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'Human Shield' Flap Hurts Israel: Rights Groups Vow Court Filing to Stop Incursion Practice
17 August 2002
As Israeli forces destroyed two more houses in their search for militants in the West Bank on Friday, anger mounted over the death of a young Palestinian who critics say was used as a human shield in a similar raid earlier in the week.
The military on Friday destroyed the house of Iyad Sawalha, an Islamic Jihad member who was responsible for a May 6 suicide car bombing that killed 17 passengers on an Israeli bus.
Troops also knocked down the family home of Murad Abu Asal, who blew himself up Jan. 30, wounding two Israeli soldiers.
Israel has demolished at least 20 homes of suicide bombers and suspected militants since late July in an attempt to deter attacks. Its Supreme Court upheld the policy Aug. 6, but Palestinians and human-rights groups have denounced the practice as collective punishment.
Rights groups are also concerned by the army's use of Palestinian civilians.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces destroyed the home of Nasser Jerar, who the army said was planning a bombing attack. In that operation, troops forced 19-year-old Nidal Daraghmeh at gunpoint to approach the building before it was bulldozed to persuade any civilians inside to leave, army officials said.
Even though he was given a bulletproof vest and soldiers announced his presence, Daraghmeh was fatally shot in the head as he approached the house, local media reported.
The Israeli army has said Daraghmeh was hit by gunfire from the house. Palestinians accuse the army of killing the young man.
Jerar was crushed to death as bulldozers razed the house.
Practice called routine
The army, throughout the West Bank incursions, has relied on forcing Palestinians to help with its armed raids. This spring, Palestinian bystanders in cities such as Jenin and Nablus told reporters that such incidents were routine.
In May, the army, taken to court by human-rights groups over the practice, agreed to "immediately issue unequivocal orders ... absolutely prohibiting the use of civilians as a defense against shooting or bombings."
On Friday, those human-rights organizations vowed to seek a court injunction Sunday for the immediate halt of using civilians in army raids. The groups said they also would resubmit an earlier petition that the army essentially ignored.
"This case is touching off a public debate that we haven't seen before," said Marwan Dalal, an attorney for the human-rights group Adalah, which filed the original petition with six other groups.
"I'm not sure I'd say the army lied when it said soldiers would stop the practice. But what it did in Tubas certainly went against the spirit of what the army said it was going to do," Dalal added.
The Israeli military refers to the forced use of civilians in operations as a "neighbor procedure." Human-rights groups said the army is using Palestinians as human shields.
Army officials said Friday that forcing civilians to participate in raids has been used for years.
"It's not a policy. It's a method," said spokesman Jacob Dallal. "The idea is that you use a neighbor to go into the house to explain to the people inside the house what's going on. The idea is that this is done for good of the civilians in the home. The idea is to create a safe environment."
Accounts of Daraghmeh's death sparked indignation from major news agencies in Israel.
Daraghmeh "lost his life because he has the misfortune to live next door to a wanted man's hide-out and because the Israel Defense Forces used a ruthless, unnecessary method called `neighbor practice,' which is nothing more than turning the youth into a `human shield' for soldiers," wrote defense analyst Zeev Schiff in the influential daily Haaretz.
`A disgrace to the army'
"Neighbor practice is a method that is a disgrace to the army," Schiff added.
Maariv, a daily newspaper that has written scorching editorials about the Palestinian support for terrorism, also took the Israeli army to task Friday for using civilians in a way that the newspaper said "could be defined as a war crime."
"The terrorists deserve death, but the civilian population in the territories ... are still civilians," the paper said.
Dallal admitted that no neighbor, when faced with armed soldiers demanding help, has much room to argue.
"I wouldn't characterize anyone of them as happy to do it," he said. "No one volunteers to do this. They probably don't like to do it."
A UN report on a controversial army incursion at the Jenin refugee camp in April found that Israeli troops used Palestinians to knock on the doors of suspected militants.
Christine Spolar, Jerusalem.