“I heard him load his gun and felt it touch my head. I was sure he was going to kill me”: Killing and abuse at a-Nabi Saleh demonstration

Published: 
12 Jun 2017

An Israeli sniper shot and killed Sabaa ‘Obeid, a 22-year-old Palestinian who posed no threat, at the weekly demonstration at a-Nabi Saleh. Later, soldiers detained 19-year-old Baraa Kan’an and abused him for 7 hours.


Israeli sniper fatally shoots Sabaa ‘Obeid, a protester who posed no danger, a-Nabi Saleh, May 2017

On Friday, 12 May 2017, at about 2:15 P.M., during the weekly demonstration at the Palestinian village of a-Nabi Saleh in the West Bank, an Israeli sniper fired a live 0.22-inch caliber bullet (known as “Two-Two”) at Sabaa ‘Obeid, a 22-year-old Palestinian from Salfit. The bullet struck ‘Obeid in the waist and killed him.

At approximately 1:00 P.M., about one hundred demonstrators – Palestinians from a-Nabi Saleh and from nearby villages, Israelis, and foreign nationals – set out in a procession towards the gate installed by the Israeli military at the eastern entrance to a-Nabi Saleh. A contingent of Border Police and soldiers under Border Police command blocked the non-violent procession before it reached the gate, and hurled stun grenades at the protesters.

Minor confrontations developed between the protesters and the soldiers and police who approached them. The Palestinians threw stones and the security forces fired tear-gas canisters, rubber-coated metal bullets, and sponge-tipped rounds at the group. Two of the stone-throwers were injured: one was hit in the head by a sponge-tipped round and the other in the thigh by a “rubber” bullet.

Several demonstrators overheard the commanding officer, who was standing close to the main group of protesters, order two snipers armed with Ruger rifles to advance towards the stone-throwers and open fire. The order was given although only ten to fifteen young men were throwing stones – or hurling them with slings – from a spot at least 100 meters away from the security forces. Three soldiers, one of them a sniper, stationed themselves behind a semi-completed house on the eastern slopes of the hill. The sniper intermittently fired live (0.22-inch) bullets at the stone-throwers, who were hiding behind the ruins of a house some 100 meters away.

At around 2:15 P.M., Sabaa ‘Obeid began moving towards the terrace and, using it as cover, threw several stones at the soldiers who were about eighty meters away. After he threw the last stone, he turned and tried to run back. At that point, the sniper fired a 0.22-inch bullet at him, striking him in the waist. In testimony given to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 13 May 2017, 22-year-old S.F., a resident of Qarawat Bani Zeid who had been standing behind the ruined house, related what happened after the shooting:

After throwing a third stone from a crouching position, Sabaa tried to head back in our direction. Then he was hit by a bullet, as he was heading back. I didn’t hear the gunshot but I realized that he’d been hit because he put his hand to his waist. He ran towards us, about twenty or thirty meters, until he came near. Then he fell down. I went over to him with another guy from Salfit and with a Jewish activist named Jonathan. I lifted his shirt and saw a little hole, about the size of a cigarette tip. It was almost closed and bleeding a little. There was a bloodstain on the left side of his shirt. I felt that he was taking his last breaths. Four or five of us picked him up and carried him. We kept talking to him the whole time, saying: Speak, Sabaa. I said to him: If you can hear me, squeeze my hand – and he did. We carried him until we were about 100 meters away from the road. An ambulance was waiting there. We handed him over to the medics, who put him on a stretcher. I asked Sabaa to squeeze my hand again, but he didn’t.

‘Obeid was taken by ambulance to hospital in Salfit, which was reached after a ten-minute ride. He was treated in the trauma unit, and was pronounced dead about thirty minutes later. After the shooting, the clashes in the village continued for about an hour. According to eyewitness accounts, soldiers from the force that had shot ‘Obeid, then fired “rubber” bullets at young men who were throwing stones. One of the snipers prepared to shoot 0.22-inch bullets again, but did not ultimately open fire.

Sabaa ‘Obeid being evacuated after the shooting. Photo by Miki Kratsman (Activestills)
Sabaa ‘Obeid being evacuated after the shooting. Photo by Miki Kratsman (Activestills)

At around 2:15 P.M., a Palestinian demonstrator was hit in the head by a stone thrown by another demonstrator. He was taken away by ambulance, accompanied by a relative: Baraa Kan’an, 19, from Beit Rima. Near the eastern entrance to the village, the ambulance was stopped by some ten soldiers, who searched the vehicle and photographed the wounded protester. The soldiers ordered Baraa Kan’an to get out of the ambulance and searched him, finding a sling in his pocket. They bound Kan’an’s hands behind his back with plastic cable ties, led him to a spot about 100 meters away near a watchtower, blindfolded him, and put him into a military jeep. According to Kan’an’s testimony, about ten minutes later he was taken out of the jeep and led into a room at an unknown location.

In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 14 May 2017, Baraa Kan’an reported that while he was detained, soldiers hit him in the face and chest, mocked him and spat at him. He was forced to sit on a chair with no backrest and every time his head dropped with tiredness, the soldiers forced him to keep it up. When Kan’an asked to drink, a soldier thrust a water bottle against his mouth until he felt he was choking from swallowing too much water.

After a few hours, Kan’an was transferred to another room. There, too, he was made to sit on a chair and keep his head up - whenever he tried to lean his head against the wall, a soldier kicked his chair to make him sit up. When Kan’an asked to use the bathroom, the soldiers took him outside; while he was urinating, a soldier pushed him and his clothes were sprayed with urine. After being led back to the room, he was taken outside again. In his testimony, Kan’an recounted:

A group of soldiers came in. I could make out that there were three of them from their voices. They took me outside - to an olive grove, I think, because the branches brushed against me. While they led me along, they swore at me and called my mother names. One of them tightened the blindfold on my eyes and ordered me to say, “I’m friends with the soldiers”. I repeated what he said. Whenever I stopped, he ordered me again to say, “I’m friends with the soldiers”.

They kept me walking for a long time. It felt like we were walking along a rough path with thorns. They knocked me down and then picked me up. They beat me and swore at me. They didn’t let up. I was terrified that they were taking me to some lonely spot so that they could murder me and no one would find me. At some point, they stopped. One of the soldiers said to me: “You’re a big-time terrorist. I’m going to shoot you.” I heard him load his gun and felt it touch my head. I was sure he was going to kill me.

Kan’an described how, after that, the soldiers beat him again, then covered his legs with soil and then removed it. Then they took him to a tent, where they made him sit on the floor, took off his blindfold, forced him to say “Muhammad is pig” and “Muhammad is a dog”, and snipped off bits of his hair with scissors. Eventually, the soldiers cut the plastic cables ties off his wrists, returned his identity card and telephone, and ordered him to go home. In his testimony, Kan’an related what happened next:

They left me with one of the soldiers. He asked me: “Do you know the way to Nabi Saleh?” I said I didn’t. He said: “I’ll drive you there in my own private car, what do you say?” He shouted at me: “Go on, go home. But there are Jews out there. If you run into them on your way back, they’ll beat you up even more. But you go to Nabi Saleh and tell them what happened to you.” Then he kicked me twice in the rear.

Baraa Kan’an’s father and brother drove him to hospital in Salfit, where he was diagnosed with injuries to his upper torso, head, back, left knee and upper limbs. He remained in hospital for a day and half and was discharged on the morning of 14 May.

The unlawful, unjustifiable and lethal shooting and the harsh abuse described above did not take place in a vacuum. The 0.22-inch caliber bullet fired at ‘Obeid is a type of live ammunition. Open-fire regulations permit lethal measures only when facing mortal danger and only as a last resort. Nonetheless, in the Occupied Territories, Israeli soldiers routinely use lethal measures – including live ammunition – against demonstrators who do not pose mortal danger. Since January 2015, 42 Palestinians have been killed by lethal measures while demonstrating or throwing stones. B’Tselem inquiries have found that at least 35 of them posed no mortal danger to Israeli security personnel. Hundreds of other Palestinians have been wounded, some sustaining grave injuries.

The shooting at ‘Obeid and the cruel abuse of Kan’an by soldiers could have not taken place had they not known that they would receive full support from senior military and the government officials. They knew that, just as in many other cases, they would not be held accountable for their actions. This is why B’Tselem decided to stop applying to the MAG Corps, demanding that incidents in which Palestinians were harmed by soldiers be investigated. Nevertheless, B’Tselem continues to promote accountability in other ways, which is why we investigate incidents independently and publish our findings.