The tragic and unnecessary death of 19-year-old Nidal Muhsin on 14 August highlights Israel’s practice of using Palestinian civilians as human shields. According to army sources Nidal was given an Israeli army flak jacket and made to open the door to his neighbour’s house. Palestinian witnesses report he was shot dead by IDF fire. The Israeli army claims it was from Palestinian fire.
Human rights organisations, local and foreign, have criticised the practice, which the army confirms is used extensively in the Palestinian territories. A petition to prohibit its use has been pending in the Israeli High Court since May this year. Yet after the death of Nidal Israeli minister-without- portfolio Effi Eitam called the use of human shields “very moral”, and Israeli army officers defended the practice.
Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister, however, said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer “are responsible for the worst moral deterioration in the history of Israel”, and in Ha’aretz, 16 August, called the practice “immoral and un-Jewish”.
After the killing of Nidal Israeli soldiers bulldozed the house on top of Nasser Jarrar, supposedly still alive when they destroyed his home. Jarrar, the man the army were searching for and an alleged member of Hamas, was confined to a wheelchair. No effort was made to see if anyone else was in the house.
There are many tragic aspects to Nidal’s death; an innocent young man killed to protect the life of the soldiers that occupy his people, soldiers armed with the latest weapons, who choose to join the army, hiding behind a civilian whose only crime is to be born Palestinian.
Equally tragic is the fact that he is only one of the many Palestinians killed by soldiers recently, deaths that often go unreported and uninvestigated in the international media, one part of the war of attrition against Palestinian civilians.
Recent examples include Ahmed Jihad Al-Qariny, 54 years old, who was shot dead while driving his municipality vehicle, with permission from the Israeli army, to repair telephone lines. Maher Mohamed Jazmayeh was killed on the way to school to see the results of his final high school exams — the 18-year-old was shot in the head with live ammunition. Or the case of 40-year-old Hosni Dameri, shot dead when he went out to work in his fields on the outskirts of Tulkarm, despite the fact that he did so in coordination with the army. There were no clashes at the time. Israeli soldiers opened fire for no apparent reason.
In the Gaza Strip on Thursday, 15 August, five- year-old Ayman Fares died instantly after being shot in the head. Palestinians report there were no clashes at the time, and Ayman and his family were on their property when Israeli gun-fire began. On 19 August the International Solidarity Movement reported that a 13-year-old boy, Mohamed Amin Ali Odi, from Burkin, near Jenin refugee camp, had been killed from a gunshot wound to the head.
At 11am that day Mohamed was playing in the street with other young children when Israeli soldiers shot him from a tank. The report said “the Israeli military then prevented a Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulance from reaching the boy, who was reported to be still alive at that time. The PRCS staff returned to the ambulance centre and requested the Red Cross negotiate on their behalf. Meanwhile, a private car was able to reach the boy from another direction but due to the military closures had to take a back route to the hospital where the child was dead on arrival.”
All these horrendous deaths were avoidable, and unnecessary. The questions they raise about the morality of soldiers in the Israeli army are numerous, and cannot be ignored by Israeli society. They also raise questions about the apparent arbitrary shoot to kill policy that gives soldiers a licence to kill without fear of trial or justice.
But the underlying fact that Palestinian lives are viewed as expendable and cheap means that the killing of innocent Palestinians goes on. The killing of Palestinians needs to stop, and if the protection of Israeli soldiers is the reason an alternative ought to be suggested. The best way to ensure the safety of Israeli soldiers is their removal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the end of the occupation.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.