Mahmoud Awad - 21.3.2011
Mahmoud Awad, who was stabbed by a masked man and rushed to a Hebron hospital March 21, 2011. Photo by Operation Dove
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A masked man stabbed a Palestinian man riding a donkey near the village of al-Tuwani Monday morning. Friends of the victim said that Mahmoud Awad, 25, who lives in Tuba, was on his way to a doctor's appointment in Yatta.

One villager said that around 7:30 A.M. he heard calls for help and ran outside, to see a man running east, in the direction of the outpost of Havat Ma'on. He said he recognized the man as one of a number of settlers who often harass the villagers. Villagers say the lack of response on the part of the police and IDF to their complaints about the harassment only encourages the settlers.

Villagers recognized Awad, who sometimes grazes his flocks with them, and called an ambulance. As of last night he was recovering from injuries in his right shoulder and the right side of his chest at a Hebron hospital, according to an Italian volunteer.

Police officers and soldiers arrived on the scene almost immediately, followed, after Awad's evacuation, by Shin Bet security service investigators. The initial witness showed them photographs of the man he suspected, taken during an incident on Saturday.

Last week a number of 15-year-old olive trees were damaged. According to villagers, on Sunday night unknown persons threw rocks at a home near the edge of the village. On Saturday, according to villagers and activists from both Israel and Italy, a group of settlers harassed a number of shepherds from the village who were grazing their flocks. Three of the settlers were masked.

According to witnesses - as well as a short film by Nissim Mossek of the Ta'ayush Arab Jewish partnership - the settlers ran among the villagers' sheep and goats, shouting and kicking them. Border Police officers were largely ineffectual in chasing away the settlers, and an IDF unit came and declared the grazing land a closed military area. One villager told Haaretz that two of his goats miscarried after the incident.

Mossek says one of the settlers shouted that he would first kill Jews like him. The video shows another man calling Mossek, in French, a kapo who helps the Nazis.

Border Police officers tossed shock grenades at the Palestinians and arrested two villagers who, according to other al-Tuwani residents, tried to protect their herds and the children herding them. Mossek's film shows five or six Border Policemen beating up an elderly villager, who passed out while they roughed him up.

According to villagers and Ta'ayush activists, the incidents were typical of the harassment that Palestinians throughout the southern Mount Hebron area face from settlers in the area. They say that instead of removing the perpetrators the IDF declares the places where the incidents take place - grazing pastures or farmland - closed military areas, effectively achieving the settlers' goal of keeping the Palestinians from tending to their crops and their flocks.

In a response statment on Saturday's incident the IDF Spokesperson's Office said it contained "violent physical friction between the residents and the Palestinians, and the area was declared a closed military zone in order to end the friction and prevent casualties. The incident will be investigated by the commander of the Judea Brigade, Col. Guy Hazut, within a few days."

The villagers arrested in Saturday's incident - a minor identified as "H." and Amjad Raba'i - were ordered yesterday to remain in custody while the investigation continues. In a custody hearing in the Ofer military court the suspects' attorney, Neri Ramati, requested their release. Police representative Master Sgt. Dror Ben Simon argued that the suspects are a flight risk and that they pose a danger because the minor detainee tried to run away during his arrest. Ben Simon claimed that the minor confessed to throwing two rocks and stated that Raba'i had thrown one rock. The officer also quoted soldiers at the scene as saying "that the Palestinians created the trouble."

Ramati showed Mossek's film to the court, and asked the judge, Lt. Col. Ronen Atzmon, "to pay attention to the fact that it is the settlers who are attacking the Palestinians." Atzmon accepted Ben Simon's arguments.