A human rights agency has criticised an Israeli court's sentence passed on two soldiers who used a nine-year old Palestinian boy as a human shield in Gaza. Defence for Children International (DCI) condemned as far too lenient the 3-months suspended jail sentences and reduction in rank from Staff Sergeants to Sergeants for "inappropriate conduct".
When the incident took place in January 2009, the child in question along with his family and 40 of their apartment block neighbours were sheltering in the basement of their building during Israel's Operation Cast Lead. When Israeli troops broke into the basement at 5 am, they separated the men from the women and children and forced them to undress; one soldier approached the child and dragged him 20 metres at gunpoint. According to the boy, the soldier pointed to bags that were in the basement and the boy understood that the soldier wanted him to open them. With the soldier keeping his distance and his gun pointed at him, the boy opened and emptied a bag that had papers and personal possessions inside. The child failed to open the second bag, at which point the soldier yelled at him and grabbed his hair, slapped his face, and forced him to stand by the basement wall. The soldier then shot at the bag, leading the boy to believe that it was he who was being shot at. The soldier then pushed him away and told him to go to his mother.
According to the DCI, this is not the first time that Israeli soldiers have used children as human shields. Since 2005, the Geneva-based organisation has recorded 15 similar incidents. The Israel Defence Forces claim to uphold the motto "Purity of Arms" and a strict moral code, and Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Convention for the Child.