Ex-police commanders: Ben Gvir seeking to ‘taint’ probe into shooting of Palestinian

Forum of retired brass sends letter to heads of police and Shin Bet warning that national security minister is trying ‘to interfere in a criminal investigation’

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir seen during a meeting with police officers from the Yasam riot control unit, in Tel Aviv on August 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir seen during a meeting with police officers from the Yasam riot control unit, in Tel Aviv on August 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A group of former police chiefs and senior officers sent a letter on Sunday to Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar expressing concern that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is seeking to “taint” the investigation into the killing of a Palestinian in the West Bank.

Two settlers — one of whom is a former aide to an MK in Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party — were arrested on Saturday on suspicion of involvement in the killing of a young Palestinian man in the West Bank on Friday night.

In the letter to Shabtai, the Retired Police Commissioners and Major Generals’ Forum pointed in particular at Ben Gvir’s praise of the arrested shooter, including saying the suspect should be awarded a “medal of honor” rather than be investigated.

“The remarks by the minister in charge of police are an effort to interfere in a criminal investigation, distort its direction and taint it,” the former officers wrote. They also asserted that Ben Gvir had reached out to the police commander in the West Bank in an effort to sway the investigators probing the incident.

The ex-officers called on those investigating the incident to “conduct yourselves professionally… and ignore any requests from any sources, with the aim of reaching only the truth.”

On Friday night, 19-year-old Qusai Jamal Matan was fatally shot in the neck in the West Bank town of Burqa, close to Ramallah, according to Palestinian health officials and Israeli defense sources. He was buried on Saturday. According to the PA’s official Wafa news agency, clashes had broken out after settlers attacked the village, leading residents to confront them.

Elisha Yered, suspected of involvement in the death of 19-year-old Palestinian Qusai Jamal Matan in the West Bank village of Burqa a day earlier, arrives for a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, August 5, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The two main suspects have been identified as Yehiel Indore and Elisha Yered, a former spokesman for the far-right Otzma Yehudit party’s MK Limor Son Har-Melech. Indore, who was seriously injured during the incident, is believed to be the person who shot Matan, while Yered is suspected of obstructing the investigation.

On Sunday, Ben Gvir stated, “My policy is clear. Anyone who defends himself against rock-throwing should get a medal of honor.” He 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.”

Son Har-Melech also slammed the arrests of Indore and her former aide, saying Sunday that “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.”

Bar, the Shin Bet chief, reportedly warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the incident that Jewish terrorism in the West Bank was fueling Palestinian terrorism.

The comments, reported Sunday by Yedioth Ahronoth, led several coalition MKs to criticize Bar, whereupon Defense Minister Yoav Gallant came to his defense.

“I strongly condemn the statements of Knesset members insulting the head of the Shin Bet, and suggest that they retract them and apologize for their words,” Gallant said. “Any attack by public figures against the Shin Bet harms the security of the nation and its citizens.”

Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security agency, speaks at the annual Cyber Week event at Tel Aviv University, on June 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Two coalition lawmakers — Religious Zionism MK Tzvi Succot and Likud MK Tally Gotliv — visited Indore at his hospital bed on Sunday, using their expanded freedom of movement as Knesset members and expressing public backing for him.

Gotliv proclaimed that Indore was “no less than a terror victim,” while Succot asserted that the suspect clearly “acted out of self-defense.”

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.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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