A Mentally Disabled Palestinian Shot Dead by Israeli Troops for Behaving Strangely

'Let’s say Iyad was behaving strangely. Why kill him?' his brother ponders. 'When they grow up, Iyad's children are liable to hate Israel, and with good reason. You killed their father.'

Mourners carry the body of of 38-year-old Palestinian Iyad Hamed, 38, during his funeral in Silwad after he was killed by Israeli troops. August 26, 2016.
Abbas Momani, AFP

The man who was shot to death last Friday by a soldier from the Kfir Brigade’s ultra-Orthodox Netzach Yehuda Battalion was 38 and the father of two small children, a son and a daughter, who were this week scurrying around the living room of their house, in a state of bewilderment, she in a purple skirt, he in shorts. Their father, Iyad Hamed, had a congenital mental disability: Introverted and taciturn, he was prone to stare at the ground as he walked. He enjoyed communing with nature and picking figs and almonds. Still, there was structure in his life: He had a wife and children, and worked in construction in a simple job. “He wasn’t the sharpest of people,” his brothers say.

Footage from the security camera of the grocery store in Silwad, a village near Ramallah, shows his last minutes. Hamed, in a light-colored shirt, is seen buying snacks for his children and paying. A few moments later, he sets out for a mosque for the Friday prayers, never to return. Nothing in the footage hints at what is about to happen: A father buys treats for his children in the final hour of his life.

Most of Hamed’s family is in America, as are many of the natives of this well-to-do village. Ten years ago, his six brothers moved to Ohio – to Columbus and Cleveland – where they work in real estate. Iyad, the eldest, remained in Silwad, as did his sister. He started a family, but recently decided to emigrate, as well; one of his brothers said he'd submitted a petition to the authorities to that end.

He lived on the ground floor of the family’s stone house. The building is handsome, though less splendid than other mansion-type dwellings in this elegant neighborhood on a hill. The second floor is used by the brothers and their families during their annual vacations here. This summer they visited twice: once on holiday and then not long afterward – to mourn and grieve for their dead brother.

Their parents divide their time between America and Silwad, some of whose privately owned land was taken to build the settlement of Ofra. Many residents of this well-to-do village have moved in recent years to the United States.

Last December, Border Police shot and killed another Silwad resident, Mahdia Hammad, a 40-year-old mother of four, claiming that she was trying to run them over. Now the army has killed Iyad Hamed without any apparent reason: He wasn’t armed and didn’t pose a threat to anyone.

Iyad Hamed’s children, Lian, left, and Zakariya, this week. The soldier who fired the shot that killed their father was questioned on suspicion of causing death by negligence, and then sent back to his unit. He wasn’t even suspended from his duties.
Alex Levac

The Israel Defense Forces itself admits that.

The killing took place at the edge of the village, not far from Highway 60, a former venue for demonstrations and stone throwing. The demonstrations ceased in the past month, under pressure from locals, who are tired of the tear gas and the upheaval. Five Silwad residents were killed in the past year by Israeli troops.

We are standing next to a mound of stones where Hamed collapsed, bleeding, last Friday. He’d come this far, after dropping off the snacks for the kids at home, on his way to a mosque in the neighboring village of Yabrud, where he prayed on Fridays. He preferred it to the mosques in Silwad.

On the way, he stopped at the Silwad gas station to say hello to his friend Rashad, who works there. The gas station’s security camera caught him again. He then went on his way to Yabrud, which is located on the other side of Highway 60. He could have used the passage beneath the road but opted for the shorter route, which passes next to a towering, armored IDF pillbox.

It was about 11:40 A.M. On the other side of the road, Abdel Hamid Yusuf, a solidly built young man of 26, was driving his sewage tanker to the site where he empties it. An eyewitness to the events, he is now standing with us at the place where Hamed was killed, along with Iyad Hadad, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

Hamed was behaving oddly, recalls Yusuf, who knew him well and was aware of his condition. Hamed seemed to have lost his way and also his senses; he ran back and forth below the army tower. Yusuf says he saw no soldiers while Hamed was running about between it and the surrounding barbed-wire fences. Hamed looked frightened. He had wanted to cut across the highway to the mosque, but couldn’t find his way out. He was like a caged animal; the barbed-wire fences were impassable. “It’s dangerous there, get out!” Yusuf shouted to him from across the road. Hamed didn’t respond – maybe he didn’t hear Yusuf.

It’s crucial to note that Hamed was not holding anything in his hands. That is confirmed by Yusuf and by what the footage from the gas station’s camera shows: an unarmed civilian in a light-colored shirt, who apparently got confused and lost his way.

Suddenly a few shots rang out. Hamed started to run frantically back toward the village. It’s not clear where the shots came from, but immediately afterward Yusuf saw a few soldiers emerge from the vegetation at the foot of the tower. Hamed kept running. More shots were fired at him, apparently by the soldiers, who had been in ambush. He was hit and fell to the ground. One bullet entered his back and exited through his chest, paramedic Yahya Mubarak, who took possession of the body, would report afterward.

A., who lives in apartment No. 9 in the nearby Hurriya Tower building in Silwad, went out to his balcony when he heard shooting. What he told the field researcher corroborated Yusuf’s account: Hamed ran for his life until he was felled.

Four soldiers rolled Hamed’s body over with their feet. He probably died instantly, though that’s not certain. An Israeli ambulance arrived about 15 minutes later, but Yusuf says he couldn’t see whether Hamed received medical aid. More troops arrived in a silver-gray civilian car. The body lay on the ground for some time before being removed by soldiers. A few hours later, the body was returned to the family, after it became clear to the IDF – which is rarely in a hurry to give back bodies – that Hamed had done nothing wrong and was killed in vain.

The cardboard packages that contained IDF-issue bullets are scattered on the ground where Hamed went down. An IDF officer approaches us from the direction of the tower, and four soldiers emerge out of nowhere from another direction. Minutes later, another group of soldiers comes up from the valley. Maybe one of them killed Hamed?

The soldier who fired the shot that killed him was questioned this week by the Military Police on suspicion of causing death by negligence and then sent back to his unit. He wasn’t so much as suspended from his duties.

In the house of mourning is the father, Zakariya, 58, dignified and wearing a stylized embroidered galabia. With him are two of his sons, Yahya, 34, from Columbus, and Ahmed, 31, from Cleveland. Hamed’s fatherless offspring, 9-year-old Zakariya and 3-year-old Lian, are with their mother, newly widowed Narmine.

“Come on, we are human beings, we don’t get shot at like that,” Yahya says. “Come on, we have kids. The soldier took a human life. It made me want to throw up when I read the reports of what happened in [the newspaper] Yedioth Ahronoth.”

When they were here a month ago, on vacation, the brothers brought new clothes for Iyad as gifts. Iyad hadn’t worn them yet; he was saving them for Id al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice. Now he will never wear them, “because some soldier decided to kill him.” The faces of the brothers are contorted in grief again.

Yahya: “Let’s say Iyad was behaving strangely. Why kill him? Shoot him in the leg. Why kill him? You’re not God. In the first intifada, they shot at the legs. You could talk with the soldiers. Now you reach a hand toward your pocket, and they kill you. Do you know what a tragedy the soldier who killed my brother caused? How many families he destroyed?”

The children cuddle up to their two uncles. Lian blows up a balloon and floats it in the room. She has lazy eye, and wears thick glasses. She’s scheduled to have an operation for the condition in a few weeks; her father will not be there to accompany her.

Yahya, who reads the English-language edition of Haaretz in the United States on his phone, says, “The children know that a Jewish soldier killed their father,” he says. “When they grow up, they are liable to hate Israel, and with good reason. You killed their father.

“We are not a political family,” he continues. “We have never been in prison, we have never thrown a stone. Neither had Iyad. But what love will these children have for Israel when they grow up? You want to live here? Fine. But don’t kill us. Let us live, too. You love life – so do we. Everyone will tell you what a pure soul Iyad was. He never hurt anyone. I’d like to know what [Chief of Staff] Gadi Eisenkot will have to say about this killing. And what the soldier who killed Iyad is feeling. I heard he’s religious. Does that mean he has earlocks?

“When I accidentally run over a cat on the road, I feel bad for a long time afterward,” Yahya says. “What does the soldier who killed my brother feel now?”