Activists Say Border Police Held Boy, 13, as Human Shield

Haaretz Service
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Haaretz Service

When older Palestinian boys started throwing stones at Border Police officers in the flashpoint West Bank village of Biddu last week, 13-year-old Muhammed Badwan went along to watch.

He ended up on the hood of a Border Police jeep, at least one of his arms tied to a wire mesh screen that blocks the windshield from incoming stones, according to a photograph of the purported incident distributed Thursday by local group Rabbis for Human Rights.

"He was a shield for them," Saeed Badwan, a 34-year-old laborer, said of his only son. "When I saw him on the hood of the jeep, my whole mind went crazy... It's a picture you can't even imagine. He was shivering from fear."

Police said Muhammed's case was sent to the Justice Ministry for investigation. Security forces insist they do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties and accuse Palestinian militants of routinely using non-combatants for cover.

"I was scared when they got me at first. I thought they would put me in prison... I was scared a stone would hit me," Muhammed said, nursing a split lip Thursday, exactly a week after his hours-long detention. Stone throwing mostly stopped when he was on the jeep. "I cried on the hood of the jeep, and when I saw my dad."

The Supreme Court barred the use of Palestinians as human shields in 2002 after an incident in which soldiers forced the neighbor of a suspected militant to knock on his door and deliver their ultimatum to surrender. The militant shot and killed the man.

"There is supposed to be an injunction against the military... But there is evidence it is still continuing. It is less, but it does happen," said Marwan Dalal, a lawyer with the Israeli Arab rights group Adalah. He said it was more common for soldiers to use Palestinians as human shields in military operations, but that civilians had also been used to block stone throwing.

A left-wing Israeli rabbi who said he too was detained as a human shield when he tried to intervene to free Muhammed Badwan last week said he planned to press charges.

"It is very depressing and very sad to see that we have come to this position where this is what we do. There is disbelief," said Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of Rabbis for Human Rights.

Palestinian activists in Biddu, a focal point for protests against the West Bank separation fence, say troops have increasingly responded with excessive force to disperse stone throwers.

Human rights group B'Tselem said it was monitoring West Bank anti-fence protests after Palestinian complaints of rising violence by security forces, especially in Biddu.

Medics say four Palestinians have been shot dead this year in Biddu in rock-throwing protests against the barrier, which Israel says is necessary to keep out suicide bombers. An elderly man also died of heart failure after inhaling tear gas.