File photo (AFP)
Israeli occupation soldiers used a 16-year-old Palestinian girl as a human shield in front of an Israeli military vehicle during an Israeli military attack on the northern occupied West Bank city of Jenin last week, Defense for Children International has said in a new report.
Ahed Mohammad Rida Mereb, 16, was forced by soldiers to stand in front of an Israeli military vehicle on May 13 around 8 a.m. in the Al Hadaf neighborhood of Jenin during clashes with Palestinian resistance gunmen, according to information collected by DCI-Palestine. Ahed was ordered to stand outside the military vehicle for around two hours while they sat inside.
“International law is explicit and absolutely prohibits the use of children as human shields by armed forces or armed groups," said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at Defense for Children International - Palestine. “Israeli forces intentionally putting a child in grave danger in order to shield themselves constitutes a war crime.”
Israeli forces besieged Ahed’s home around 6 a.m. on May 13 in order to arrest her 20-year-old brother, according to documentation collected by DCIP. Israeli forces ordered Ahed, her parents, and her two younger brothers out of the house and to move to a yard across the street. The forces exchanged fire with Ahed’s older brother, who remained in the house. Around 8 a.m., an Israeli military vehicle came under gunfire, which is when Israeli forces ordered Ahed to stand outside the military vehicle.
“Bullets were being fired at the military vehicle from all directions,” Ahed told DCIP. “I was trembling and crying and shouting to the soldiers to remove me because the bullets were passing over my head, but one of them ordered me in Arabic through a small window in the military vehicle, “Stay where you are and don’t move. You’re a terrorist. Stand in your place until you say goodbye to your brother.”
Ahed tried to tilt her head to the side to dodge the bullets, but one of the Israeli soldiers ordered her to stand up straight, according to information collected by DCIP. Ahed stood in front of the Israeli military vehicle for about two hours before running to a nearby tree and collapsing on the ground, DCIP said.
Around two hours later, Israeli forces evacuated Ahed’s two-story house, where she lived with her parents, three brothers, grandparents, two uncles and their wives, and their eight children ranging in age from one to 11 years old. After the family was evacuated, Israeli forces bombed the house with rocket-propelled grenades, which caused the house to catch on fire. Israeli forces also shot live ammunition at the house, according to documentation collected by DCIP.
Israeli forces withdrew from Ahed’s neighborhood around 11 a.m. She learned that Israeli forces arrested her older brother and that neighborhood residents posted on social media that she was being used as a human shield by Israeli forces, which led the Palestinian gunmen to stop shooting at the Israeli military vehicle.
Ahed was transferred by private vehicle to Jenin Hospital and was treated for intense mental stress and a severe lack of oxygen.
The use of civilians as human shields, wherein civilians are forced to directly assist military operations or used to shield armed forces or armed groups or objects from attack, is prohibited under international law. The practice is also prohibited under Israeli law based on a 2005 ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice.
Since 2000, DCIP has documented at least 26 cases involving Palestinian children being used as human shields by the Israeli army. All except one case have occurred after the Israeli High Court of Justice ruling. Only one of those cases led to the conviction of two soldiers for “inappropriate behavior” and “overstepping authority.” Both were demoted in rank and given three-month suspended sentences.