‘Beaten, stripped, used as a human shield’: Gaza man recounts Israel terror

As Israel resumed its attacks on parts of Gaza City, Ramadan Shamlakh’s family home was attacked. Then, according to his account, a war crime took place.

Gaza City resident Ramadan Shamlakh was assaulted by Israeli soldiers in his home on February 20, 2024 [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]By Maram HumaidPublished On 23 Feb 202423 Feb 2024

Deir el-Balah, Gaza – Blood all over his face, and his eyes swollen, Ramadan Shamlakh arrived at a hospital after passersby found him struggling to walk southwards from northern Gaza.

The 21-year-old man said he had endured beatings, a stripping and a war crime – he was used as a human shield – by Israeli soldiers when they raided his family home in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City on Tuesday morning.

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His story, and his desperate escape on foot to the south, came as the Israeli army renewed its ground military operations in the neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City, prompting residents to flee again towards al-Shifa Hospital to the city’s west.

Shamlakh was at home with his mother, his injured brother, and his four sisters, when they were all surprised by tanks advancing and surrounding them in the area.

“It was around 6:30am when the Israeli soldiers blew up a wall in our house and then opened fire randomly at us.”

“The soldiers brutally attacked me and my brother, who has been suffering from a foot injury since the 2014 war, and beat us extensively,” Shamlakh said.

“We were telling them that we are civilians and it is not our fault, but to no avail,” Shamlakh told Al Jazeera, while receiving treatment at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

He said the soldiers insulted his mother and sisters with “obscene words” and “forced them to take off their hijabs”. When an angry Shamlakh told his sisters and mother to not listen to the soldiers, he was thrashed.

Ramadan Shamlakh receiving treatment at al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir-el-Balah  [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

“Then the soldiers detained my mother, my sisters and my wounded brother and took them to a direction I do not know. Then they took me, handcuffed me, and forced me to walk in front of them on the stairs to search the upper floors.”

What followed, according to Shamlakh’s account, was a war crime under Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions. The soldiers used him as a “human shield” as they entered apartments on the five upper floors. “I was opening the doors for them and they were shooting hard.

“When we reached the last floor, the soldiers beat me like crazy with their heavy shoes on my face, stomach and eyes,” he said. “There were about 15 soldiers, and they all took turns hitting me with shoes.”

He screamed, warned them that he could lose his sight – but they kept kicking and stomping on him. The soldiers interrogated Shamlakh about Hamas tunnels and his whereabouts on October 7 and whether he had participated in that day’s attacks.

“I repeatedly asserted my civilian status and dissociation from Hamas, but they were not convinced and kept beating me.”

One soldier, Shamlakh recalled, “was kicking my head whenever I raised it. Another one grabbed a knife and started cutting my fingers while I was screaming.”

After a period of torture and interrogation, the soldiers ordered Shamlakh to take off his clothes, remain in his underwear, and head south. “I was walking with great difficulty, my body bleeding and my face coated in blood. The cold chilled me to the bone, and I shivered uncontrollably.

“After a short while of walking, I saw tanks on the road, so I raised my hands in surrender. One of the tanks pointed its cannon at me. An Israeli patrol stopped me, interrogated me for a while, then released me.”

A doctor treating Ramadan Shamlakh in Deir-el-Balah’s al-Aqsa Hospital [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Shamlakh continued walking for about two and a half hours until he eventually reached an Israeli checkpoint.

“At the checkpoint, Israeli soldiers stopped me there and asked me who I was. They questioned me about my injuries,” Shamlakh recalled. “Despite explaining that they were inflicted by the army, they doubted my account.”

The soldiers detained Shamlakh for nearly an hour, standing in the cold with blood streaming from his face, before allowing him to pass.

“There were corpses of dead dogs around me, and many flies were gathering on them. The flies were coming on my face and on my wounds.”

A short distance from where Shamlakh crossed the checkpoint, he met some passersby who rushed to help him, gave him some clothes, and then called for an ambulance to take him to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital.

“Passersby helped me reach here.” He said. “Until now, I am anxious attempting to reach out to my family in eastern Gaza.

“I do not know anything about them, whether they are alive or not.”

Source: Al Jazeera