MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now here is a story about people who stepped up and did a good deed but are paying a price for it. That's because the act of humanity was in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a place steeped in stereotypes and animosity. The victims were Israelis. Two Palestinians came to their rescue, but they have faced a lot of different reactions. NPR's Nick Schifrin reports.
NICK SCHIFRIN, BYLINE: In a modest home outside the West Bank city of Hebron, a 28-year-old Palestinian man sits between his doting parents. He has a bashful smile. He asked me not to record his voice, fearing retaliation for the story he's about to tell. On July the 1, he and his wife were driving and saw an overturned van. Inside were Jewish settlers who'd been ambushed by a Palestinian militant. In the backseat, the boy was screaming, his sister next to him wounded badly in the abdomen, their mother in the driver's seat gasping for air. In the passenger seat, their father was already dead.
The Palestinian rescuer wrestled the backdoor open and managed to carry the two kids to his own car. That's when another Palestinian, Dr. Ali Shroukh, arrived. He calls the Palestinian rescuer his brother.
ALI SHROUKH: I stopped to help. It is so dangerous for me and for my brothers, you understand? It's so dangerous.
SCHIFRIN: Dangerous because they feared Israeli soldiers would mistake them for the shooter. But Shroukh and the anonymous rescuer worked free the mother from a seatbelt that was still strangling her.
SHROUKH: One minute when I had been there gave her the life. We give her the life.
SCHIFRIN: But they were criticized by Palestinians who arrived on the scene, some of whom even threatened the surviving children. Palestinians in this community see settlers as moving into captured land, cutting apart their hopes for independence. They even claim Israeli medics have at times refused to help injured Palestinians. But the first Palestinian rescuer shielded the Jewish children, saying - and I'm quoting him here - "they're under my protection."
Soon Israeli medics arrived and the Palestinians dispersed. But that wasn't the end. While the doctor has faced few problems - his profession gives him cover - the first rescuer has faced withering Facebook criticism. He was called a spy and traitor for helping Jews. His employer fired him. That's why he wants to remain anonymous.
This is where Yochai Damari comes in. He is the head of the local Jewish settlers' council and spoke to me through an interpreter. He says the slain father, Rabbi Mickey Mark, was one of his best friends.
YOCHAI DAMARI: (Through interpreter) We went every morning and go for prayers. We would study Torah. We would talk about life.
SCHIFRIN: Damari admits he's vilified Palestinians in the past. But the incident seems to have changed him. He is asking Israel's government to help the Palestinian rescuer find a new job.
DAMARI: (Through interpreter) We live in stereotypes of bad people and good people. He made sure that the children were not hurt and were not kidnapped. It moved me a lot to know that there are people there who don't want to kill us. When the stereotypes break, I think this is very important.
SCHIFRIN: It hasn't been easy for the Palestinian rescuer or his parents. But when I told them a settler leader had called him a hero, his mother responded with a story. She said earlier this year, her son had been in a very bad motorcycle accident. He had to be revived. And at first, the doctor had told her her son was dead.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) I rushed to the hospital. And I looked at him as he was badly injured and I said, get up, get up. I want you to help people. Live in order to help others. And my son helped others. He lived in order to make others live.
SCHIFRIN: Her son did live and fulfilled his mother's vision. He says stereotype prevents Israelis and Palestinians from seeing each other as people. He said he only wished that acts of humanity weren't considered political. Nick Schifrin, NPR News, outside of Hebron.
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