National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir reacted Sunday to an incident in which an Israeli settler allegedly shot dead a Palestinian man, praising the arrested gunman and indicating that he should get a “medal of honor.”
On Friday night, Yehiel Indore allegedly fatally shot 19-year-old Qusai Jamal Matan in the neck outside the West Bank town of Burqa, close to Ramallah, on private Palestinian land, according to Palestinian health officials and Israeli defense sources.
“My policy is clear. Anyone who defends himself against rock-throwing should get a medal of honor,” Ben Gvir said in a statement.
According to the PA’s official Wafa news agency, the clashes broke out after settlers attacked the village, whereupon residents confronted them.
However, the right-wing legal aid group Honenu said “dozens of Arab attackers” had on Friday targeted a Jewish shepherd and others who had come from the illegal Oz Zion outpost to help him, with the Palestinians using rocks, clubs and fireworks and the Israelis exercising self-defense.
The leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party — whose ministry oversees policing — also demanded that the police “expedite the investigation and also hold a comprehensive probe of all the Arab attackers who threw rocks and tried to murder Jews.”
A law passed at the end of last year gave the National Security Ministry expanded powers over police, including a vague clause handing it the ability to intervene in police operational activity. The law is being challenged in the High Court of Justice.
By Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had yet to comment on Friday’s incident.
Honenu said Indore was seriously hurt when he was struck in the head by a rock thrown at him, and that he had undergone head surgery and was suffering from a fractured skull and intracerebral hemorrhage.
After Indore was injured, “with his last drops of strength, the settler succeeded in defending himself with his licensed weapon,” Honenu said.
Indore, who remains hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center with police officers stationed at his bedside, and a second suspect who allegedly interfered with the investigation — Elisha Yered, until recently a spokesman for MK Limor Son Har-Melech of Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party — have been ordered held in custody until Wednesday.
Benny Gantz, the leader of the National Unity opposition party and a former IDF chief of staff and defense minister, tweeted that “dangerous nationalist terrorism is developing before our eyes — burning of homes and vehicles, shootings and many cases of taking the law into their own hands, and even harming IDF soldiers.”
Gantz added: “The incident in Burqa — whatever the circumstances — joins a series of incidents causing security forces to be busy chasing Israelis rather than defending them. The price for our national leadership’s silence, for the lack of backing for security forces by the top brass, and for the fact that government and coalition members are supporting these extremists, is an indelible stain on our character and a danger to our security.”
Two coalition lawmakers visited Indore at his hospital bed Sunday, using their expanded freedom of movement as Knesset members to visit the suspect and express public backing for him.
Zvi Sukkot, a Religious Zionism party MK and a former settler activist, told the Haaretz daily that he had spoken to Indore for 40 minutes with police officers in the room, while not discussing the incident or the investigation.
“We hadn’t known each other,” Sukkot said, but “we have mutual acquaintances, and we talked about [Indore himself]… Nobody had any problem with us talking. I see nothing problematic with it. He is a person who acted out of self-defense and I believe him.”
ביקרתי כעת את הפצוע מבנימין.
הבחור עבר ניתוח ראש ועדיין מתאושש מהטראומה שחווה.
ככה נראה אדם שראה את המוות מול העיניים.
קורא למשטרה לחקור בהקדם גם את הערבים שתקפו את היהודים בשטח ולהביא לחקר האמת בהקדם האפשרי. pic.twitter.com/dHb4B2e90v
— צבי סוכות (@tzvisuccot) August 6, 2023
MK Tally Gotliv of Netanyahu’s Likud party also visited, saying in a statement that she was “horrified” by his arrest and accusing the military of lying about the circumstances of the incident.
Calling the arrest an “outlandish phenomenon,” Gotliv said Indore was “no less than a terror victim, who [had the incident occurred] in any other city would have been recognized, and the Palestinians would have found themselves behind bars.”
The IDF said after the incident that according to witnesses, clashes had erupted adjacent to Burqa after settlers from a nearby outpost herded sheep in the area.
Palestinians from the town then approached the settlers to chase them away from what Palestinian and Israeli officials called private Palestinian property, when a verbal confrontation erupted. At one point, both sides began hurling stones at each other, the IDF said, adding that Palestinians also launched fireworks.
“During the confrontation, Israeli civilians shot toward the Palestinians. As a result of the confrontation, a Palestinian was killed, four others were injured, and a Palestinian vehicle was found burnt,” the IDF said in a statement Saturday.
MK Son Har-Melech, Yered’s former employer, slammed the arrests on Saturday evening, likening the shooter to the patrol partner of a Tel Aviv municipal guard killed Saturday evening by a Palestinian terrorist in the coastal city.
“When a patrolman in Tel Aviv kills a terrorist he is met with applause from all the security figures, but when a Jew defends his life in [the West Bank] before an Arab mob that rose up to kill him, he’s arrested while still injured,” she tweeted.
“I suggest security services direct their efforts toward dealing with the nests of terror instead of chasing after [settlers] who hold on to our land with devotion,” added Son Har-Melech.
Son Har-Melech’s post on X — formerly known as Twitter — was deleted on Sunday. She said the reason wasn’t clear to her and that she stands behind every word in her original post.
An unidentified security source told the Ynet news outlet that Yered “has been heating things up in the area for a long while, also leading to a rise in Palestinian terror and rock throwing.”
The outlet noted that Yered had in the past called for the “erasure” of Palestinian villages on social media as well as for “revenge… with blood” for attacks, saying if security forces did not do so, “brave Jews” would.
Earlier this year, he was named by the right-wing Channel 14 as one of “Israel’s most promising young individuals.”
Amid concerns of further violence, the IDF on Saturday declared the area of the deadly incident a closed military zone.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said in a statement that the West Bank was becoming a battleground between Jewish and Arab terrorists.
“The hilltop youth are turning Judea and Samaria into a battleground between the terror of Jewish terrorists and the terror of Arab terrorists,” he tweeted. “It endangers the settlements, which are mostly [made up of] law-abiding citizens, endangers our soldiers, and harming innocents is against every Jewish or democratic value.”
He also denounced “the backing they get from within the most extreme coalition in the history of the state.”
Netanyahu “should harshly condemn the violence that harms national security, the IDF and the settlements,” Lapid said.
The leader of the opposition’s Labor party, MK Merav Michaeli, said: “It’s time to say this loud and clear: The Netanyahu government includes supporters of terrorists and terror. If they want to deport the families of terrorists, they can start with deporting the family of the terrorist settler.”
The United States on Saturday condemned both the Burqa killing and the fatal Palestinian attack in Tel Aviv as “terror attacks.”
Friday’s incident came after several other Palestinians were killed in disputed circumstances involving settlers. In June, a Palestinian was shot dead during a settler rampage in Turmus Ayya that followed a deadly Palestinian terror attack and in February a Palestinian was killed while settlers rioted in Huwara after another terror shooting.
After another incident in February, the Shin Bet joined police in investigating the killing of a Palestinian man near Qarawat Bani Hassan in the West Bank, allegedly by Israeli settlers.
There has been a rise in settler violence in recent months, with the UN on Friday reporting there have been nearly 600 attacks on Palestinians and their property over the past six months.
The riots have been condemned by a number of politicians, including some from the hardline right-wing coalition, but there has been little clear-cut condemnation from settlement leaders.
The government has pledged to hold those behind the settler rampages accountable. Two suspects have since been charged in the Turmus Ayya rioting in June. Five Israelis have been held under administrative detention for their involvement.
Hundreds were filmed taking part in the attacks.
Emanuel Fabian and the Associated Press contributed to this report.