Israeli soldiers stand by as settlers attack civilians in West Bank village

Instead of attending to protesters wounded by settlers, including an Israeli photographer pushed off a five-foot terrace, a man dressed as a medic assaults another protester.

By Oren Ziv /

An Israeli settler in a Magen David Adom uniform attacks a left-wing demonstrator during a protest in Nabi Saleh, March 3, 2017. (Haim Schwarczenberg)
An Israeli settler in a Magen David Adom uniform attacks a left-wing demonstrator during a protest in Nabi Saleh, March 3, 2017. (Haim Schwarczenberg)

[Updated below]

Video and photographs show Israeli settlers, including one wearing part of a uniform of Israel’s national emergency and ambulance services, seemingly attacking demonstrators and photographers on Friday during a protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. Israeli soldiers present did nothing to prevent the violence.

After several months during which there were no weekly protests in the village, local residents, along with Israeli and international activists, marched toward the village spring, which was taken over by Israelis from the adjacent settlement of Halamish in 2009.

For years the army has prevented the weekly demonstration from reaching the spring, using closed military zone orders, tear gas, stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets, and live ammunition to do so.

Because there hadn’t been protests of late, it appeared the army was caught off on Friday, and the protesters managed to reach the spring, where they waved a Palestinian flag. Within a matter of minutes, settlers from Halamish arrived, and began to attack the protesters. Soldiers arrived shortly thereafter.

Israeli photographer Haim Schwarczenberg, who has long documented Nabi Saleh’s struggle, told +972 Magazine that a settler pushed him from one of the terraces, causing him to fall from a height of around five feet. He was left bruised, and some of his equipment was damaged. Video shot by self-styled village documentarian Bilal Tamimi shows one settler walking through a group of soldiers to push Schwarczenberg. The soldiers did nothing to stop the him. Later on the soldiers refused to detain or even write down the attacker’s information, he recalled.

WATCH: Photographer Haim Schwarczenberg is pushed by Israeli settlers (video by Bilal Tamimi)

Photographs from the incident also show appear to show an Israeli civilian armed with an M-16 assault rifle and wearing an official uniform of Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, and ambulance services, pushing protesters. Soldiers appear to be standing aside, doing nothing to stop the violence.

The Israeli in the photo at the top of this post is grabbing a left-wing Israeli protester while another settler attacks him. One need not imagine what would happen to a Palestinian medic who tried to get in the middle in a similar fashion.

In 2015, Palestinian medics who tried to assist a wounded Palestinian who had been run over by an Israeli Border Police jeep during a demonstration were attacked by police officers with pepper spray.

This is not the first time MDA workers have been involved in violent incidents in the West Bank. The most famous example is Ofer Ohana, volunteer ambulance driver involved in the killing of Abdel Fatah al-Sharif, who was shot and killed by Elor Azaria in Hebron early last year. Ohana arrived at the scene in an MDA ambulance and shouted, “That dog is still alive… somebody do something,” moved toward the body the knife that al-Shariff had tried to use to stab Israeli soldiers before he was shot, and thus allegedly tampered with evidence. He also prevented al-Shariff from receiving medical attention, and had a significant influence on the events that transpired — like in many other cases in Hebron.

Controversy erupted after MDA became an official member of the International Committee of the Red Cross several years ago, when it became clear that the organization continued to operate in the occupied territories, despite pledging to cease its activities there. In 2013 MDA asked its staff in the West Bank to remove the organization’s official logo. Since then settlers have been trying to bring the logo back. +972 Magazine has spotted MDA ambulances bearing the logo stationed in settlements throughout the West Bank a number of times in recent years.

An additional video filmed by Schwarczenberg shows a settler encouraging soldiers to attack the protesters, before physically grabbing a soldier and telling him, “get in there.” Breaking the Silence recently published a report that examines the ways in which settlers act as the sovereign on the ground in the West Bank, very often giving orders to Israeli soldiers.

WATCH: Settlers order soldiers to attack protesters in Nabi Saleh

Settlers have been known to attack protesters and left-wing activists, even in the presence of security forces. For example, last July I was attacked, alongside Yehuda Shaul from Israeli anti-occupation group, Breaking the Silence, by settlers during a tour of Hebron with Irish author Colm Tóibín. The settlers broke two of my cameras, all while police officers looked on.

Last May, B’Tselem, an Israeli NGO that documents human rights violations in the occupied territories reported that a former volunteer had been struck on the head by settlers after he attempted to document settlers harassing Palestinian teenage women with dogs. Soldiers present did nothing to stop the attack, to detain the settlers or provide assistance to the volunteer, who was later hospitalized with minor injuries.

As detailed in a report by human rights group Yesh Din, tellingly titled “Standing Idly By,” Israeli troops have an obligation to protect civilians in the occupied territories.


A Magen David Adom spokesperson sent the following statement in response to a series of questions:

The man in the photographs is a volunteer EMT with MDA. He was dispatched to the incident by the settlement’s civilian security coordinator, in light of reports of injuries. Upon arrival he was blocked violently by the rioters who prevented him from reaching the patient, with the use of pushing, threats and shouting. With no other choice, the volunteer EMT was forced to separate between two people in order to reach the wounded, to provide him first aid and evacuate him from the location in an ambulance.

It should be emphasized that the volunteer didn’t use violence himself and did not strike [anyone] — but rather separated the sides to the best of his ability, in order to reach the person in need of medical care. After reaching the ambulance and transferring the wounded to the team that had arrived, the volunteer returned to the site in order to ensure that there weren’t any other wounded people, and only then returned to the settlement.

Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with this reality in which photographs are taken out of context in order to serve certain interests, but in this case it is the civilian in the photo who is guilty, who acted violently, who attempted to kick and hit the volunteer — who only asked that he step back from him and the patient. We are certain that the full documentation of the incident, as opposed to a few single frames, which were given to you tendentiously, will prove as much.

An Israeli military spokesperson sent the following statement:

[Last Friday] a group of around 50 Palestinian protesters and left-wing activists arrived at Meir Spring (editor’s note: Meir Spring is the name Israeli settlers gave to the village of Nabi Saleh’s spring) next to the village of Nabi Saleh waving flags and blocking the main route. Upon their arrival, they stopped an Israeli vehicle and attacked the passengers. A group of settlers arrived at the location and violent clashes broke out between the settlers and the Palestinians. IDF and Border Police forces separated the protesters and the settlers in order to take control of the incident and to clear the area. The claims raised will be looked into.

The following video has come to our attention. Starting at around minute 2:10, an Israeli settler in the grey sweatshirt and cargo pants appears to attack the man pictured at the top of this article, and a scuffle ensues:

A second video, which appears to be shot earlier at the same incident, shows the same Israeli man, wearing the same outfit, pulling up in his car, exiting the vehicle and punching a female photographer for no reason:

A version of this article also appears in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.