Two Israeli soldiers accused of using human shield


Two Israeli soldiers involved in the Gaza Strip offensive a year ago used a 9-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield to open packages they believed were booby-trapped with explosives, the Israeli army charged Thursday.

The soldiers, whose names were not released, have been indicted in military court for “unauthorized conduct” and “exceeding their authority in a manner that endangered life or health,” the army said.

The boy, whose case was forwarded to the Israel Defense Forces by the United Nations, was unharmed.

The soldiers could face a maximum sentence of three years if convicted, an army spokesman said.

The criminal charges are believed to be the first related to combat brought against Israeli soldiers for their actions during the 22-day Gaza assault. A previous criminal case was brought against soldiers accused of looting a credit card.

About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the operation, which Israel launched in an attempt to halt Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israeli cities.

Human rights groups and a U.N. commission have accused Israel’s military of committing war crimes and targeting civilians during the operation. They have called for Israel to appoint an independent inquiry to review the military’s conduct, but Israel has said its military court is capable of reviewing the matter internally.

Military officials said they are reviewing about 30 criminal cases. Last month, the army said it had disciplined two top commanders for permitting shelling near a U.N. compound where civilians had taken refuge.

Michael Sfard, an Israeli attorney who represents soldiers who went public with complaints about the military’s conduct in Gaza, called the army’s indictment “very little and very late.”

He noted that his group, Breaking the Silence, tried to bring attention to the use of human shields in Gaza a year ago, but was subjected to blistering attacks from the government.

“They dismissed everything out of hand,” Sfard said. “Now a year later they’ve found that one of the practices took place. If the state of Israel had conceded to calls for an [external] investigation, I’m sure they would have found by now other practices to be true too.”