HUMAN SHIELDS: A Political and Legal History

From Mosul in Iraq and Sana’a in Yemen to Sri Lanka in the east all the way to the United States in the west, accusations concerning the use of human shields as a means of protection, coercion or deterrence have multiplied over the last decade. The weaponization of human bodies is, however, by no means a new phenomenon. By recounting the appearance of human shields in key historical moments and contemporary political and cultural sites—ranging from the American Civil War through environmental struggles to drone wars, civil protests and computer games—Neve Gordon will show how this relatively marginal and controversial legal figure has taken on multiple meanings and political uses. Indeed, he aims to demonstrate that the history of human shielding is simultaneously the history of the shifting definition of who is considered fully human, the history of the way the human body lends itself to practices of domination and resistance, and, inevitably, the history of the changing legal and ethical justifications used when deploying violence or opposing it.


Neve Gordon is a professor of international law at Queen Mary University of London. He is the author of La Occupatión Israelí and The Human Right to Dominate, as well as editor of two volumes, one on torture and the other on marginal perspectives of human rights. Gordon’s writings appear regularly in academic journals and the popular press.