The Central District Attorney’s Office announced Monday that it had closed its investigation into a pair of Israeli settlers who killed a Palestinian man while acting as chaperones to a bar mitzvah hike in the northern West Bank, saying it was an act of self defense.
The two men, fathers of participants, were investigated on suspicion of manslaughter after the incident ended in the death of 48-year-old Mahmoud Za’al Odeh from the village of Qusra.
The investigation found that during the hike a group of Palestinians began throwing rocks at the several dozen boys on the bar mitzvah event.
The decision said that one of the chaperones had fired a warning shot in the air to distance the rioters and that was the bullet that apparently killed Odeh, who was said to have been among those throwing stones.
After the shooting, a group of the Palestinians converged on a cave below the entrance of Qusra where the Israeli boys were hiding and began attacking them. However, a different group of Palestinians from Qusra came to the aid of the settlers and pushed back the rioters until the army arrived at the scene.
While welcoming the Central District Attorney’s decision to close the probe against the chaperones — two men from the northern West Bank settlements of Yitzhar and Migdalim — the Honenu legal-aid organization that was representing them blasted the police for even investigating the parents in the first place.
“The police in their actions harmed these heroic parents who committed a courageous civic act and defended the children with their bodies, really doing the job of the police and the army,” the right-wing NGO said in a statement.
The group went on to further criticize law enforcement for not bringing the alleged Palestinian perpetrators to justice.
“Dozens of bloodthirsty rioters are walking freely,” Honenu said. “We call on security forces to arrest the rioters immediately and bring them to justice.”
The prosecution confirmed the version of the settlers in the Monday decision, saying that it was the Palestinians who began throwing stones at the settlers and not the other way around.
For their part, Qusra residents claimed that Odeh had been working in his field when he was shot and that the rock-throwing Palestinian mob only arrived at the scene later.
Due to flaws in the identification process, a military courtin January ordered the release Thursday of the main Palestinian suspect in the stone-throwing attack.
Ruling in favor of Muhammad Wadi’s petition to the Samaria Military Court of Appeals, Judge Ronen Atzmon wrote that police had failed to conduct a live identification lineup or even a photo array before bringing charges.
Wadi was not the lone suspect to be detained following the November incident. On December 25, security forces arrested seven Qusra residents in connection with a stone-throwing attack.
Several of the suspects were wanted for involvement in the confrontation, while others were accused of taking part in rioting that followed the deadly incident, or for incitement, the IDF said in a statement. In all, at least 20 other Palestinians were arrested in the case.
The incident significantly raised tensions between settlers and local Palestinians.
The army said the hikers did not coordinate their trip ahead of time or get permission from the military to enter the area, as required by protocol.