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Volunteer paramedic Sajed Muzhar, 17. Photo courtesy of the family
From the field

Israeli security forces shoot and kill Palestinian volunteer paramedic Sajed Muzhar, 17, as he treats injured person in a-Duheisheh Refugee Camp

On Wednesday, 27 March 2019, at about 2:30 A.M., soldiers entered a-Duheisheh Refugee Camp, which lies south of Bethlehem. During the raid, which lasted about 15 minutes, Palestinian youths threw stones at the soldiers, who in turn threw teargas and stun grenades and fired rubber-coated metal bullets. The soldiers arrested a resident of the camp and left.

Sajed Muzhar. Photo courtesy of the family

A few hours later, at about 6:00 A.M., around 40-50 soldiers again entered camp, driving into the al-Walajiyeh neighborhood in a truck bearing a Palestinian license plate. Military vehicles waited for the soldiers outside the camp. During clashes that ensued, youths threw stones at the security forces, who responded by firing live ammunition and “rubber” bullets and throwing teargas canisters and stun grenades. The security forces claim that during the confrontations, youths also threw Molotov cocktails and concrete blocks at them. During this raid, which lasted for about one hour, three residents were injured by live fire – one in the shoulder, another in the hand, and a third in the leg. A team of paramedics and volunteers from the camp affiliated with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) was present during both raids.

During the raid, the security forces arrested two other residents. After about 40 minutes they began to withdraw from the camp, while around 10 youths chased them, throwing stones. While they were withdrawing, the security forces detained a paramedic who was standing on the street where the youths had thrown stones. They threw his walkie-talkie to the ground. As the forces continued up the alley toward the awaiting military vehicles, one of them shot M.J., 20, a resident of the camp, injuring him in the leg. Sajed Muzhar, 17, a volunteer paramedic who was wearing a medical crew vest and standing a few dozen meters behind the injured man, ran towards him. A member of the security forces shot him in the abdomen, firing from the alley into which the forces had withdrawn. The ambulance drivers did not go near the area due to the clashes. Muzhar was driven away in a private car from which he was transferred to an ambulance, that took him to the Beit Jala Governmental Hospital. From there, he was transferred to the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation hospital. He underwent surgery in his abdomen but over an hour later was pronounced dead.

M.J., 20, a resident of the refugee camp, was on the main street of the camp at about 7:00 A.M. and saw some 40 soldiers enter the street. In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 6 April 2019, M.J. stated:

Suddenly, I saw about 40 soldiers coming down the road that leads out of the al-Walajiyeh neighborhood and turning onto the main road. When I saw them, I ran off towards my home.

While I was running, I looked back and saw the paramedics Sajed Muzhar and Hamzah Sarasreh as well as another paramedic. They were all wearing paramedic uniforms and were about 70 meters away from me. A few youths in front of them were throwing stones at the soldiers and whistling and shouting at them.

While I was running, they fired two shots at me. The bullets hit the wall of the al-Akhras supermarket next to me. I guess they used a silencer, because the shots sounded faint. I was so scared, I stopped running. I preferred the soldiers search me and catch me than shoot me. I turned around and saw a soldier kneeling with his weapon aimed at me. He fired a single shot that hit the lower part of my right leg. He was no more than seven meters away.

In a testimony given to B'Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 28 March 2019, Hamzah Sarasreh, a paramedic on Sajed Muzhar’s team, described what happened that day:

At about 6:00 A.M., Sajed Muzhar called me and said the army was raiding the al-Walajiyeh neighborhood of the camp. ‘Abd al-Mahdi Gharib, the head of the paramedics team, also called and told me to put on my first aid uniform, take the first aid bags and come to al-Walajiyeh. Very soon after that we met in the neighborhood. Sajed was there, too. When we arrived, soldiers were firing live ammunition and “rubber” bullets and throwing tear-gas canisters and stun grenades. The clashes were more violent than the ones earlier that morning. I saw my friend ‘Abd a-Mahdi treating someone who’d been injured by live fire and went over to help him. After we treated him, he was driven to hospital in a private car. About 10 minutes later, another guy was injured in the shoulder. We gave him first aid and he was also taken to hospital in a private car.

I heard massive live fire. The soldiers arrested someone called M’ali M’ali and then they began to withdraw. This was after they’d been in the neighborhood for about 40-50 minutes. They drew back towards the main road (the road from Bethlehem to a-Duheisheh). On the way, they detained my friend, the paramedic K.M., and threw his walkie-talkie on the ground.

Some of the young guys chased the soldiers as they retreated. The soldiers crossed the road opposite the traffic office that’s further up the alley. At the end of the alley, I could see some army vehicles waiting for them. We followed the youths. A few guys were standing in the middle of the road, facing the alley that the soldiers were going up. The soldiers had gone about 80-100 meters up the alley. Sajed, who was standing next to me, ran towards someone who’d just been injured. Later I learned that his name was M.J. I was afraid to run to him because some guys were still throwing stones.

Suddenly, I saw Sajed fall down. ‘Abd al-Mahdi, the paramedic, was next to him. I ran over to them. Sajed was lying on his back, in his medical crew uniform. I heard him say he’d been hit in the leg. ‘Abd al-Mahdi and I looked for a wound in his leg but couldn’t find one. We quickly realized he was badly injured, because he started to black out.

The guys stopped a car that was driving by. ‘Abd al-Mahdi, the driver and I put Sajed in the car and drove with him to al-Hussein Hospital. On the way, we stopped the ambulance that was evacuating M.J., the other guy who was injured, and moved Sajed into the ambulance with him.

‘Abd al-Mahdi Gharib, 23, the head of the paramedic team, described how the incident unfolded in a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 27 March 2019:

‘Abd al-Mahdi Gharib

At about 6:00 A.M., the volunteer paramedic Sajed Muzhar called me and said the army was raiding the camp again. I went there. Soon after, the other members of the team arrived: Sajed, Hamzah Sarasreh, Khalil Muhammad, my brother ‘Abed, and two or three other paramedics. The other members of the team took up positions elsewhere. We arrived in the al-Walajiyeh neighborhood and monitored the events for about 40 minutes. The army was firing stun grenades and teargas canisters and firing “rubber” bullets at the youths, who were throwing stones. I didn’t see them throw anything else. To protect ourselves, we followed the procedures and kept our distance both from the soldiers and from the guys who were throwing stones.

I heard that the army had arrested two guys, one of whom is called M’ali M’ali. The soldiers began to withdraw from the al-Walajiyeh neighborhood towards the main road. Then I heard that they’d arrested a third guy. I didn’t know his name at that point. Some neighborhood residents told me that soldiers had first arrived in a Palestinian truck, and that later a large number of soldiers and Border Police officers in black uniforms had raided the area. I estimated that more than 50 soldiers were withdrawing . The youths followed the soldiers as they retreated. When the soldiers reached the main road, one guy was hit in the shoulder by a live bullet. The team and I gave him first aid and then he was taken to hospital in a private car. A few minutes later, another guy was hit in the finger. He was also taken to hospital. I saw the soldiers going up al-Barnas alley, and about nine army vehicles waiting for them at the top.

The youths on the main road threw stones at the retreating soldiers from at least 50 meters away. The team and I were standing behind the youths. One of them was hit in the foot and we ran over to him. Sajed was running next to me. Suddenly, he fell to the ground, before we reached the injured guy. He said he’d been hit in the leg. We checked him, but I couldn’t see any wound on his leg. I checked his chest, hands, and legs but I couldn’t find the wound. Despite this, my assessment was that he was seriously injured, because he stopped talking and began to recited the Shahadatain prayer. I quickly stopped a private car that was driving along the street and, with the help of my colleagues, put Sajed in the car. We drove straight to al-Hussein Hospital in Beit Jala. He was almost unconscious along the way. He just raised his finger and recited the Shahadatain.

I went into the ER with him. The doctors tore his clothes off and found the wound in his lower stomach. There wasn’t any external bleeding but the doctors though that he had serious internal bleeding.

Sajed’s father, ‘Abd al-Hakim Muzhar, 53, a husband and father of four, stated in a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 6 April 2019:

‘Abd al-Hakim Muzhar

Sajed is my eldest son. About two years ago, he started to volunteer as a paramedic. He was very committed to it. I warned him a few times that he was taking a risk, but he told me that he wore a paramedic vest and no-one would dare to shoot him like that. I was afraid he would get hurt, especially after his cousin Arkan was killed eight months ago, but I was very proud of him.

Over the past few days, Sajed was sitting exams at the Salesian School. He studied hard for the exams and was sure that he’d get a good matriculation certificate and go on to study at university. That made me feel calmer.

On the day of the incident, Sajed forgot his phone at home. A few minutes after 7:00 A.M., the phone rang and his brother Khalil, 16, answered. Someone on the other end asked, “Where were you hit, Sajed?” and then the call was disconnected. That was how we learned that he’d been injured. My wife got dressed quickly and told me she was going to find out what had happened. I listened to the news and looked on social media. That’s how I found out that a paramedic in the camp had been seriously injured and taken to a-Hussein Hospital. I realized that it was probably Sajed but didn’t want to believe it. Even so, I drove to the hospital immediately.

I got there at about 7:30. My wife and some other relatives also arrived. Everyone tried to calm me down and told me that Sajed had only been lightly injured and was being treated. I saw Sajed sitting in a treatment chair in the intensive care unit. I realized he was in a bad state, but I didn’t understand how bad. We all went out to let the doctors treat him. Then they drove him in an ambulance to a hospital in Bethlehem, and we drove after them.

At about 9:30, we learned that Sajed had fallen as a martyr. We all cried. I heard my sister-in-law shouting, “Oh God, isn’t it enough that you took Arkan?”

I still can’t believe that Sajed was killed. I keep remembering details of his life. I can’t believe that the soldiers shot him while he was performing the human duty of giving first aid and wearing a paramedic’s uniform. Why? Why did they shoot his hopes and his love of life and people? I don’t have answers to these questions.

A few hours after Sajed Muzhar died, the IDF Spokesperson published video footage in Arabic showing a paramedic taking off his identifying vest and throwing stones from a rooftop while wearing a white shirt. The footage was presumably intended to justify the shooting of Muzhar. However, B'Tselem’s investigation clearly found that the person captured on film was not Sajed Muzhar, who was shot at a different location, on the main road of the refugee camp. Therefore, even for purposes of public relations, the footage the military published is of dubious value at best. It certainly does not constitute an explanation or justification for fatally shooting a 17-year-old volunteer medic. His death is one of four that B’Tselem has investigated since the beginning of March, in which lethal gunfire was found to be clearly unjustified.

* On 21 April 2019, media reports stated that an MPIU investigation had been launched.