'The Soldiers Just Stood There, Helpless:' Left-wing Activists Attacked by Settlers in West Bank Speak Out

'The craziest part was that there were four soldiers there with weapons, unable to protect Israeli citizens' ■ Activists attacked tell Haaretz the story of the roughest settler attack they've endured

The scene of the incident in South Hebron Hills after the attack, August 25, 2018.
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“The soldiers tried to stop the settlers when they were coming to attack us, but they just paid no attention and cursed them out,” two of the six activists assaulted by settlers in the West Bank on Saturday told Haaretz. The activists were attacked in the Mitzpe Yair outpost in South Hebron Hills, and four were hospitalized as a result. 

The activists who spoke to Haaretz, Yossi Pepe Goldman, an organizational consultant, and Michal Peleg, an author, have been active with Israeli-Palestinian anti-occupation group Ta’ayush for many years and have been attacked by settlers in the past, but said that this was the longest and roughest attack they’ve experienced. They estimated that the assault lasted about 20 minutes.

>> Four Israeli left-wing activists hospitalized after reported attack by settlers

According to their testimony, settlers and/or other Israeli Jews, male and female, kicked them, beat them, and “threw us down” a slope, on the rocky ground. They saw four or five soldiers standing by, and said some of the settlers were masked.

Soldiers and activists carrying left-wing Ta'ayush activist Amiel Vardi who was injured in the settler attack, August 25, 2018.
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Peleg told Haaretz that on Saturday morning, she and her five colleagues were called to Kwayes village in the South Hebron Hills, where a Civil Administration force, and the military, had confiscated a resident's work tools. “The man tried to show documents proving that the land was his, but it didn’t help,” Peleg said.

Peleg added: “We told the soldiers how horrible it is to come and confiscate the little bit of belonging such poor people have.” The activists decided to walk up and document an illegal construction site in the unauthorized outpost of Mitzpeh Yair.

“We were just about to start filming when a number of settlers came out and started to yell at the soldiers, demanding they kick us out,” Peleg said.

“Within minutes, maybe just a couple, more settlers arrived, running towards us. The soldiers didn’t manage to prevent them from coming near us, although they wanted to. But they just stood there helpless,” she said.

Soldiers and activists after the settler attack in South Hebron Hills, August 25, 2018.
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A few minutes later the settlers reached four of the activists – Daniel Kronberg, Amiel Vardi, Peleg and Goldman. Guy Butavia and another activist, both at the bottom of the hill, were also assaulted.

“The settlers beat and kicked us,” Goldman said, “then they pushed us down the hill.”

Peleg saw the attackers “flinging Daniel, Amiel and Pepe” onto the ground.

“Daniel’s entire arm opened up from the rusty iron he fell on,” Peleg said. “I was still on the top of the hill with two cameras. Settlers twisted my arm and forcefully removed my cameras, then a few settler women kicked me. They kicked the crap out of me. Then some men came and surrounded me. First they threw out my hat, then they kicked me, threw my bag out, and flung me down the hill, flinging my glasses away. One of the soldiers later helped me find them.”

Peleg said, “a female soldier who was standing by the military jeep called me and told me to come stand next to the jeep. She asked me: ‘Why are you doing this?’ And I remember just saying something like ‘we seek justice.’ And she continued and asked: ‘But look at what they do to you,’ and I said ‘yes, but someone has to stand up to them.’”

Soldiers evacuating an injured activist after the attack in South Hebron Hills, August 25, 2018.
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While Peleg was standing by the jeep the settlers approached her and flung her to the ground for a second time.

“I remember just looking at that soldier standing there, helpless,” Peleg said.

“While I was being beaten, and Amiel was on the ground a few meters from me unable to move, he noticed other settlers running after Guy [Butavia], who was filming from below. Amiel asked me to run to him [Guy], but I didn’t make it. Our sixth friend reached Guy and defended him with his body. The attackers stole his cameras, took his bag and emptied it.”

“While we were lying on the slope, the soldiers asked us to move away but the settlers kept beating us. Amiel [whose ankle later turned out to have been sprained] was unable to step on his foot. At some point, a soldier supported Amiel, with one of us supporting him from the other side, and one soldier behind us, trying to keep the settlers away although they were right behind us and kept trying to attack us. I think more settlers joined with time, many were wearing masks,” Peleg said.

Peleg said that “the entire attack was accompanied by cursing and verbal violence, words like ‘I hope you die, bitch’ and so on. “That entire time, no backup arrived. And the craziest part was that there were four soldiers there with weapons, with the settler security guard [a position funded by the defense ministry and charged with securing the settlement until the IDF arrives] monitoring the settlers’ actions. The soldiers were unable to protect Israeli citizens.”

Goldman, Kronberg, Butavia and Vardi were evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva and released later in the afternoon. The x-rays confirmed no bones were broken, but they were all in severe pain. Goldman’s arm was bandaged; he was hurt in his chest and felt strong pain in his rib cage.

Peleg and the sixth activist returned to Jerusalem. The six cameras the activists had brought were all stolen and disappeared.

Goldman said that while they were in the ambulance, “before we drove off I heard the settlers cursing the soldiers and giving them orders.”

A police officer boarded the ambulance and wrote down the details of the four hurt activists. All had experienced settler attacks in the past, as part of their routine activity accompanying Palestinian shepherds and farmers whom settlers violently try to prevent from reaching their lands. Kronberg’s head was injured and Vardi’s arm broken in the spring of 2017, when settlers from the Baladim outpost attacked them as they were escorting shepherds from the Oja village.