Several left-wing Israeli and Palestinian activists were wounded in the south Hebron hills on Friday afternoon after the Israeli army dispersed a protest in the area.
In one video from the incident, which took place near the illegal West Bank outpost of Avigayil, an Israeli officer can be seen forcefully shoving an activist in his 60s to the ground; he was later hospitalized. The clip circulated widely on Israeli social media and television channels.
The military claimed demonstrators had violently blocked the road to Avigayil, a charge demonstrators vociferously deny. Around 40 activists participated in the event, which aimed to raise awareness over inequality in access to water between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank.
“We weren’t even close to Avigayil. Nobody touched a soldier, nobody had contact with a soldier, until the soldiers shoved [the demonstrators] off the road,” said Lexie Botzum, an American Jewish activist who attended the protest.
In videos from the incident, the Israeli commanding officer can be seen repeatedly shoving apparently peaceful demonstrators off the road leading to the outpost. In one clip, he can be seen hurling left-wing demonstrator Eli Ziv, 65, to the ground. Ziv was later hospitalized in Tel Aviv with broken bones and facial injuries. He is set to undergo surgery this week.
“I have been participating in demonstrations in the Occupied Territories for 40 years. But I have never seen such blatant use of violence against Israeli demonstrators as I saw today,” said Meretz parliamentarian Mossi Raz, who attended the demonstration.
In a statement, the Israeli army said that “a violent demonstration” took place after activists gathered near the entrance to the West Bank outpost Avigayil, thus necessitating the use of crowd control.
“The demonstrators began to block the entrance to the town, tried to physically attack the soldiers, cursed, threatened and even lay on the wheels of the military vehicles,” the Israeli army said in a statement.
But the army added that videos showing the commanding officer shoving demonstrators were being investigated.
סמג״ד הנדסה בדרום הר חברון לא כובש את יצרו מול פעיל שלום, שליווה הבאת מיכלית מים לבני המקום ביחד עם פעילי @cforpeace1 וסיים את האירוע עם חשד לשבר בארובת העין וצלעות שבורות. ״ותדע כל אם עבריה״? בושה לצבא שאלו מפקדיו. הכיבוש משחית ואלו פניו המכוערים.@gantzbe @IDFSpokesperson pic.twitter.com/mZgtwaJNTK
— Yoav Groweiss يوآف غروفايس (@yoav_gro) September 17, 2021
“The officer’s conduct as reflected in the video does not meet what is expected of an Israel Defense Forces officer — the incident is being investigated and lessons will be learned accordingly,” the Israeli army said in response.
Demonstrators dismissed allegations that they had attacked soldiers, with one calling the accusations “utterly fabricated.”
“If they want to say that, let them present one video that shows violence,” said Tuly Flint, an Israeli activist in the left-wing Combatants for Peace group who helped organize the protest.
According to demonstrators, Israeli soldiers began firing tear gas about two minutes after the protest began. Several demonstrators were wounded after the canisters were launched into the crowd, including two Palestinians who were struck directly.
“There was tear gas fired everywhere with reckless abandon. You couldn’t even call it crowd dispersal, because we’d already been dispersed,” said Sam Stein, a left-wing American-Israeli activist.
“There was no call to disperse, nothing. The first thing we heard from them was the tear gas and the sound grenades,” Flint said.
Five demonstrators, including Flint, were arrested during the course of the protest. The Israeli army said Israeli police undertook the arrests, but photos from the scene appear to show the activists being blindfolded and detained by soldiers.
In Flint’s case, an officer can be seen placing his knee on his neck as soldiers detained him. All the activists were released several hours later without charges.
“We didn’t resist. We believe in non-violence, we don’t resist agents of the law. To splay me out on the ground and choke me with a leg on my neck — it was totally redundant,” Flint said.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who serves as Meretz’s party leader, demanded “a thorough investigation” by Israeli authorities.
“Violence by soldiers against peace activists must stop,” Horowitz said in a statement.
The south Hebron hills have long seen high tensions between Israeli soldiers, Palestinian residents, and nearby Israeli settlers. Many of the Palestinian towns in the area lie in an Israeli military training zone. The Israeli army views their presence as illegal and repeatedly demolishes unlicensed Palestinian construction in the area.