An Israeli human rights group has released a video that appears to show Israeli soldiers standing by while Jewish settlers open fire on stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in the West Bank, wounding one of them, reports the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield Hayes.
It is the sort of incident that we often hear about, but almost never get to see. This time, thanks to B’Tselem, we have graphic video evidence of what happened.
The picture the videos paint is disturbing. It appears to show Jewish settler youths attacking a Palestinian village; later heavily armed Jewish settlers shooting at, and wounding, a Palestinian man, and most disturbing of all, Israeli soldiers standing by and doing nothing to prevent the shooting.
The incident happened on Saturday afternoon just outside the Palestinian village of Asira al-Qubliya.
In the first video a large number of young men from the nearby Jewish settlement of Yitzhar can be seen descending a mountainside towards the Palestinian village. The young settlers can be distinguished by the white cloths wound tightly around their heads.
As the settlers approach the village, young Palestinian men from Asira al-Qubliya can be seen coming out to confront them.
One Palestinian man runs towards them up the hill. He throws a rock at the approaching men, who reply in kind.
One important detail is that, at this stage, there is no sign of any burning fields.
In the second video the scene has changed.
A group of men in white T-shirts, carrying assault rifles, is standing just outside the village. These are older settlers from Yitzhar.
The fields behind them are now burning. A group of Israeli soldiers enters the scene from the right.
The Palestinian youths start throwing stones at the soldiers and the armed settlers.
Two of the armed settlers aim at one Palestinian youth just metres away and open fire. He falls down behind a rock wall.
As the settlers retreat other Palestinian villagers rush in to drag the injured man away. He has been shot in the side of the head. Fortunately, the wound is not serious.
The third video shows the same scene from a different angle.
This time a third armed settler, armed with a handgun rather than a rifle, can be seen taking aim and shooting at the Palestinian youths.
Standing right beside him as he does so are two Israeli army soldiers, who make no attempt to stop him.
In this video the injured man can be seen more clearly, blood pouring from the side of his head.
As he is carried back to the village the other young Palestinian men shout in defiance.
In a telephone interview with the BBC a spokesman for the Yitzhar settlement, Avraham Binyamin, claimed the incident had been started by the Palestinian villagers who, he said, had deliberately set fire to their own land in order to try and burn down the Jewish settlement.
“We know for years a phenomenon that we call ‘arson terror’,” he said. “This year it is the third consecutive Saturday that Arabs set fire with the aim that the fire would reach homes in Yitzhar as it did in the past.”
He said the settlers had gone down the hill to try and extinguish the fire, and that was when the confrontation with the Palestinians began.
“Once they arrived on the scene they were attacked by hundreds of Arab rioters hurling rocks at them,” he said. “The fire was already on when the young men came down from Yitzhar.”
But the video shows that there was no fire burning when the young settlers came down the hill.
It’s impossible to tell from the videos who started the fire. But the villagers of Asira al-Qubliya point out that it was their own fields that were burned, and that the fire was much closer to their own village than to the Jewish settlement.
“Sometimes twice a week the settlers come down and start attacking us and damaging our farms,” says Fathi Nijem Asayrah, the father of the young man shot in the side of the head in Saturday’s incident.
Sitting beside his son’s hospital bed, he is angry at the settlers, but even more angry at the soldiers.
“The settler who shot my son did it right next to a soldier, but he did nothing to intervene.”
It is this fact, clearly visible in the videos, that has most disturbed B’Tselem.
“It is the Israeli military’s responsibility to protect all civilians from violence, not to favour one population at the expense of another,” says its spokesperson Jessica Montel.
“What we saw again on Saturday is that the Israeli military did not intervene even when the settlers began shooting.”
The Israeli military meanwhile has released a statement.
“During the confrontation, live fire was used,” it said. “The incident is currently being investigated by the division commander. It appears that the video in question does not reflect the incident in its entirety.”
Videos after the jump