Supreme Court Bans the Use of Human Shields

Supreme Court prohibits the use of Palestinians as Human Shields during IDF military operations.

On 6 October 2005, in response to a petition submitted by ACRI, Adalah, B’Tselem, Qanun (Law), Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of Palestinian civilians in military operations constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law, and banned the army’s use of civilians either as “human shields or hostages”. The President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, further added that “the army cannot use civilians for its purposes” and that “you cannot exploit the civilian population for the army’s military needs, and you cannot force them to collaborate with the army”. The petition demanded that the practice of using Palestinian civilians as human shields during military operation in the occupied territories, be halted, and was directed against the IDF Commander of Judea and Samaria, The Israeli Chief of Staff and the Prime Minister. The decision follows three years of dedicated and exhaustive litigation work by Adalah Attorney, Marwan Dalal.

In April 2002, during the IDF Defensive Shield operation in Jenin, reports started to filter through that the IDF were forcing Palestinian citizens to act as human shields: to accompany them during military operations, to stand in front of them, to knock on doors, to remove suspicious objects from the street, to order people to leave their houses so that the IDF could detain them, to stand in front of soldiers while the latter were firing from behind them, and other fighting tactics that endangered their lives. The citizens, among them children and old people who were chosen randomly, could not refuse the order of armed soldiers.

In May 2002 the petitioning organizations submitted a petition to the Supreme Court against the use of human beings to achieve military goals. The organizations claimed that the IDF was denying innocent civilians the right to life, dignity, and freedom. The submission of the original petition resulted in the issuance of an order by the IDF, which prohibited the use of civilians as human shields. The IDF informed the court on 5 December 2002 that it opposes the use of human shields but then issued a new operational order, “the prior warning” order, which allowed the use of local Palestinian residents when arresting fugitives. The order was allegedly designed “to prevent injury to the local population and the fugitives themselves”. The use of local residents was supposed to give the residents of the fugitive’s house enough warning that the arrest was about to take place, providing innocent bystanders with time to get out of the building and allowing the fugitive to turn himself in. In this way, the IDF would purportedly avoid using force and endangering bystanders. The order was dependent upon the agreement of the individual in question to help the soldiers, and only if in the opinion of the officer in the field no danger would be posed to the life of the Palestinian citizen “volunteer”.

On 21 January 2003, the Supreme Court authorized the implementation of the “prior warning order”. During the hearing in July 2003 the petitioners submitted affidavits demonstrating that the IDF ignores the section of the order that prohibits endangering the individual’s life, and that the condition requiring the resident’s agreement is meaningless.

In response to the ruling, the IDF has requested a second hearing before the Supreme Court.

last updated : 22/12/05

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Categories: The Occupied Territories, Use of Force

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