On the night of 6 June 2014, at least 11 Israeli soldiers have taken over the home of Mohamed Ayad (73) and Nejma Ayad (68), American citizens, in the village of Silwad, in the West Bank, and turned their home into a military outpost.

Video footage, photographs and witness statements indicate that Mohamed and Nejma Ayad posed no imminent threat to the Israeli forces that have entered and taken up positions in their home. The Israeli soldiers have forced the elderly couple to stay in the living room, effectively imprisoning them, while they use the rest of their house as a military observation and sniper position.

The Israeli army has a long and frequent pattern of taking over Palestinian civilians’ homes and holding their inhabitants as human shields while using the house as a military base.

The willful imprisonment and use of civilians as human shields by Israeli security forces as part of the occupation is a war crime. Israel has a responsibility to prosecute the forces who have take the home of the Ayads, and also those responsible for assigning the use of human shields, as this practice increases the risk to the Palestinian families concerned.

Background and testimonies

The surroundings and vicinity of Ayad’s street are frequently used by Palestinians to hurl rocks at route 60, a main road that is located a few miles away. The Israeli forces usually disperse the protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas, and at times by firing live ammunition on the protesters’ legs.

Israeli security forces are constantly trying to arrest the demonstrators by ambushing them and setting up local outposts to observe them before the protests.

At 3 am on Friday 6 June 2014, approximately 11 Israeli soldiers broke into the home of Mohammed Ali Ayad (73) and Nejma Ayad (68), both Palestinian-American citizens, and forced the elderly couple to stay in the living room, effectively imprisoning them. Additionally, the Israeli forces confiscated all their communication devices and home keys, and locked them up while using the rest of their house as a military observation and sniper position as preparation to the demonstrations expected later on that afternoon.

Muhammad Ali Ayad testified the following to the Euro-Med Monitor:

“At 3:00 am, the Israeli army knocked on the door, I opened and 11 soldiers pushed me out of the way and entered the house. They closed the doors, shut down the windows and held us captive. We didn’t know at that time what they wanted from us. I told them that only I and my wife live in this house and that there is no one else. They told us to shut up and took our cell phones, the keys of the house, and everything else. They locked us up in the living room for 14 hours. From 3:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon. We both didn’t eat during all this time; we were very stressed and terrified. I had some coffee and my wife had some juice. Luckily, after 14 hours, our neighbors suspected that we are being held captive as they saw the soldiers on the roof of our home. Then my nephew, some relatives and neighbors came to the house and started knocking on the door, but the soldiers refused to open the door. They didn’t want us to open the door or answer their calls but the perseverance of the neighbors is what saved us. My wife shouted at them; that’s when the soldiers ran downstairs and we opened the door to the neighbors. My nephew and my neighbors came in, and chased the Israeli soldiers out of our home. But as soon as the soldiers were down the street, they started firing tear gas canisters at the house. They broke four windows and we had to evacuate as we were suffocating from the gas”.

Journalist Muath Hamed who entered the Ayad’s home with the neighbors and recorded a video of the incident that widely circulated on social media, testified to the Euro-Med Monitor that “as we entered the house, all windows were shut and the home was kept dark by the soldiers, which was very intimidating. Mrs Ayad was utterly distressed and in tears, telling us to be careful as the soldiers were still in the house”.Hamed added that the occupation soldiers were heavily armed and trigger happy, while everyone in the house was civilian and clearly unarmed.  

Mrs Ayad is 68 years old and is recovering from a pacemaker heart surgery. Mrs Ayad testified to the Euro-Med Monitor that “the Israeli soldiers tried to prevent us from opening the door when they heard the voices of the neighbors coming to our rescue. I was so scared, but the insistence of the neighbors to open the door is what made the soldiers go to the basement”.

Mrs Ayad added that “the Israeli soldiers confiscated our cell phones and keys, preventing us from calling for any help. They were intimidating us and they were not talking to us or explaining what was going on. They were just giving us commands by moving their hands. I informed them that we are American citizens and they should let us go, but they ordered us to shut up. And then, they dispersed themselves in the house in a clear way to use our home as a military base to shoot at the protesters and use us as a protection shield.”

Mrs Ayad says that “when the soldiers were chased out, they began firing tear gas directly at the house in retaliation to the people who helped us and saved us from them as they were keeping us hostage”.

Israeli soldiers in Ayad's home as relatives and townspeople are chasing them out.
Israeli soldiers in Ayad's home as relatives and townspeople are chasing them out.

Human shields

This is not the first time Israeli soldiers have taken over Palestinian homes and effectively imprisoned their occupants, to use the homes as military observation and firing positions.

Mr. Zuheir Nahal (55) who lives in the same neighborhood of Silwad testified to the Euro-Mid that Israeli soldiers have attempted to take over his home but his family was able to push away the Israeli soldiers, leading to their withdrawal. Many other cases have been documented in the past 10 years whereas Israeli armed soldiers have forced Palestinian civilians, at gunpoint, to enter before them into buildings from which they feared attack.

The practice by Israeli soldiers of taking over Palestinian civilian's homes and holding their inhabitants as human shields while using the house as a shooting position has been very common in the past decade both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

Israeli security forces have committed severe violations as part of the occupation, such as deliberate imprisonment and attacks on civilians, which would be subject to prosecution under international humanitarian law as war crimes.

The use of "human shields"is prohibited under Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states, "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."Israel has ratified the Convention which is also recognized as reflecting customary international law and therefore binding on Israel.

In an accompanying commentary, the ICRC defined the scope of the provision: "The prohibition is expressed in an absolute form and applies to the belligerents' own territory as well as to occupied territory, to small sites as well as to wide areas." 

The prohibition against the use of human shields is further clarified in Article 51(7) of the Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions and reflects customary international law. It states, "Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations."

In light of this recent event in Silwad, that of which imprisoning an elderly couple and using them as a human shield in a military operation, the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights reaffirms the obligations of the Israeli army to respect international humanitarian law during its military operations. Additionally, the Euro-Med Monitor calls upon the Israeli military prosecutor to open an investigation into this case, and all other cases where Israeli soldiers deliberately used Palestinian civilians as human shields.