Two soldiers charged over human shield case reported by DCI

[RAMALLAH, 12 March 2010] - Yesterday, Thursday 11 March, DCI-Palestine learnt from Israeli media reports that two Israeli soldiers had been indicted after an Israeli military investigation opened following a complaint filed by DCI last year. However, we remain concerned that the charges as reported by the media are far too lenient.

The complaint concerns the use, by Israeli troops, of a 9-year-old boy as a human shield during Operation Cast Lead. On 15 January 2009, Majed, from Tel al-Hawa, was coerced into assisting Israeli soldiers and shielding them from potential danger during a military raid into his building. Soldiers forced him to open bags thought to contain explosives; Majed was also slapped, grabbed by the hair, pushed against the wall.

“I thought they would kill me. I became very scared and wet my pants. I could not shout or say anything because I was too afraid,” Majed told DCI-Palestine on 30 March 2009, when we met him to document his ordeal.

In April 2009, DCI-Israel and DCI-Palestine sent a letter to the Israeli Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice concerning the army’s use of children as human shields. The letters listed five incidents documented by DCI-Palestine since 2007 and requested that the authorities take action to hold perpetrators to account. Despite many follow up calls, it was only on 2 November, seven months after the allegation was made, that the military contacted us to request an interview with Majed. This development was presumably the result of the Goldstone Report recommendations and Israel’s obligation to investigate reports of human rights violations perpetrated during the operation. The other incidents mentioned in our letter were ignored.

DCI contacted the Israeli military on 10 February and again on 3 March 2010 to enquire about the status of the investigation. They were told that the investigation was still pending. But the Ha’aretz newspaper published a story last night announcing that the Israel military prosecution had filed an indictment against two soldiers suspected of forcing a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open bags they thought might contain explosive materials during Operation Cast Lead.

DCI is relieved to finally hear of a positive outcome to our complaint, filed almost a year ago, and we hope that the soldiers responsible for this act will be held accountable in a manner that acknowledges the serious nature of the offence that we documented. Majed was only 9 years old when he was used and ill-treated by the soldiers, and he has been left deeply traumatized by the event. In addition, this is not an isolated incident: DCI-Palestine documented three such cases during Operation Cast Lead, involving seven children in total.

Nevertheless, at this stage, we remain concerned that the charges of “inappropriate conduct” and “overstepping authority” do not reflect the gravity of the violation, and we are seeking further clarifications from the military police. This morning, DCI-Israel talked to the officer in charge of following up the investigation, who assured us that the soldiers accused will stand trial and confirmed that official information on the outcome of the investigation will be sent to us shortly.

Israel is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child's Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which it ratified in 2005, the same year the Israeli High Court of Justice banned the use of civilians as human shields. Yet violations of the Protocol and the High Court ruling continue seemingly unchecked, as Israel’ Supreme Court is clearly unable or unwilling to enforce its own ruling, and the Israeli government refuses to implement the Protocol in the OPT.

On 19 January this year, Israel's implementation of the Optional Protocol was reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which issued strong recommendations [CRC issues recommendations to Israel on use of children in hostilities] to Israel on the ongoing practice of using Palestinian children as human shields. DCI reported to the UN on this issue ahead of Israel's review, and we support their recommendation. We believe that those soldiers who knowingly violate the law in order to protect themselves from perceived danger with total disregard for the safety and well-being of children should be "duly prosecuted and sanctioned with appropriate penalties" .

This indictment should set a precedent for all other human shield incidents involving children.

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