No Settlers Questioned After Palestinian Shot Dead in the West Bank

Despite conflicting accounts of the Saturday incident, police sources say members of the Adei Ad outpost's security squad are not regarded as suspects

Adei Ad outpost in the West Bank, January 27, 2019.
Emil Salman

The Israel Police in the West Bank, investigating the shooting death of a Palestinian man in an altercation Saturday involving Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents of the village of Al-Mughayyir, has yet, as of Sunday evening, to question any member of the Adei Ad outpost's security squad.

The investigation into the fatal shooting of Hamdi Taleb Na’asan was launched on the same day. Police issued summonses to members of the outpost’s security squad to provide their account of the incident, but the its community committee confirmed that no testimony was taken from those involved. 

Police sources said that at this stage, the individuals from Adei Ad were being called in as witnesses and not as criminal suspects. Weapons were confiscated from the settlers, however, and they were given replacement weapons until ballistics tests are performed.

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File photo: Undated photo of Hamdi Taleb Na'asan, Palestinian resident of Al-Mughayyir who was shot dead in clashes with Israeli settlers and soldiers on January 26, 2019.

The Israeli army has also launched an internal investigation into the incident. The outpost's committee said members of the security squad have been asked not to speak with members of the press due to the army’s investigation.

The settlers, the Palestinians and the army all have different accounts of the events. The settlers claimed on Saturday that army troops that came to the scene employed only riot-dispersal weapons fire, but on Sunday, the settlers said the army had also used live bullets.

The Palestinians from Al-Mughayyir confirmed that the army used live fire, but the army itself has denied that. The army said the settlers were the only ones who used live weapons fire.

The settlers have admitted to employing live weapons, but they said it was used in self-defense against Palestinians who were throwing rocks at them and endangering their lives.

Before the shooting, clashes broke out in an olive grove near Al-Mughayyir village between Palestinians and a group of settlers who came from Adei Ad. Residents of the outpost said the clashes began after an outpost resident was stabbed.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah said the Palestinian who was killed, a 38-year-old father of four, was shot in the back, adding that 10 other Palestinians were wounded by gunfire in the incident, three of them seriously.

Palestinian demonstrators are seen through a burning tire during clashes with Israeli forces in al-Mughayyir village near Ramallah, West Bank, January 27, 2019.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Speaking on Saturday, United Nations Middle East Envoy Nickolay Mladenov called the incident “shocking and unacceptable” and added: “Israel must put an end to settler violence and bring those responsible to justice. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the Palestinian man killed and those injured. All must condemn violence, stand up to terror.”

While the settlers place sole blame for the incident on residents of Al-Mughayyir, the latter said that they were attacked by people from Adei Ad.

There are unanswered questions in all three versions of the events.

The settlers gave conflicting accounts on Saturday. According to the first version, a group of hikers from Adei Ad was attacked near Al-Mughayyir and one of them called civilian security squad from the outpost, fearing that the Palestinians would abduct one of the settlers.

According to the second version, which has since become the official version, a settler teen who does not live in Adei Ad went to the outskirts of the Al-Mughayyir, where he was attacked by Palestinians.

The teen says that he was a few meters from the southernmost house in the outpost when he was stabbed by three Palestinians. He sustained minor injuries, he said, presenting a wound on his hand. He said that the Palestinians tried to drag him toward Al-Mughayyir, but he managed to get away and call the outpost's security squad for help.

The settlers said that the squad identified the three Palestinians who had attacked the boy and followed them toward the village. At that point, a few dozen Palestinians had gathered at the edge of the village and threw stones.

Relatives of Palestinian Hamdi Na'asan react as his body is brought into a hospital morgue, Ramallah, West Bank, January 26, 2019.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

The settlers conceded that they had used live fire. At first, they said the squad fired into the air and then one of them fired “in self-defense.” They said their lives were in danger, yet they are not sure if they were the ones who shot and killed Na’asan.

The settlers said on Sunday morning that IDF soldiers and Border Police personnel arrived at the scene after the initial fire. According to the settlers, the forces used riot control measures and also fired live rounds.

It is unclear why the security squad left Adei Ad, because their mandate does not entitle them to operate outside the outpost. It is also unclear why civilian responders were summoned instead of the soldiers who were on duty at a guard post near the outpost.

The army doubts that the teen was stabbed. In an IDF spokesperson’s statement on Saturday night, the army said that there was a confrontation between the army and the Palestinians.

The statement also said that “a conflict erupted between Israeli civilians and Palestinians in the area, in which live rounds were fired by the civilians.” As far as the army knows that was when the Na’asan was shot and killed, before the army arrived. The army said “several” Palestinians were injured in the incident.

The army rejected claims by the settlers and the Palestinians that it fired live rounds and said that it only used riot control measures to disperse the disturbance that developed in the village.

The unanswered questions: Did the IDF and the Border Police respond using only riot control or did they use live fire?

Al-Mughayyir’s mayor, Faraj Na’asan, told Haaretz that a group of settlers tried to attack some of the houses in the northern part of the village. “They opened fire toward the houses and the village, and dozens of young men came out who were hit by settler fire.” After the settlers attacked them, the Palestinians called for help by phone.

In Al-Mughayyir people deny that the settlers were attacked by Palestinians, and said that the settlers instigated the aggression. According to the Palestinians, both the army and the settlers fired live bullets. “We don’t know exactly who was struck by the soldiers’ bullets and who from the settlers’ bullets, but no doubt some people were wounded by bullets from the settlers, who attacked the houses without reason,” the mayor said.

According to the Palestinians, the soldiers and the settlers shot at them as they fled, explaining why Na’asan was shot in the back. But how do the Palestinians explain the story of the stabbing, considering that the teen did have a stab wound on his hand? It is also still unclear what Na’asan’s role was in the incident.