Palestinian Medic Assaulted and Arrested in Ni’lin

14 July 2008

On July 13, approximately 150 locals from Ni’lin along with Israeli and international activists marched unarmed toward the entrance of Ni’lin in order to demonstrate along the major street used by Palestinians and settlers.

When the demonstration reached the entrance to the village organizers made sure that the participants stayed on the side of the road (with a major Israeli military checkpoint less than 100 meters away). Without any provocation, approximately 10 Israeli soldiers began firing tear gas and throwing sound grenades. A Swedish international was injured when she was hit by a tear gas canister and was carried to a nearby home.

The majority of demonstrators were pushed back toward the town, while a small group of activists remained at the entrance to the village, holding olive tree branches and chanting in Hebrew “No, No to the Wall”. A medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Salah Mohammed Khawaja, who was wearing both his official vest and ID card identifying him as a medic, was inexplicably grabbed by an officer in the Israeli army who began “escorting” him towards the checkpoint and awaiting military jeeps. Salah was clearly having difficulty breathing and repeatedly asked to sit down, while also asking why he had to go towards the jeeps. The soldier then grabbed a fistfull of Salah’s shirt and began dragging him. One international from PSP stepped between the soldier and Salah asking the soldier what he was doing. The soldier then tore off the ID card attached to Salah’s vest and said to him, “You want your ID? Come with me.” Both the international and Salah vehemently protested this behavior, which is contrary to rules involving the treatment of official medical personnel. Several more soldiers then arrived and began hitting and pushing Salah. He then fell to the ground with severe chest pains. Even after being completely incapacitated, soldiers for several more minutes attempted to drag him away, with international and Israeli activists holding on to prevent his illegal detention. Eventually, the soldiers were forced to call their own medic team to treat him, which was the only treatment available since soldiers prevented the doctor from the village from treating him nor would they allow participants to take him back into the village. When the Israeli military medic team arrived, activists again protested when it was clear that they had not brought an actual military ambulance as they are required to do, but instead were insisting on putting Salah on a stretcher and putting him in to the back of a regular personnel carrier. After getting medical treatment, Salah was arrested. The accusations against him have changed, from assaulting a bulldozer driver on a previous day to assaulting a soldier, as clearly the police are grasping for an excuse for this unlawful arrest.

After his arrest, the small group of participants that had stayed with him to try to prevent his detention were forced down the highway away from the entrance to the village and then made their way back towards the center of town. Meanwhile, soldiers had taken a position behind a dumpster in the middle of the main road and were shooting rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas at the remaining scattered demonstrators. Palestinian youth put large rocks in the road to try to prevent another full invasion of the village by the military jeeps and a few threw stones from dozens of meters away. Eventually the villagers headed back to the village, feeling the demonstration had been successful in bringing their message of resistance to the construction of the Annexation Barrier to passers-by.