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Published on Apr 14, 2007
Palestinians have long complained about the Israeli army's use of human shields, but evidence was difficult to obtain.
This week, a video clip filmed by a foreign peace activist and aired on Israel's Yedioth Ahronot newspaper Web site, prompted the Israeli army to suspend a commander whose troops forced two Palestinian youths in the occupied West Bank of Nablus last Wednesday to stand in front of their vehicle to protect it from stones thrown by other civilians -- the latest evidence that the Israeli army still uses Palestinian human shields in violation of international law and a 2005 ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court against the inhumane practice.
The Israeli army said in a statement Friday that the soldiers who appeared in the video "apparently made prohibited use of civilians" and that the unit's commander would be suspended "from all operational activity, in addition to the ongoing investigation into the matter."
Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said the suspension failed to address the fundamental problem. "They are treating it as an isolated incident," he said. "The problem is systematic and ... they (Israeli occupation forces) continue the practice despite the court order."
The use of human shields highlights one of the several human rights violations committed by Israel as it enters its fifth decade of military occupation in the West Bank. International law, including the Geneva Conventions and Hague regulations, bans placing civilians in harm's way during military operations.
The 2005 Supreme Court ruling was prompted by an outcry over the military's use of Palestinian human shields in a 2002 offensive in the West Bank. The army defended the illegal practice at the time, claiming that it never allowed its troops to use civilians for cover during battles.
But in August 2002, a 19-year-old Palestinian student was killed in a gun battle that broke out after he was forced to knock on the door of a building where a wanted fighter was hiding.
Avichay Sharon, 25, a former Israeli commando who served from 2000 to 2003, asserts that the use of "human shields" remains common.
"When you have to decide between risking your soldiers' lives or just a Palestinian bystander, the solution ... suddenly becomes much more logical than it sounds,'' said Sharon belongs to "Breaking the Silence,'' a group of former soldiers who say army tactics in the West Bank are hurting Israel's moral character.