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The holes in the ambulance back windows. Photo by Manal al-Ja’bri, 20 November 2018
From the field

Settlers, in view of Israeli soldiers, stone ambulance en route to Tel Rumeidah, Hebron, to pick up Palestinian patient

On the night of 17 November 2018, Firyal Abu Haikal, felt unwell. A resident of the Hebron neighborhood of Tel Rumeidah, she is 72 years old, has eleven children and suffers from hypertension.

In a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 22 November 2018, she said:

On 17 November 2018, at around midnight, I wasn’t feeling well. I checked my blood pressure and saw it was higher than usual. I called the Red Crescent hotline right away and asked for an ambulance. I was worried my condition would get worse by the time the ambulance came. I called a few times to get the ambulance to hurry up and every time they told me the ambulance was on its way. I sat holding the phone the entire time, waiting, but the ambulance didn’t come. When I called again, they told me settlers had thrown stones at the ambulance.

About fifty Palestinian families live in Tel Rumeidah, a neighborhood subjected to severe restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli military years ago. The restrictions, which were stepped up in 2015, together with repeated attacks by settlers have made the lives of the local residents a living hell.

B’Tselem’s investigation revealed that after receiving Abu Haikal’s call, the Red Crescent coordinated the arrival of the ambulance with the Israeli military via the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross). The Red Crescent must follow this protocol due to the Israeli-imposed travel restrictions in the neighborhood. The ambulance set out to Abu Haikal’s home with a 2-person crew, which included senior paramedic Taher Tahabub, 56, who was behind the wheel, and paramedic ‘Eid Abu Munshar, 46. The ambulance crossed the checkpoint at the entrance to the settlement of Giv’at Ha’avot (Giv’at Ha’avot/al-Muhawel Checkpoint), where soldiers checked the ID cards of the ambulance crew members and searched the vehicle itself. From there, the ambulance continued through the al-Awqaf/Tnuva Checkpoint, located across from the settlement of Avraham Avinu and the old market. From there it proceeded to Gross Square, where there is a staffed military watchtower. When the ambulance reached the square, a group of about 15 settlers suddenly blocked its path. Some of them pounded on the ambulance windows, while others verbally abused the crew members, who sounded the ambulance siren to attract the attention of the soldiers at the watchtower. One soldier climbed down and approached the ambulance, at which point the settlers began throwing stones at it. Several stones penetrated the two back windows.

Paramedic ‘Eid Abu Munshar, married and father of six, described the incident in a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bri on 20 November 2018:

Paramedic ‘Eid Abu Munshar next to the ambulance. Photo by Manal al-Ja’bri, 20 November 2018

The place was completely deserted except for the settlers. This area is off limits to Palestinians. We turned on the siren to get the soldiers at the watchtower at Gross Square to help. I saw a soldier climbing down from the tower and another one coming toward us from the direction of what used to be the vegetable market. I shouted to the soldiers from inside the ambulance to get the settlers away. At the same time, the settlers started throwing stones at the ambulance. Some hit it. Six stones came in through the windows and made holes in the two back windows. The stones didn’t hit us because we were sitting up front, but small glass shards did hit us in the head. Luckily, we weren’t hurt.

The two soldiers didn’t intervene and didn’t speak to the settlers. One of them talked on his walkie talkie. I tried filming the settlers on my cell phone, and when they noticed they ran off toward the old vegetable market.

Five minutes later, Civil Administration officers arrived in a military vehicle. One of them asked me, in Hebrew, what happened and whether I could identify the assailants. I told him that the soldier standing there had seen them and that I was sure he knew them. The officer asked the soldier whether he had seen the settlers, and he replied that he had. Meanwhile, two more military vehicles and one Israeli police car drove up. A police officer got out, checked the ambulance and asked me if we planned to file a complaint. I said we did, and he said we’d have to go to the police station in Kiryat Arba. He asked if we were going to go from there to the patient’s house. We told him we couldn’t, because the entire back of the ambulance was full of glass shards and we had to get back to the emergency center.

The officer escorted us to the Giv’at Ha’avot checkpoint in the police car. From there, we drove on to the emergency center.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian DCO contacted the military. At around 1:30 A.M., a military doctor came to Abu Haikal’s home with Civil Administration personnel and examined her. Then, given Abu Haikal's condition, the Civil Administration called a Red Crescent ambulance for her. The second ambulance came from the other side of the neighborhood, driving through the Qafishah Checkpoint at its western entrance. It arrived within about half an hour and took her to ‘Aliyah Hospital in Hebron, where she was examined and treated to lower her blood pressure. Abu Haikal was discharged two hours later.

The regime imposed by Israeli authorities in Hebron's city center is explicitly based on the “principle of separation”: both legally and physically segregating between Palestinian residents and Israeli settlers. Palestinians are denied any possibility of leading reasonable daily lives, and their freedom of movement is curtailed to the point of making life unbearable. This policy reflects Israel's clear prioritization of settlers over the rights of Palestinians. The preferential treatment of settlers is also why attacks by settlers against Palestinians are not investigated and the assailants are rarely held to account, although there are security cameras all over the city. Without any attempt at deterrence, cases such as the one described above are bound to recur.

Broken glass on the stretcher inside the ambulance. Photo by Manal al-Ja'bri, B'Tselem, 20 Nov. 2018