A boy walks before a bulldozer clearing rubble

A boy walks before a bulldozer clearing rubble along a heavily-damaged street in the Tulkarem camp for Palestinian refugees after an Israeli military raid there, in the north of the occupied West Bank on May 7, 2024.

(Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images)

'A War Crime': Rights Group Details Israel's Use of Children as Human Shields

"Israeli treatment of Palestinian children, the way they see them as well as how they abuse their bodies, is genocidal," said one journalist.

Israeli and U.S. claims that civilian casualties in Gaza are the result of Hamas' use of "human shields" have figured prominently in Israel's defense of the skyrocketing death toll in the enclave, but a report by a local independent human rights group details the recent experiences of three boys in the West Bank, who say they were used to shield Israeli forces from potential harm during their raid on a refugee camp.

Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP) on Monday released its interviews with three boys in Tulkarem refugee camp, which was attacked by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on May 6.

The three boys—Karam, 13; Mohammad, 12; and Ibrahim, 14—gave nearly identical accounts of being forced to walk ahead of the IDF soldiers as they raided residential buildings, ensuring they would be attacked by any armed people instead of the Israeli forces.

The soldiers also positioned their guns on the shoulders of two of the boys before firing the weapons, and subjected all of them to beatings.

Karam told DCIP that about 30 IDF soldiers entered his family's apartment with a "huge military dog" during the Tulkarem attack and isolated his family in one room, selecting Karam to come with them as they raided the rest of the building.

The "forced Karam to walk in front of them, open the doors to each room, and enter it before them," DCIP reported. "While they were walking, one soldier placed his rifle on Karam's right shoulder and fired two shots toward an apartment in the building."

Mohammad told the group the IDF soldiers ignored his mother's pleas as they ordered his family to leave his apartment, keeping Mohammad with them.

"I was left alone with the soldiers after they ordered my mother and siblings to go up to the fourth floor of the building. I started crying and shaking in fear because I did not know what they would do to me. They were armed, masked, and had frightening appearances. They had a huge military dog that made terrifying sounds," Mohammad told DCIP.

"After that, the soldiers told me to knock on the doors of the apartments in the building, while they were standing behind me at a fairly short distance, and to ask the residents to come out, and this is what I did," he said. "When we reached the door of one of the apartments, there was no one inside, so the soldiers blew up the door and forced me to go inside alone and check and search it. After I told them that it was empty, they entered it, while I remained held by one of the soldiers at the door."

Ibrahim was forced to walk in front of the soldiers after they interrogated him about "the whereabouts of wanted men," slapped and kicked him, and cuffed his hands behind his back with a plastic tie.

"At first, I thought they wanted to arrest me, but they told me to walk in front of them in the alleys of the Sawalma neighborhood in the camp," said Ibrahim. "They would hide in the alleys and tell me to see if there was anyone around. After that, they untied my hands, and whenever we passed a house or building, they would instruct me to enter and ask the residents to come out. Then they would raid those houses and tell me to open the doors into different rooms."

DCIP's report, saidAl Jazeera journalist Sana Saeed, indicates how "every Palestinian child is seen as a threat, as disposable," by the IDF and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

"Israeli treatment of Palestinian children, the way they see them as well as how they abuse their bodies, is genocidal," said Saeed.

As Ben Burgis wrote at Jacobin in November, "accusations that [Hamas fighters] 'use civilians as human shields' rarely seem to be meant quite so literally" as reports of the IDF's practices. "More often, what the accusation amounts to is simply that Hamas fighters and military equipment—or sometimes even just people linked to Hamas' political wing—tend to be located in areas with lots of civilians."

But as in the cases of the three boys at Tulkarem, "there is extensive evidence of the IDF quite literally engaging in human shielding—forcing Palestinian civilians to approach houses for them because they'll be less likely to be shot at than Israeli soldiers, for example," wrote Burgis.

"Israel's High Court banned the practice in 2005, but Israeli human rights group B'Tselem reports that 'soldiers continue to occasionally use Palestinians as human shields even after the court ruling, especially during military operations,'" he added.

Ayed Abu Eqtaish, the accountability program director at DCIP, condemned the IDF practices described by Karam, Mohammad, and Ibrahim.

"International law is explicit and absolutely prohibits the use of children as human shields by armed forces or armed groups," said Abu Eqtaish. "Israeli forces intentionally putting a child in grave danger in order to shield themselves constitutes a war crime."

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