IDF’s ethics guru slams High Court ban on human shields

Asa Kasher endorses military court conviction of two Givati soldiers, but says ‘neighbor procedure’ can sometimes save lives.

Soldiers in Court 311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Soldiers in Court 311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Sunday’s highly publicized military court conviction of two Givati soldiers for using a Palestinian boy as a human shield should serve as an opportunity to contest the Supreme Court’s sweeping prohibition of such behavior, formally known in the IDF as “neighbor procedure,” Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF’s code of ethics, said Tuesday.
“What those two soldiers did was wrong,” said Kasher in a telephone interview, endorsing the military court ruling. “But there are situations in which the use of the enemy’s civilian population to defuse a potentially explosive situation is not only ethically permissible, it also saves lives.”
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In many instances of confrontation between IDF forces and a terror suspect who has barricaded him or herself inside a building, neighbors who are either family from the same clan or friends can peacefully and effectively neutralize the situation, Kasher explained.
Neighbors often have a vested interest in preventing the IDF from destroying the building where the suspect is hiding because they live in the same building; relatives or loved ones also have a desire to save the terrorist’s life, Kasher explained.
“If they volunteer to do so of their own free will they should be allowed to,” said Kasher.
On Sunday the IDF Southern Command’s Military Court ruled that two Givati Division soldiers acted inappropriately when they ordered a Palestinian boy to open bags suspected of containing bombs during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last year. The two staff sergeants face up to a three-year prison sentence.
The IDF uses the term “neighbor procedure” to describe the use of the enemy’s civilian population to perform duties normally performed by IDF soldiers.
In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that the neighbor procedure was unlawful according to international law.
Then chief justice Aharon Barak argued that there was a ban on using residents as part of the occupying army’s military effort and added that “as a rule, [the local resident] is not allowed to renounce his rights as accorded by humanitarian law in Clause 8 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
This was true even if cooperation was offered for a desired end, such as bringing about a peaceful end to a potentially violent confrontation.
Kasher, a professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University who first drafted “The Spirit of the IDF” (Ruach Tzahal) in 1994 and helped update the moral code in 2001, is also the co-author with Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin of “11 Principles for Fighting Terrorism,” which is used to educate officers on the IDF’s rules of engagement.