Israel Defense Forces Brigadier-General Yair Golan was censured on Thursday for allowing soldiers to use Palestinian civilians as "human shields" during military operations in the West Bank.
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi decided to reprimand Golan - who formerly served as commander of forces in the West Bank - following a probe by the IDF's criminal investigation division into the army's use of human shields during raids in the town of Nablus.
Golan was the most senior officer to be questioned in the probe, which the army launched last March after IDF soldiers were filmed forcing a young Palestinian man at gunpoint to lead them from house to house during an arrest sweep in Nablus.
The army said in a statement that Golan would be passed over for promotion for at least the next nine months.
In a landmark 2005 decision, Israel's Supreme Court banned the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in general, and specifically outlawed taking Palestinian civilians on searches. Before the decision, the army would often have Palestinian civilians knock on the doors of houses where militants were believed to be hiding and ask them to surrender.
The army said the practice - known as the neighbor procedure - prevented violence by encouraging militants to give themselves up. But in August 2002, a 19-year-old Palestinian student was killed in a gunfight that erupted after he was forced to knock on the door of a building where a Hamas fugitive was hiding.
Since the Supreme Court decision, Palestinians have accused the army of continuing the practice, but proof was elusive. Human rights groups say the use of civilians in military operations has dropped sharply since the Supreme Court ban, but has not disappeared.
The Israeli rights group B'tselem, which monitors human rights violations in the West Bank, on Thursday praised the army's decision to reprimand Golan.
"We welcome the fact that the army took this seriously and investigated the case and took action," B'tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said. "Golan was a senior officer who broke the law, and we hope that this will send a message to officers that they cannot give orders like this to soldiers."
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