Testimony: Israeli activist blindfolded, mugged, beaten by settlers

Testimony: Israeli activist blindfolded, mugged, beaten by settlers
Protected by an Israeli soldier, a masked settler threatens activists with a stick in front of the Maon settlement during a solidarity march in the South Hebron Hills, September 22, 2012. (photo: Activestills.org)

An Israeli activist decided to spend his Yom Kippur in the South Hebron Hills, providing humanitarian and political support to Palestinian residents there who suffer daily from military occupation and settler violence, and who have also come under threat of being uprooted from their homes to make way for an IDF firing zone.

As he told me, the morning after the holiest day of atonement (September 27), he found himself laying on the ground, after being blindfolded, mugged, beaten and threatened by three Israeli settlers outside the illegal outpost called “Avigail.” While he was pinned down and being beaten, they said they would make an example out of him for all the ‘leftists.’

As has become all too prevalent to those familiar with these parts, the IDF and police rarely if ever arrest or take any action against settlers who commit crimes. Almost exactly one year ago on September 30, 2012, 23 Palestinians and Israelis were attacked by a mob of settlers in Anatot, near Jerusalem. To my knowledge, none of those assailants were ever arrested or questioned. Similarly, in this case, it is hard to believe the assailants will be brought to justice.

Here is an abridged version of his testimony that I translated:

I was accompanying a Palestinian shepherd near the settler outpost of Avigail. During the night the settlers positioned a bulldozer in the area, but had not started any construction work yet. According to Israeli law, the outpost is illegal, so any construction work in this area is of course illegal. But the authorities in the area do nothing about it.

I decided to get closer to the outpost to document what was going on and make my presence known. A police officer in uniform showed up in a civilian car – I thought he was coming to address the illegal construction being done, but then he disappeared into the outpost and I didn’t see him again. I only learned later on that he lives there and had just returned from a night shift.

A settler emerged from the area of the construction work and came right up to me and started heckling me, telling me to go back to Tel Aviv and that I am endangering the settlement by filming. He proceeded to push me, kick me in the leg and repeatedly tried to shut off my camera. I told him to stop attacking me, that I am filming to document and protect myself, that I am not being violent. He returns to the car and pulls two Palestinians who were apparently working for him – the whole time accompanied by a settlement security guard and an IDF soldier guarding the entrance to the outpost, who just stood by.

The soldier then made a call to report that there is an Israeli present filming but that I do not present a security threat, so there’s nothing he can do. Then he disappeared and I remained suddenly all alone for a few minutes in front of the outpost’s gate.  A man whose face was covered started walking closer to me, all the while I was still watching over the shepherd down in the valley to make sure he was OK. Suddenly this man started walking right up to me, so I quickly made a call to a fellow activist to let him know what was going on and that I felt threatened.

The settler started shouting at me, “turn off the camera!” and I said “first take off your face cover.” Then I head a noise and turned around. I saw two more people with their faces covered, running towards me. All three jumped on me, pushed me to the ground, kicked me and pulled my keffiyeh off my head that was protecting me from the sun and used it to blindfold me tightly. They also started choking me like crazy, I had no air, I tried to pull their hands off my throat to gasp some air. I screamed and they covered my mouth, twisted my arm, hit me on my head. Then they pinned me down with my back to the ground and held my arms in order to search my pockets, pulling out my keys and personal belongings while stepping on my hands. They picked up stones and threw them at my hands.

Fearing the worst, I tuck in my legs and try to protect my stomach and groin area. They took my I.D. from me and read aloud my personal information and said they would make an example out of me for all leftists. They threatened to come to Tel Aviv and harass my family. Then they discussed what they should do with me – one suggesting they tie me by the hands and feet and make me run on the street. Suddenly they just walk away and leave me there. They ultimately took all my belongings, including a video camera, my personal camera, my mobile phone and I.D.

I see an army jeep and wave at the soldiers to come over, though they doesn’t seem to be in any rush to reach me. I explain I had just been attacked. I started pointing and walking towards where where the assailants escaped to, with the army following me. I see what looks like the guys who just attacked me, pretending to suddenly be in the middle of construction work. I tell the soldiers that they must be the people who just attacked me (though their faces were covered) and to search them, since my belongings must be somewhere on them. The soldiers then responded by telling me I was being detained!

After half an hour the police finally got there. They did not go to question he perpetrators, who were left to walk around freely inside the outpost with my stolen belongings. Instead they told me to file a report, which I eventually did. However, the entire time while being questioned about what happened, I was treated as if I was the one that did something wrong. The guy seemed more interested in getting home quickly and I did not believe I would get justice anyway. I just wanted to get out of there.

*I will be sure to write follow-up reports should there be developments to the story.