Al’a were untied, had their blindfolds removed and were released straight into a firefight. They came under attack from Israeli tanks and helicopters as they tried to find their way home through the ruins of their neighbourhood, the boys said.

Nafiz was not so lucky. He was taken to Israel where he was interrogated for three days and says he was beaten. Finally he was taken back into Gaza and released.

The boys’ parents, who are ardent supporters of Fatah ‑ Hamas’ political rivals ‑ cannot understand why they were taken.

The use of human shields was outlawed by Israel’s supreme court in 2005 following several clearly identified incidents, but human rights groups insist the Israeli military continues to use civilians in this way, albeit less often.

In February 2007, Associated Press Television News released footage showing 24-year-old Palestinian Sameh Amira being used as a human shield by a group of Israeli soldiers in Nablus.

The Israeli army declined to be interviewed about the practice but said it gave strict orders to soldiers not to use civilians as human shields during this operation. In a written statement, it said that only Hamas had used human shields by attacking troops from within civilian areas. Hamas denied the claim, saying it would not endanger the lives of other Palestinians, but surveillance footage provided by Israel appears to show this.

Ref: Guardian

Israeli occupation in plain…

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