Oct. 10, 2005 – After delaying a decision for over three years, Israelâ€™s High Court of Justice has ruled that the militaryâ€™s use of Palestinian "human shields" in the Occupied Territories is illegal and a violation of international law.
The practice, dubbed the "neighbor procedure" by the army, has been widely practiced in the West Bank throughout the five-year Palestinian uprising, including in an incident last month in Hebron.
Documented examples of the procedure range from sending Palestinians into houses to ensure they are not booby-trapped, to forcing Palestinian ambulances to drive in front of Israeli troops, to resting rifles on the shoulders of civilians to deter fire when ground forces carry out urban operations.
Judge Aharon Barak, president of the High Court, wrote in the ruling: "You cannot exploit the civilian population for the army's military needs, and you cannot force them to collaborate with the army."
The ruling came in response to a May 2002 petition by a coalition of seven Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, filed in response to widespread reports - some from Israel Defense Forces personnel themselves -- recounting the use of human shields during a major West Bank incursion.
The High Court ruled an injunction against the policy in 2002, but human rights groups continued to document numerous cases of the practice, at least one of which resulted in the death of a Palestinian used as a shield. The injunction was narrowed in late 2003 to allow the use of "prior warning," which permitted soldiers to use Palestinians as shields when carrying out operations if the civilians "volunteered" to assist the soldiers.
According to Barak's written decision, it is impossible to achieve "genuine" consent under military occupation. "It is hard to judge when [a Palestinianâ€™s] consent was given freely and when it was the fruit of overt or covert pressure," Barak wrote. "A basic principle of the rules of belligerent occupation in international law is the prohibition on using protected residents as part of the army's military effort. The civilian population must not be exploited for the army's military needs."
Barak was referring a provision of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which stipulates legal protections for civilians living under military occupation.