‘This vest should've protected him’: Friends mourn Palestinian teen medic killed by Israeli army
When 17-year-old Sajid Mizher and his friends, a group of volunteer paramedics, left their homes in the Dheisheh refugee camp amid violent clashes before dawn on Wednesday morning, they had no idea it would be their last deployment as a team.
Locals in the camp, located in Bethlehem city in the southern occupied West Bank, told Middle East Eye that Israeli special forces raided the camp around 3am in search of wanted Palestinians, sparking small clashes with residents.
During the clashes, Israeli soldiers shot and killed the high school student, despite him wearing a reflective vest clearly marking him as a medic.
Two Palestinians, whose identities remain unknown, were reportedly arrested in the camp.
“Once the clashes died down, and we saw no one was injured, we sat down to take a picture together before we went home,” 25-year-old Hamzeh Sarasra, Mizher’s friend and a fellow volunteer, told MEE.
“We had no idea it would be our last photo together as a team.”
According to Sarasra, Israeli forces re-entered the camp in large numbers around 6am, leading the medic group to deploy once more.
“It wasn’t long before the soldiers started to retreat from the camp again,” Sarasra said. “But on their way out, they started shooting live ammunition at people.”
“We took the injured down to the main street and sent them in ambulances to the hospital.”
What was until then a typical night for the group of volunteers turned into their worst nightmare, Sarasra said.
“Sajid had spotted someone on the other side of the main road who was injured, so he started to run towards the guy, but as he did we saw him fall down.”
Sarasra and the rest of the group then rushed to Mizher’s side, thinking he had simply gotten a cramp in his leg.
“Even though we heard gunshots we didn’t think they would shoot Sajid,” he said. “He was wearing a bright orange medic vest with nighttime reflectors. Why would they shoot him?”
The friends put Mizher into a private vehicle and drove him a few hundred metres down the road to an ambulance.
‘Dum dum’ bullet to the abdomen
According to Sarasra and other medics present at the time, Mizher was still highly responsive and communicating when they arrived at the Beit Jala governmental hospital.
“He was speaking to us, and told us to call his mum and tell her he was going to be alright,” Sarasra said.
After he called Mizher’s mother and “told her everything was going to be okay”, Sarasra accompanied the wounded teen to Beit Jala’s Arab Society Hospital a few minutes drive away.
“He was still conscious when we took him to the second hospital,” Sarasra told MEE. “He was awake, laughing, joking around with us as he always did.”
But after only an hour at the Arab Society Hospital, doctors pronounced Mizher dead.
“He was shot with a ‘dum-dum’ bullet in his abdomen, the kind that explode when they are inside your body,” Sarasra said.
“So all this time when we thought he was okay and he was going to recover, the bullet was expanding and wreaking havoc on his organs, causing severe internal bleeding,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mizher’s neighbours, friends, colleagues and hundreds of other Palestinians, gathered outside the Beit Jala governmental hospital awaiting the teen’s funeral procession.
A group of fellow medics stood weeping in a corner, as they remembered their boisterous friend and colleague.
“I worked many times with Sajid,” a tearful 17-year-old volunteer medic, Salsabil al-Tamimi, told MEE. “The last time we were together was on the day of the Palestine marathon just last week.”
“We were sitting, taking pictures together, anticipating our tawjihi results,” she said, referring to the final high school exams, the results of which are expected to come out next month.
“We used to talk about our futures, what we would study at university,” she said.
Holding back tears, Tamimi went on to describe Sajid as a boisterous and kind person, who took his work as a volunteer medic very seriously.
“You could have put him in clashes on his own, and he would have been able to care for all the injured by himself,” she said.
Echoing Tamimi, a bereaved Sarasra spoke of his friend with a smile. “Anyone who knows Sajid knows he is always smiling and laughing.”
“His dream was to finish tawjihi. This year was his last year of high school,” he added. “Just last week, he was joking about how we all had to throw him a party when he graduates.”
“But the occupation came and stole his dreams, just like they did to his cousin last year,” he said, referring to 14-year-old Arkan Mizher, who was also killed by Israeli forces during a raid on Dheisheh last summer.
‘This was his resistance’
In every account of the night’s events, Mizher’s friends and colleagues expressed outrage and shock at the fact that the teen was shot despite clearly being marked as a medic.
Palestinian Authority Minister of Health Jawad Awwad condemned the killing, calling it a "war crime" and a "blatant violation of international agreements that grant medical teams protection in war and conflict zones".
According to the ministry, Israeli military forces have shot and killed four Palestinian medics in the West Bank and Gaza in 2019 while they were on the job.
“This occupation does not differentiate between medics and those throwing stones,” Sarasra told MEE. “For them, we are all the same.”
“He was wearing his uniform. This uniform should have protected him, it should not have been a reason to kill him,” he said, highlighting the case of Razan al-Najjar, and other Palestinian medics who have been killed by Israeli forces.
Sarasra condemned Israeli media and officials who consistently describe any Palestinian killed by Israeli forces as a “terrorist”.
An Israeli army spokesperson told MEE on Wednesday afternoon that the case was “still being reviewed”.
“They will try to justify his death by saying the soldiers were responding to clashes, and then the army might say it was a mistake,” Sarasra said.
“But how can you mistakenly shoot someone wearing a bright reflective medical vest?”
“Sajid was a good person. You can see this through his work. He wasn’t paid to do this, but he chose to save his people.
“That was his resistance to the occupation. The resistance is not just with guns and stones, but also with medics, journalists, and others.”