Standing on the roof of his brother’s home, adjacent to his own house, Maher Nofal points to the unauthorized settler outpost that was established on his family’s land on the slopes of the hill across the way. It’s over there, in the wood cabin, that the man who shot Maher’s son lives. Just a few hundred meters separate the cabin and the sheep pens that were built illegally on land belonging to Nofal’s sister, from his house in the village of Ras Karkar, northwest of Ramallah. Only a few hundred meters between the bereaved father and the person who killed his son. Now, at this very moment, a young man from the village arrives to say that he saw the shooter again driving his all-terrain vehicle not far away, armed with a rifle – undoubtedly the same weapon that killed Khaled, Maher’s son. That weapon was not confiscated, and no charges were brought against the settler who fired it.
On one occasion the rifle belonging to the settler, a farmer named Eitan Zeev who lives in the Sde Ephraim outpost and allegedly shot Khaled, was confiscated. That was last August, when he shot and wounded a Palestinian from the village of Bidiya. In September, Zeev was charged with causing serious injury under aggravated circumstances – such an indictment is a rare, almost unimaginable occurrence when it comes to settler violence, which only attests to the seriousness of what he did – but since then he’s been free and his trial hasn’t begun. The commander of the Israel Defense Forces Binyamin Brigade, Col. Iftach Norkin, intervened to get the rifle returned to settler-shooter Zeev, and – oddly and outrageously – had submitted a favorable character opinion of him to the court to consider last fall. But ultimately the rifle wasn’t returned to its owner, despite the efforts of the brigade commander, the settlers’ protector.
Last Friday, in the depths of the night, Zeev shot another Palestinian. This time he also killed him. The rifle, it is said, belongs to his wife or one of his workers. The deceased’s family show us a photograph: Zeev getting a certificate of esteem from Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, for his bold act of shooting of a Palestinian last summer, the one for which he trial. Undoubtedly, he’ll be receiving yet another certificate of appreciation soon.
We will never know what happened at the entrance to Eitan Zeev’s house in the illegal outpost of Sde Ephraim in the early morning hours of last Friday, February 5. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit rushed to issue its own account of the incident as conveyed to the army by the shooter and people who work with him on his farm: “A preliminary investigation at the scene indicates that at 3:45 A.M. a terrorist drove his car fast into the territory of the Sde Ephraim farm, crossed the entire area of the farm and stopped his vehicle next to the threshold of the door of the farm’s owner. The terrorist emerged from the car and ran toward the house of the farm’s owner shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great], while trying to breach the door, which was locked. At the same time, the farm’s guard spotted the terrorist and started shouting to the other guards, who were sleeping in an adjacent structure. The terrorist continued running toward the farm’s guard, who was not armed, and tackled and fought with him. Another guard neutralized the terrorist with his weapon together with the farm owner, who also came out with a weapon. The terrorist’s body and vehicle were searched by bomb disposal experts, and no weapon was found on the terrorist.”
After that, of course, there’s no longer any need to investigate anything: Those who did the killing gave their account. But the questions continue to linger uneasily: What was a young accountant, who works for the Palestinian Finance Ministry, a married man who is a father and was about to move with his family into a new apartment, doing at the outpost in the dead of night? What was he intending to do there? And was it necessary to kill him even though he was not armed and in fact did not endanger anyone? Those questions will forever remain unanswered.
The bereaved family, gathered in a handsome apartment building in Ras Karkar, wants the body of their loved one returned for burial, at the very least, but the Israeli authorities, as is their custom, are refusing. Maher Nofal, the father, is a renovation contractor and electrician of 61 who has worked all his life in Israel and the settlements – most recently in Hashmonaim. His voice cracks occasionally as he speaks.
Khaled was 34, a graduate of Birzeit University in accountancy. His two brothers are lawyers. Khaled worked in the Palestinian tax authority in Ramallah. He was married to Suzanne Nofal, a Jordanian-born architect, also in her 30s, who moved to the territories. The couple has one child, Yusuf, who’s 5. A family photo shows the father and his little son both dressed in suits. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, mother and son have been in Amman, living with her parents, and now they can’t get back to the village because the Allenby Bridge crossing is closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
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Last Thursday, Khaled was in his office in Ramallah as usual, Maher tells us, and afterward he went to have his car repaired at a local garage. He returned home in the afternoon and had dinner with his parents. Maher and his son arranged a visit the next day, Friday, to the new apartment in Ramallah to which Khaled was planning to move.
Khaled wanted to move to the apartment, which belongs to the family, in order to be closer to his place of work. Maher said he would help Khaled make a few final repairs and renovations before the move. His plan for Friday was to install the gas and hook up the shower. Most of the furniture and other items had already been moved to the Ramallah location. Khaled told his father that he had also ordered a cleaning company for Friday to prepare the apartment for the move. Khaled’s mother, Ibtisam, 56, said she would go with them to the apartment and had already prepared the meal she would take with. Then they watched television and Maher went to sleep. He would never see his son again.
At 6 A.M. Maher awoke to heavy pounding on the door and quickly realized it was the army. The soldiers asked for his ID card and wanted to know where Khaled was. Maher was certain his son was sleeping in the first-floor apartment, above that of the parents. The soldiers had him speak by phone to a Shin Bet security man who asked him a few questions about Khaled. No one told him what had happened.
“They wake you up early in the morning and all the thoughts rush into your head, but I didn’t understand anything,” Maher recalls. “I was confused. They asked about Khaled, so I realized that something had happened to him.” Afterward Maher noticed that Khaled’s car, a 2007 metallic-silver Opel Corsa, wasn’t in its parking space. He was certain Khaled had gone to the new apartment during the night. “Khaled is a homebody. He could be either here or in the new place,” his father says now.
The soldiers took Maher to the military watchtower at the entrance to the village, where the Shin Bet “captain” who had spoken with Maher on the phone was waiting for him; on his cellphone the man showed him pictures of Khaled’s car and of his shoes, jacket and shirt. Maher didn’t recognize the shirt and shoes. The Shin Bet man said that the car had been found in Sde Ephraim but that Khaled hadn’t yet been located. The security service captain sent Maher on his way and said he would call him as soon as he found out where Khaled was.
He hasn’t called to this day.
Maher returned home and in short order got a call from the Palestinian Authority: Your son was killed in Risan, the Palestinian name for the area where Sde Ephraim is located. From the Israeli media Maher learned that his son had entered the outpost unarmed, perhaps even barefoot according to one account, and was shot and killed there.
The hills around Ras Karkar are strewn with wild outposts, a cabin here and a cabin there. This is the area of the Talmon settlement and its satellites. According to Maher, Israel is deliberately bringing criminals to live there, in order to sic them on Palestinians. “It’s a land mine you [Israelis] have brought here so that we will step on it and be blown up. All your garbage you bring to the territories. You have turned us into a garbage dump. The person who killed Khaled is also a criminal.”
He’s sitting at home talking to us, still trying to grasp what happened to his son. “I’ve thought and thought about it. If I go by what was said in Israel, either my son left the village and wanted to get to Ramallah, and settlers at the intersection took him by force to Sde Ephraim, or he went there on his own – I have no idea why. He had never been there, why should he go now? No one dares go there. I’m all mixed up. I don’t know anything. I don’t understand what happened. All my children, three sons and two daughters, went to university, they are all educated, they are all pampered, we lack for nothing and we never caused problems. Forty years I’ve worked in Israel and I’m a member of the village council, and neither I nor my children ever had any problems.”
Twenty-two years ago, in 1999, Maher himself was wounded in a stabbing attack by a young man in the Chabad neighborhood of the city of Lod. At the time he had a Jewish business partner, someone who was like a brother to him, he says, and they were working in construction together in that neighborhood, when a young man attacked him from behind and stabbed him in the chest. Maher was taken to Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, as it was then called, and hospitalized; the stabbing had wounded his lungs. When he returned to work, he relates, the whole neighborhood came to apologize to him. Someone even offered to conduct a sulha, a ceremony of forgiveness, according to the Arab custom, but Maher says he refused and moved on. His assailant was sent to the hospital for the mentally ill in Be’er Yaakov.
“I don’t know what to say,” he adds in his fluent Hebrew, and for the first time tears well up in his eyes. “You [Israelis] think we’re not human beings. I understand one thing in life: A person is a person, it makes no difference whether he is an Arab or a Jew. You took our land by force, at least don’t take our children.”
He then opened the door of his son’s locked apartment, from which he was to have moved this week. It’s almost empty. Only the piles of clothes on the floor and the photographs of Yusuf, the blond toddler who smiles from the sky-blue walls of his room, which are decorated with teddy bears, testify that a week ago there was life here.