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Salim Shehadeh at Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. Photo by Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 3 June 2018
From the field

Soldiers joined settlers assaulting Palestinians in ‘Urif, shot at residents, and beat several with rifle butts

Salim Shehadeh, 71, is a shepherd who lives in the village of ‘Urif, close to Nablus. On Saturday, 2 June 2018, at about 5:00 PM, Shehadeh was on his way home after grazing his sheep and harvesting fodder. When he was about 80 meters from the village homes, a settler hit him on the head from behind with a blunt object. He lost consciousness and was evacuated to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. In testimony taken by B'Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i in hospital the next day, Shehadeh stated:

סלים שחאדה במהלך פינויו, 2.6.18. התמונה באדיבות המשפחה
Salim Shehadeh during his evacuation, 2 June 2018. Photo courtesy of the family

I was walking toward the village; our land and the settlement of Yitzhar were behind me. Suddenly, someone hit me on the head with a large object, and I lost consciousness. I woke up in hospital and at first, I couldn’t remember anything about what happened to me. It came back to me only later, after I’d recovered a bit. I didn’t see the person who attacked me, because he came from behind, and I didn’t sense that anyone was approaching. My hearing isn’t too good anymore either. I had some wounds on my head, and they stitched them up. I also have wounds above and behind my ear, and a large wound in my right ear. I still feel dizzy and tired.

A village resident who lives near the scene of the incident saw the assault and saw settlers approaching the village. He alerted village residents, who arrived within a few minutes. Some of them took Salim Shehadeh to the clinic in the village, from where he was evacuated to hospital. Clashes erupted on the scene between the approximately 30 settlers and a similar number of villagers. After about 15 minutes, the settlers began to retreat toward the settlement of Yitzhar. When they were approximately 500 meters away, a military jeep arrived, and four soldiers got out. Under the soldiers’ protection, the settlers returned to the scene, and the clashes continued. The soldiers and settlers assaulted the villagers. The soldiers began firing live rounds in the air and throwing stun grenades and teargas canisters at village residents. They also fired rubber-coated metal bullets and beat some of the Palestinians with rifle butts. Three residents were injured by the soldiers’ violence – one by a “rubber” bullet and two by blows from rifle butts.

Nothing about this incident is exceptional: not the fact that a settler assaulted a 71-year-old man, not the entry of settlers into a Palestinian village with the goal of assaulting the residents, and not the involvement of soldiers in the attack. Such incidents occur routinely, with the full support of senior military officers and government ministers, and no attempt is made tostop or prevent them. This incident is yet another example of how unprotected Palestinians are in the West Bank and how vulnerable they are to violence from soldiers and settlers at any moment. This reality is no coincidence: it is the product of the deliberate policy Israel has been implementing in the Occupied Territories for over 50 years.

Bahajat a-Safdi at Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. Photo by Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 3 June 2018

Bahajat a-Safdi, 32, married and father of two, is a desk officer with the Palestinian Authority National Security Service. In testimony taken by B'Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i on the day after the incident, A-Safdi described what he saw and his own injury by a “rubber” bullet:

On Saturday, 2 June 2018, at about 5:30 PM, I set off with Ibrahim Shehadeh, a friend of mine from the village, in his car to get takeout from a restaurant in Huwarah, because we’d invited guests for the meal after the fast. On the way, we heard them announcing over the mosque loudspeakers that there were settlers on the eastern side of the village and they’d attacked a shepherd there. Ibrahim said that he was worried that it was his uncle, Salim Shehadeh, who often takes his flock out there. We drove over there, and as we approached the water tower, we saw some youths from the village and lots of settlers who had taken up position behind the tower. The youths told us that the settlers had come from the direction of the home of the a-Nuri family. We went there to look for Salim, and when we got there, we saw some youths, including his son, ‘Amer Shehadeh, carrying him. Salim was bleeding and unconscious. We put him in the car and took him to the clinic in the village, but the doctor told us to take him to hospital immediately. We called for an ambulance, and Salim’s son stayed there at the clinic and waited for it.

Area of the incident. The 'Urif water tower is visible at the top right, surrounded by walls

Ibrahim and I went back to the area by the water tower. In the meantime, more villager residents had arrived. There were 30 settlers there, or more, most of them had their faces covered and carried wooden clubs. Both sides threw stones. The village residents tried to move the settlers away from the homes by throwing stones. At first, they managed to do it, and the settlers moved away a bit. But after they had gone about 500 meters, a military jeep arrived with four soldiers in it. I thought that they would make the settlers go back to the settlement, but instead, the soldiers moved toward us, and the settlers followed them. The soldiers fired live ammunition into the air and threw stun and gas grenades. The residents ran off or hid behind trees, and then came back to try again to move the settlers away from the village. I tried as much as I could to move the youths away from the scene and calm things down. I also spoke to one of the soldiers and told him that I’m a Palestinian security worker and that we didn’t want any problems. I asked him to move the settlers away, and we’d move the youths away. But the soldiers wouldn’t listen. They pushed the youths and shouted at them to move away, without doing anything about the settlers.

I managed to move the youths away back into the village. In the meantime, I saw a soldier beating Raed Sabah, 49, on the head with a rifle butt, and the settlers throwing stones in his direction. Together with some other people, I went back to the scene to get him out. The soldiers kept on throwing stun grenades, shouting, and pushing the village residents. Every time the youths went back in the direction of the village, the settlers threw stones at them, and when the youths turned round to respond, the soldiers chased them and completely ignored the fact that it was the settlers who were attacking us.

While I was trying to move the youths away, I heard a soldier say in Arabic “shoot him.” I thought he was talking about someone else, but then I saw the second soldier, who was very close to me, aim his weapon at me, just a few centimeters from my groin. I turned around, so that I wouldn’t be hit, and then I heard a loud sound. I felt terrible pain and fell down. The pain was unbearable, and I cried out. I didn’t think the soldier would shoot me, because I hadn’t been doing anything, and earlier I had spoken calmly with the soldiers. The youths lifted me up and took me to the clinic in ‘Urif, and then on to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. They took x-rays and discovered that I’d been hit by a “rubber” bullet in my buttocks. I had an operation that night to remove the bullet. It still hurts, and I can’t walk unaided. I’ll be in hospital for a few more days.

Instead of enjoying a family meal that evening, to mark the end of the fast, it turned into a sad occasion because of the settlers, who constantly disrupt our lives and attack us. A few months ago, ‘Umayr Shehadeh, a youth from the village, was shot and killed by soldiers during a similar attack by the settlers.

Raed Sabah with his wife in their home. Photo by Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 3 June 2018

In testimony taken on 3 June 2018 by B'Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, Raed Sabah, 49, married and father of eight, described his injury after he arrived on the scene::

Because I speak Hebrew well, I tried together with Mazen Shehadeh, the head of the council, and other residents to calm the situation. We asked the soldiers to move the settlers away in order to stop things escalating. I told one soldier that we didn’t want any trouble with the settlers and that if they left the area things would calm down. He shouted at me and pushed me several times, telling me, “Get out of here” and “Shut your mouth.” I asked him why he was answering by shouting when I was talking to him quietly. He pushed me and almost knocked me over, and then he hit me on the head with his rifle. My forehead bled above my left eye. I fell to the ground, and the settlers surrounded me, punching me and throwing stones at my back and waist.

The youths took me away from there and helped me get to the clinic. I had bruises in all sorts of parts of my body, and I’d dislodged one of the fingers on my right hand. They gave me three stitches above my eye. The doctor told me to stay in hospital for observation, but I refused and promised to come back if there were any problems, because I wanted to break the fast with my family. My four daughters were waiting for me at home, along with my two sisters and all the other guests. They hadn’t eaten or drunk anything because they were worried about me. When I arrived, my daughters cried. Everyone had lost their appetite and ate only a little bit. When I woke up the next morning, my whole body was aching, particularly my back and the right side of my waist.

‘Abd a-Rahman Shehadeh rode his electric bike from work to the scene of the incident, after hearing the announcements from the mosques. As the events were unfolding, he saw one of the settlers stealing his bike, which he had left by a tree nearby. He went up to the soldiers to complain about the theft. In response, one of them hit him on the head with a rifle butt. In his testimony, Shehadeh stated:

Abd a-Rahman Shehadeh. Photo by Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 5 June 2018

I’d left my bike by an almond tree about 100 meters away from the settlers. I couldn’t get to it because the settlers and soldiers were moving toward me. The settlement security guard was standing close to the bike. I saw one of the settlers get on it and ride away. I told one of the soldiers that the settlers had stolen by bike, but he wasn’t interested in listening. He just shouted at me and told me to go away. Then suddenly he hit me with his weapon on the head, and straight away it started bleeding. I put my hand over the wound, and some youths from the village went with me to a car belonging to one of the villagers who drove me to the clinic in the center of the village. The doctor sewed stitches in my forehead. Then I went by bus to Rafidia Hospital because I also felt pain on the left side of my jaw. They x-rayed me, and it turned out that no bones were broken, thank God. I got home after 9:00 PM. The next day I went to file a complaint at the Palestinian DCO. They told me that they’d deal with the matter. I’m still waiting for a response.