Halutz Orders IDF to Halt 'Human Shield' Practice Immediately

Right-wing MKs slam court ruling banning use of Palestinian 'shields' even if they collaborate with IDF.

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Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz on Thursday ordered the army to implement immediately the High Court of Justice decision outlawing the use of Palestinian "human shields" in IDF arrest raids.

The IDF has also begun to formulate alternative arrest procedures that will allow the army to continue making far-reaching raids while minimizing the danger to soldiers. The IDF is permitted to continue practices such as sending dogs into the homes of wanted men, destroying the homes in which they are hiding if they refuse to surrender.

IDF officials said soldiers are expected to report any use of human shields and that the army would examine and deal with any such cases, Israel Radio reported.

The High Court's decision, announced earlier Thursday, also prohibits the IDF's "early warning" procedure, in which soldiers use Palestinian civilians as shields only if the civilians had explicitly agreed to collaboration and if the activity did not put their lives in danger.

"Early warning" was the IDF's response to a 2002 temporary injunction outlawing the use of human shields. Thursday's ruling reinforced the injunction.

Right-wing Knesset members slammed the High Court decision, while left-wing MKs praised the ruling.

MK Effi Eitam, of the Renewed National Religious Zionism party, said the justices "are binding the hands of the IDF, who stands against a terror war without borders."

National Religious Party chairman, MK Zevulun Orlev, also leveled harsh criticism on the High Court. "This decision, along with the ruling against the security fence, represents a dangerous trend - High Court justices ready to endanger the lives of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens in order to avoid hurting Palestinians."

Shas chairman Eli Yishai also weighed in, calling the decision "perplexing and astounding."

"All IDF arrest raids are designed to prevent terror attacks and to save lives. The unexplained urge to present ourselves as beautiful souls is dangerous and is likely to unnecessarily endanger the lives of soldiers and citizens alike," Yishai continued.

Likud MK Gilad Erdan said the High Court once again restricted soldiers' ability to defend themselves and to fight the war against terror. "The High Court justices are once again revealing, to my dismay, a deeper understanding of the suffering of Palestinians than of the mortal danger facing our children who fight the war against murderers."

Meretz-Yahad MK Yossi Beilin, on the other hand, said the court "proved today that Israel can defend itself without losing its humanity. It's sad that the government in Israel can't understand itself that the "neighbor procedure," [the IDF term for the process of using a human shield] like the suffering of those investigated by the Shin Bet, tarnishes Israel's image needlessly and hurts its position as the only democracy in the Middle East.

"The Israeli government again needs to thank the High Court for existing, because again this time the court saved the government from itself," Beilin continued.

During mass arrest raids in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the IDF has in the past used Palestinian civilians as a ploy in capturing wanted militants, by forcing civilians to approach the homes and hideouts of wanted people. In some of these cases, the civilians were caught in the crossfire and were wounded or killed.

Chief Justice Aharon Barak, ruling in response to petitions from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Adalah human rights organization, said the practice violates international law.

"You cannot exploit the civilian population for the army's military needs, and you cannot force them to collaborate with the army," Barak said. "Based on this principle, we rule it illegal to use civilians as human shields, and we also rule it illegal to use civilians to pass military warnings from the army to those the army wants to arrest."

Barak criticized the "early warning" procedure, citing the Geneva Convention's prohibition against an occupying army using civilians in military operations against their will.

Barak called on the IDF to discontinue its current procedure, saying that while it technically takes into account civilian will, "It is uncommon that there is ever really free will ... Ninety-nine out of 100 times, it's not free will. It is very difficult to confirm will, and I am concerned that when an army unit comes at night, no one will refuse to collaborate, out of fear."

In response to the court's ruling, MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad) said, "The High Court is preventing attacks on innocent people and discriminating between blood and blood. [It] rules that an army in a democratic state cannot act like terror gangs."

MK Raleb Majadele, chairman of the Knesset Interior Committmee, praised the court's decision and said this would serve as a breakthrough in the way IDF soldiers treat Palestinians.