One of Israel's most repeated official claim during the latest war in Gaza was that Hamas was using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Now, several independent journalists, human rights organizations and the United Nations are accusing Israel of using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
On August 26, Israel and the Palestinian factions agreed to halt fighting indefinitely, putting an end to seven weeks of catastrophic destruction and loss of life in Gaza.
At least 2,137 Palestinians were killed, including 577 children, and 10,870 wounded, since Israel launched a massive offensive called Protective Edge against the 40-kilometer-long coastal strip on July 8.
This was Israel's third military operation in Gaza in the last six years. Excessive restrictions from Israel in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank aggravate conditions in areas that most of the world and the United Nations considers occupied by Israel.
Seventy-two percent of Palestinians killed in this offensive were civilians, according to the UN. About a third of the wounded children, will be forced to live with permanent disabilities. One-third of Gaza's total population, over 520,000 people, have been displaced of whom 279,389 were taking shelter in 83 UN-run schools.
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) August 27, 2014
One particular incident is worth quoting:
Mahmoud said the Israeli troops dragged him back into his house, blindfolded him and wrapped him in a blanket on the floor as they began to blow holes in the walls to use as makeshift sniper slits — what US troops in Afghanistan called “murder holes.” Then the soldiers stripped Mahmoud to his underwear, handcuffed him, slammed him against a wall and began to beat him. With an M-16 at his back, they forced him to stand in front of open windows as they hunted his fleeing neighbors, sniping directly beside him at virtually anything that moved. When they were not using him as a human shield, Mahmoud said, the soldiers left him alone in the room with an unleashed army dog who was periodically ordered to attack him.
Defence for Children International – Palestine reports the story of 17-year-old Ahmad Abu Raida from Khuza'a, who claims to have been used as a human shield. But the use of human shields during the Khuza'a Massacre were not limited to Abu Raida. His story echoes two testimonies of a 32 year-old and a 56 year-old man from Khuza'a collected by the American-Jewish news site Mondoweiss.
The Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights also gathered testimonies from Gazans claiming to have been used as human shields. The man featured below explains how his father was killed:
“My father made a step forward, came closer and spoke to them in Hebrew. And said: we are a peaceful people, we love peace. He kept repeating it in Arabic several times. We love peace. My father was an elderly man and holds a Spanish traveling document. My dad made one step forward, hardly a step on the stairs. As he put his foot on the step, he was shot twice in the heart.”
Before himself and three children were taken to be used as human shields:
“They ordered us to take off our clothes and tied our hands up. They took us to one of the rooms and used us as shields, making us stand at the windows as if we were looking outside. I was at one window and three children from my family at another. The soldiers then began firing around us.”
It is important to note that using Palestinians as human shields is not a new Israeli practice. As early as 2002, both international and Israel NGOs reported of Israel's use of Palestinians as human shields. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported of its use during the Battle of Jenin as part of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield during the Second Intifada. Israeli Human Rights NGO B'TSelem reported in 2006 of a particular incident in which six civilians, including two minors, were used as human shields in Beit Hanun:
After seizing control of the buildings, 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.
The IDF admitted to using Palestinians as human shields at least 1,200 times during the Second Intifada (2000-2005). Despite the fact that the practice was banned by the Israeli High Court in 2005, it continued during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead). Following the war, the UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel's use of Palestinians as human shields.
Breaking the Silence, the Israeli NGO composed of IDF soldiers and veterans collecting stories of their experiences in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as Amnesty International, accused Israel of continuing to use Palestinians as human shields by forcing them to stay in their homes. After invading Palestinians’ homes, Israeli soldiers forced civilians, including children, to stay in one room of the house while they used the remaining rooms as military positions.
In 2013, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child accused Israel of “continuous use of Palestinian children as human shields and informants”.
Also see our in-depth 2014 coverage on war-battered Gaza.