Political Science Quiz of the day:
Q - What do you call a country whose military and paramilitary forces operate in accordance with the rule of law?
A - A Democracy.
Q - And what do you call it when such forces operate with impunity in defiance of their own country's laws?
A - Well obviously, we would call that "The Only Democracy In The Middle East".
This photo and caption are from the Associated Press:
Palestinian Sameh Amira, 24, stands in his home in the West Bank City of Nablus, Feb. 28, 2007. Television footage showing Amira as he is escorted by heavily armed Israeli soldiers on a door-to-door sweep in a crowded Nablus neighborhood, provided some of the strongest evidence to date that the Israeli army is still using Palestinian civilians as 'human shields' in direct violation of Israel's own supreme court. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
This is a screen shot from the TV footage in question (via MWC):
You can watch the entire 55-second news report from which the screenshot is taken - Day Two of Curfew in Nablus - by Tim McGuire for AP, here (though you will have to sit through a 16-second advertisement first):
(Update 7 Apr 2007: video expired, though the same footage can still be seen in a BBC News report, here).
And this is AP's description of the video (via The Guardian):
In the AP video, the young Palestinian man is seen leading soldiers to the door of a home. He stands outside as troops move in, then leads the soldiers up some stairs to the apartment's main entrance.
The man enters the home ahead of the soldiers. Gunshots are heard as several soldiers stand guard outside. The man then leaves the home, walks down the stairs and escorts the soldiers around the side of the building, where he said he led soldiers into two more apartments out of view of the cameras.
Later, he is seen on the footage being led down stairs with several suspects. He and the other men are all placed into a military vehicle.
In interviews with the AP, the Palestinian man, Sameh Amira, 24, said he was awakened at about 5 a.m. by soldiers and ordered to go with his family to a neighboring home. About an hour later, he said he was forced to lead troops into three apartments, including his own. He said he was not allowed to put on warmer clothes.
``They asked me to walk in front of them against my will,'' he said, adding that he was occasionally prodded along at gunpoint.
Inside his home, he said soldiers opened fire at bedroom closets. ``All the time, I was scared, terrified. Anything could happen,'' he told the AP, pointing to bullet holes in the floor, closet doors and clothing in the closets.
- Film of Israeli Raid Raises Questions; By Josef Federman, Associated Press
During the second intifada, the Israeli civil rights group, B'Tselem, has documented four ways in which Israeli soldiers have forced Palestinian civilians to act as human shields for IDF military activity:
1. By forcing them to enter buildings ahead of military personnel, in order to check if they are booby-trapped, or to remove the occupants. As in the case involving Sameh Amira. Or like these Palestinian civilians being forced by an IDF patrol to enter houses on Market Street, in Balata Refugee Camp nr Nablus, during "Operation Still Water" (18 Dec 2003 - 6 Jan 2004).
(via Balata RC Community Web Site)
2. By forcing them to remove suspicious objects from roads used by the army, as described by one IDF soldier who served in Jericho in 2001:
"If there is a suspicious object such as a pile of rocks in the road, we stop a Palestinian and send him to move the object while the soldiers hide behind cover," he said. "The Palestinian is considered unimportant since the object was put there by another Palestinian."
And by Yehuda Shaul, describing for Ha'aretz his military service in Hebron:
Soldier: "I don't think that there are liars sitting in the IDF spokesman's office, but whoever is conveying information to them from the field is just deceiving them. For example, the whole matter of the `human shield,' which was denied many times and which the High Court forbade. I can attest that dozens of times after the High Court decision, we still used Palestinians as human shields, out of habit."
Interviewer: How is that done?
Soldier: "Using a 'human shield' means grabbing some fellow and sending him to open the door to a suspect's house, so if he shoots, this guy will take the bullets and not us. A 'human shield' is when there's a suspicious object on the road and you grab a Palestinian and send him to pick it up. It's done a lot - let it explode on him and not on me."
3. By forcing them to stand inside houses where soldiers have set up military positions, so that Palestinians will not fire at the soldiers. For example, in this incident reported by Ha'aretz in September 2005:
The Israel Defense Forces is still using Palestinians as human shields, in defiance of a High Court of Justice ruling forbiding the practice, Haaretz has learned.
An IDF force broke into Mahmoud Rajabi's home in the Jabel Johar neighborhood in eastern Hebron at about 4 A.M. last Wednesday and forced three brothers to serve as human shields. Some 15 soldiers, armed with rifles, machine guns and observation equipment, took over the fourth-floor apartment where the 16 members of the Rajabi family live, at least half of them minors... Family members said the soldiers ordered most of them to leave, but held three of Rajabi's sons - Nabil, 30, Raja'ai, 19 and Najah, 13 - captive in the apartment. The three were used as human shields during the soldiers' stay, against their will...
At first, the IDF spokesman denied that the three brothers were being held against their will and said they could leave whenever they wanted. But the force's commander told Haaretz that they were holding the three until the operation ended. Apparently unaware of the IDF's obligation under the High Court decision not to use civilians as human shields, Liron said it was normal procedure intended "to protect his soldiers' lives." He was also unaware of the IDF Spokesman's denial that the three were being held until the end of the operation...
The IDF has said in the past that it obeys the court ruling and denied that such means are still in use.
-- IDF still uses human shields, in violation of High Court ruling; Arnon Regular, Ha'aretz, 4 Sept 2005.
4. By forcing them to walk in front of soldiers to shield them from gunfire, while the soldiers hold a gun behind their backs and sometimes fire over their shoulders. As in the case of 16-year-old Fadi Sharha of Dura village, who was used as a human shield by an Israeli patrol as its members fired on stonethrowing youths in Hebron on 17 May 2005:
All photos Nayef Hashlamoun/Reuters.
And to those four, I would add a fifth category: forcing Palestinian civilians to carry remotely-controlled weapons into besieged houses in order to attack wanted men trapped inside. As happened in the IDF operation to arrest [Footnote 1] Thaer Hassan in the al-Saf district of Bethlehem on 3 November 2006:
Around mid-day, after partly bulldozing the house of Saher Hassan, an active member of Islamic Jihad whom the Israeli army appear to be targeting, the Israeli soldiers began forcing their way in using a 'human shield'. The Palestinian man, possibly a family member of Saher Hassan, is being forced to enter the building ahead of the Israeli soldiers and carry in their military equipment. Eyewitnesses say that the equipment appears to be a large black box, with a cord stretching back to the Israeli forces outside. This suggests a form of remotely-controlled detonator or gun...
Israeli soldiers using a Palestinian man as a human shield to plant an automatic shooting machine in a besieged house, in contravention with the Fourth Geneva Convention, during a military operation in the West Bank city of Bethlehem November 3, 2006. (MaanImages/Magnus Johansson)
The Israeli High Court issued an interim injunction in 2002 against the use of human shields by the IDF, following reports of the practice being employed during the invasion of Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield. It formally banned the practice on 6 October 2005, after the IDF was found to have repeatedly failed to comply with the injunction . And yet it still goes on to this day. (In this regard, the IDF and the settler movement have much in common, as new construction in Israeli settlements like Matityahu East - constructed on land separated from its Palestinian legal owners in Bil'in by the conveniently-routed Separation Wall - continues apace, despite the fact that it has been explicitly ruled illegal and ordered halted by the Israeli Supreme Court. Which takes us back to our opening question, about what kind of "democracy" is it that not only rations out its benefits according to the race/religion of the recipient, but also grants legal immunity to armed groups operating in defiance of the law, so long as those groups have the right political orientation).
It's all a little ironic when you consider that when the IDF and IAF fight their wars against irregular forces like Hamas and Hizbullah by simply bombing-them-all-and-letting-God-decide, there is a well-orchestrated chorus in this country that insists the resulting large number of dead civilians are cynically-sacrificed "human shields" - which is stretching the term, to say the least. Yet the same people have nothing critical to say about the longstanding and undisputable use of the human shield tactic by the IDF. Ironic perhaps, but not really surprising, because if there's one law of the universe even more reliable than IDF + Palestinian Civilian = Human Shield, it has to be Palestinian Rights + American Friends of Israel™ = Sound Of Silence.
2. I blogged about the IDF's use of human shields, with examples from the period when the practice was supposedly outlawed by the interim injunction, in an earlier post: Hiding Behind Civilians.
Update, 3 Aug 08: I have consolidated my various posts on the subjects of Israel's use of Palestinian civilians as human shields into a single post, here.