Israeli troops charged over use of “human shield” in Gaza offensive

The Israeli military has charged two soldiers with endangering the life of a Palestinian boy during Israel’s Gaza Strip offensive last winter. The army said the soldiers, who had been searching a building, instructed the nine-year-old to open bags they suspected were booby-trapped. This practice, banned by the Israeli military, is known as using someone as a “human shield,” and is widely considered a war crime. The soldiers, both staff sergeants, were charged with “engaging in unauthorized conduct in a way that endangered life and health.” The bags the boy was forced to open turned out to be harmless.

The Israeli military has opened about 150 investigations into alleged misconduct during the operation, which was code-named “Cast Lead.” About 40 of these are criminal investigations. This is the second to lead to an indictment. In the first, a soldier was ordered imprisoned seven months for using a credit card he stole from a Palestinian in Gaza to withdraw money in Israel. In January, the military also said it had reprimanded two top army officers for authorizing an artillery attack using white phosphorus shells that hit a UN compound in Gaza last year.

But critics say it is not sufficient for the military to investigate itself. The Israeli rights organization, B’Tselem welcomed the new indictments, but repeated its call for an independent investigation of the army’s operation in Gaza. “Military police investigations are not the appropriate instrument to investigate allegations regarding operation Cast Lead,” the gorup said in a statement. “Israel must appoint an Israeli body, external to the army, to conduct an independent and effective investigation,” it added. (BBC News, March 12)

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