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From the field

Chief of Staff censures Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan for ordering use of human shields

On 18 October 2007, the IDF Spokesperson announced that the Chief of Staff had recently initiated a disciplinary proceeding against Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan. The proceeding followed a Military Police investigation into a number of cases in which Golan had used the "prior warning" procedure, in violation of an order that the Chief of Staff had issued, and without informing him. The procedure, which allowed soldiers to "be assisted by a local Palestinian resident'… in giving prior warning to occupants of the house" was ruled illegal by the High Court of Justice in 2005.

International humanitarian law requires combat forces to make every effort to protect civilians not participating in the hostilities and to remove them from danger. Any use of civilians as human shields, including having them assist in carrying out military tasks, is absolutely forbidden. On this basis, the High Court of Justice nullified the army's procedure in which soldiers used Palestinians to transmit messages to persons who had barricaded themselves in a certain place and refused to surrender. The High Court also disallowed using Palestinians who "willingly" wish to assist ("the prior-warning procedure").

B'Tselem welcomes the decision of the Judge Advocate General to order a criminal investigation following reports, some by B'Tselem, of the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, as well as his decision to focus the investigation on senior officers in the chain of command. With the severity of the cases and the direct involvement of the persons under investigation, the decision to open an investigation should be automatic, but such is not the case in the Occupied Territories .

The Judge Advocate General's decision not to prosecute Brig.-Gen. Golan, despite the investigative findings that Golan knowingly violated army orders and the High Court's ruling, and to suffice with the mild disciplinary punishment (command notation), transmits a dangerous message of disregard for Palestinian lives and for Supreme Court decisions.