Teenager Ahmad Abu Raida (bottom left) says Israeli soldiers used him as a human shield in July. His detailed testimony mirrors similar documented incidents
Elham Asaad Buaras
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) used Palestinians as human shields during Israel’s latest siege of Gaza. The revelation by several Human Right NGOs undermines Israel’s repeated attempts to absolve itself of the blame for killing more than 2,000 Palestinian civilians during its bombing of Gaza, which began on July 8. The IDF insisted it had tried to reduce casualties and dismissed the 80 percent statistic of civilian fatalities as victims of Hamas’ use of human shields.
The use of human shields involves forcing civilians to assist in operations or using them to shield troops from attack. This is illegal under international law.
During the bombing of Gaza, Israel has repeatedly blamed the civilian death toll on Hamas using civilians as human shields. The mere presence of armed group members among the civilians does not meet the legal definition of human shields.
The Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine) was one of the first NGOs to expose Israeli’s use of Palestinians as human shields.
An affidavit by DCI-Palestine documents a case of the IDF using a Palestinian child as human shields during its invasion of the town of Khuza’a. Ahmad Abu Raida, who was 16 years-old at the time, was forcibly taken from his family by IDF soldiers on July 23. Ahmad was blindfolded, made to strip to his underwear, and taken to a house. “I found myself inside the house surrounded by more than 20 soldiers,” said Ahmad.
Ahmad described being taken out of the house the following day, by a soldier who “ordered me to [turn] left and right. He was walking about three meters behind me.” The soldiers then took him to two houses, ordering him to look for tunnels. He told them that he did not find any, which prompted the soldier to assault him. “He started punching and kicking me. He even brought a wire and hit me with it,” says Ahmad.
“I was crying and begging him to stop. He kept hitting me over and over. He poured a glass of water on my trousers. He insulted me using dirty words. Even soldiers who did not speak Arabic insulted me as well. They threatened to ‘shove a stick into my … bottom’ if I did not tell them where the tunnels were,” said Ahmad.
US journalist Max Blumenthal interviewed several residents who described how they were used as human shields by the IDF. Writing for AlterNet, Blumenthal tells the ordeal of Mahmoud who describes how he was blindfolded by IDF soldiers who then dragged him back into his house and “wrapped him in a blanket on the floor as they began to blow holes in the walls to use as makeshift sniper slits.”
Mahmoud was then stripped to his underwear and handcuffed before he was assaulted. With an M-16 at his back, they forced him to stand in front of windows, as they sniped at anything that moved. When they were not using him as a shield, he was left alone with an unleashed dog that was periodically ordered to attack him.
The Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights has also gathered testimony that IDF soldiers used civilians as shield in Khuza. A family told the group that the IDF killed the family’s patriarch, who was carrying a white flag and proceeded to place family members, including children, by the house’s windows and shoot from behind them.
“The Israeli Government has tried to defend its indiscriminate killing of civilians – by claiming that resistance fighters hide among the people, when actually there is no place in Gaza that is safe from the bombs,” says Chair of Euro-Mid Ramy Abdu. “Instead, what we have documented is that Israeli forces have literally used Palestinian civilians as shields as they killed their neighbors.”
Ramadan Qadeeh, says that on July 25, he was in his home with his extended family of 27, including 19 women and children. At 1pm, the IDF stormed the house. His father Muhammad, 65, tried to tell the soldiers in Hebrew and Arabic that they were civilians. When he stepped forward, a soldier fired two bullets into his heart from a distance of a meter. He died immediately. “Then 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,” Qadeeh says. “I was at one window and three children from my family at another. The soldiers then began firing around us.”
The family was moved to different windows, with bullets flying around them, for over 8 hours without food or drink. “It was terrifying, I don’t know how we survived,” he said.
The testimonies given in 2014 mirror historical accounts, which show the IDFl’s systematic use Palestinians as human shields since Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in 2002. During the Second Intifada (2000-2005) Israel admitted to the practice at least 1,200 times. In 2010, two soldiers were convicted of using an 11-year-old Palestinian as a human shield in its 2008-09 operation in Gaza. The pair ordered the child to search bags they suspected of being booby-trapped. The UN condemned Israel’s use of Palestinians as human shields. Last year the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child accused Israel of “continuous use of Palestinian children as human shields and informants”, voicing with deep concern 14 such cases had been reported between January 2010 and March 2013.
The report published on June 2013 says almost all soldiers involved have gone unpunished. According to a former soldier interviewed by Breaking the Silence, the commander of his unit employed the policy, because he would rather that a Palestinian civilian be killed carrying out the duty than one of his men. He said Palestinian boys were also used to carry out military duties for the Israeli army.