Inquiry after Israeli forces caught using boy as shield

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The Independent Online

A photograph of a Palestinian boy tied to an Israeli police jeep has been handed to justice officials charged with investigating complaints over the use of "human shields" against demonstrators.

A photograph of a Palestinian boy tied to an Israeli police jeep has been handed to justice officials charged with investigating complaints over the use of "human shields" against demonstrators.

The boy, 13-year-old Mohammed Bedwan, and three adult protesters were tied to border police vehicles last week during one of what have become almost daily demonstrations against the routing of the Israeli government's barrier through Palestinian land.

The photograph, taken by human rights activists in the village of Biddo, north-west of Jerusalem, shows Mohammed tied by an arm to a mesh on the jeep windscreen - a mesh intended to protect the vehicle and its driver against stones and rocks. Police said last night that the Justice Ministry's police complaints unit was investigating the case.

At least four Palestinians have been shot dead in Biddo this year in rock-throwing protests against the barrier. An elderly man also died of heart failure after inhaling tear gas. Palestinian activists say border police had in two separate instances this month used villagers as shields to prevent stone-throwing, and that forces had also repeatedly used both rubber and live bullets to disperse protesters.

The Supreme Court barred the use of Palestinians as human shields in 2002 after an incident in which soldiers forced the neighbour of a suspected militant to knock on his door and deliver their ultimatum to surrender. The militant shot and killed the man.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who heads the organisation Rabbis for Human Rights, says he was also tied to the front of a separate jeep, along with a Palestinian and a Swedish activist from the International Solidarity Movement, after they protested that the boy had been beaten after he was detained. He said he himself was head-butted by the border police unit commander when he was arrested.

Rabbi Ascherman said the group's subsequent complaints to police had been treated "politely and efficiently", but the Justice Ministry's investigation would be a test of whether police were prepared to conduct a fundamental rethink of "violation of police rules" in the handling of demonstrations.

He said the danger was that the inquiry would treat the case as an isolated incident, which, he said, it was not. He also wanted the inquiry to examine whether such tactics were an inevitable consequence of the "pressure- cooker atmosphere created by the occupation" of Palestinian territories.

The Israeli High Court is due to pass judgment on 2 May on a series of petitions from both Palestinians and some of their Israeli neighbours about the planned route of the fence which would cut off Biddo, Beit Surik, and other Palestinian villagers from their olive groves and fruit orchards.

Gil Kleiman, a police spokesman said last night: "As a general rule we do not willingly expose civilians to physical damage. In this case there was prima facie evidence that procedures were carried out which were incorrect, and this has been passed to the Justice Ministry."

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