The Israel Defense Forces prosecution on Thursday filed an indictment against two combat soldiers suspected of inappropriate conduct during Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip in 2008.
The soldiers, who served as staff sergeants in the Givati Brigade during Operation Cast Lead, allegedly forced a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open a number of bags they thought might contain explosive materials. The bags turned out to be harmless.
The soldiers, who breached the army’s rule against using civilians as human shields during war, will be tried for violating their authority and for inappropriate conduct. An Israeli military official said the soldiers could face up to three years in jail.
The incident in question occurred in the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood in south Gaza City in January 2009, toward the end of the war.
The military said it opened the investigation after the incident was brought to its attention by the United Nations, but emphasised it was "completely unrelated" to a report issued by United Nations investigator Richard Goldstone.
The Goldstone report (pages 218-232) examined four similar cases of Israeli soldiers using Palestinians as human shields. Mondo published Goldstone’s findings on the case of Majdi Abd Rabbo.
Here’s more from Goldstone:
The Mission received allegations that in two areas in north Gaza Israeli troops used Palestinian men as human shields whilst conducting house searches. The Palestinian men were allegedly forced to enter houses at gunpoint in front of or, in one case, instead of soldiers. The Mission investigated four cases. One incident took place in the Izbat Abd Rabbo neighbourhood and another in al-Salam neighbourhood, both east of Jabaliyah, close to the border with Israel. Two incidents took place in al-Israa neighbourhood, west of Beit Lahia. The Mission visited each of the locations and interviewed a number of witnesses. In each case, the Mission found the allegations to be credible.
In more general terms, the Mission notes that the statements of the men used as human shields by the Israeli armed forces during house searches are corroborated by statements made by Israeli soldiers to the NGO Breaking the Silence. The soldier providing testimony 1 speaks of the “Johnnie procedure”: “It was the first week of the war, fighting was intense, there were explosive charges to expose, tunnels in open spaces and armed men inside houses. […] Close in on each house. The method used has a new name now – no longer ‘neighbour procedure.’ Now people are called ‘Johnnie.’ They’re Palestinian civilians, and they’re called Johnnies […] To every house we close in on, we send the neighbour in, ‘the Johnnie,’ and if there are armed men inside, we start, like working the ‘pressure cooker’ in the West Bank.” This soldier then mentions that some commanders were “bothered” by the fact that “civilians were used to a greater extent than just sending them into houses.”