One of the two Israeli settlers who the military said shot dead an unarmed Palestinian man who broke into their outpost in the northern West Bank on Friday morning is currently on trial, accused of unjustifiably shooting two Palestinian men during a clash this summer.
The man, Eitan Ze’ev, had his gun taken away after the incident in July, but Israeli authorities said that he used a weapon to open fire at a Palestinian man who allegedly tried to break into his house on Friday. Ze’ev’s attorney, Adi Keidar, refused to comment on the matter, saying he was unfamiliar with the details.
One of the people who argued for Ze’ev to have his weapon returned — though it was not immediately clear if this effort succeeded — was Col. Yiftah Norkin, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Efraim Brigade. Norkin deemed Friday’s infiltration into the Sde Efraim Farm outpost an attempted terror attack, thus justifying the use of lethal force — though it was not clear on what basis this assessment was made.
A spokesperson for the Israel Police’s Judea and Samaria Division, the Biblical term for the West Bank, said that since the IDF had ruled the Friday incident an attempted terror attack, no criminal investigation had been launched.
Many questions about the incident in the predawn hours of Friday morning remain unclear, including how the Palestinian suspect intended to carry out a terror attack without a weapon, as none was found at the scene. The military has not responded to requests for clarifications.
According to the IDF, at roughly 3:45 a.m., Khaled Maher Nofal, a 34-year-old resident of the next-door village of Ras Karkar, drove his car into the illegally constructed Sde Efraim Farm outpost, northwest of Ramallah. According to the military, the unarmed Nofal tried to break into the home of Eitan Ze’ev, the owner of the farm, but the door was locked.
Another settler from the outpost heard the commotion and came outside, alerting others to what was going on. According to the military, Nofal ran at the Israeli man and attacked him. The man pushed Nofal away and then a third resident of the outpost, as well as the owner of the house, both armed with guns, opened fire at the Palestinian man, killing him, the IDF said.
The military would not explicitly identify Ze’ev by name, but an IDF spokesperson confirmed that the owner of the house was also the owner of the farm, indicating that it was indeed Ze’ev. A police spokesperson also confirmed Ze’ev’s involvement.
Ze’ev was indicted in September for aggravated assault after he shot two Palestinians during an altercation over a piece of land in July. His trial is ongoing; the most recent hearing was held Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear how Ze’ev came to be in possession of a gun. According to the Makor Rishon newspaper, Ze’ev was remanded to house arrest as of September and his handgun was not returned to him. Norkin, the commander of the local IDF brigade, argued in favor of Ze’ev getting his gun returned last year, saying that “he and his employees, from my interactions with them, have avoided altercations with their Palestinian neighbors.” Neither the police nor the military confirmed that Ze’ev’s pistol had been returned to him. A police spokesperson indicated that the pistol used on Friday morning may have belonged to Ze’ev’s wife.
According to the IDF, Norkin determined the incident on Friday to be an attempted terror attack, despite the unusual circumstances — the early hour, lack of a weapon — and the limited physical evidence, thus justifying the use of deadly force against Nofal.
An IDF spokesperson said the army’s description of the event was based almost solely on the testimonies of the settlers involved in the incident. This included details that they likely could not have known.
For example, the IDF said Nofal “ran toward the house” from his car. However, at this stage of the event, supposedly no one else was present at the scene, nor were there security cameras to capture the moment, and so it was not clear how the IDF determined this. The military similarly said Nofal yelled “allahu akhbar” — an Arabic phrase meaning “God is great” that has often been shouted before terror attacks — during the incident, a claim that would only have come from hearsay.
The head of the Ras Karkar council, Radi Abu Fkheyda, told The Times of Israel that Nofal, who was married and had a four-year-old son, was a local tax assessor who worked for the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Finance in nearby Ramallah.
“It’s an unclear situation: his family didn’t know he had left in the middle of the night to go to Risan,” said Abu Fkheyda. Risan is the name of a hilltop, formerly part of Nofal’s village Ras Karkar, upon which the Sde Efraim Farm outpost was established illegally. “This young man had a steady job as a government clerk in Ramallah, assessing property taxes. No one knows why he went there.”
According to Abu Fkheyda, Nofal’s family owned a piece of land in Risan close to Sde Efraim. He said he did not know what happened in the settlement outpost, but believed there had been no justification to shoot Nofal.
“The settlers regularly bother us and even sometimes throw stones and are violent. We see that the army backs them up. The army should investigate what happened, but they won’t,” Abu Fkheyda said.
Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh claimed “settlers confiscated [Nofal’s] land and set up settlement caravans on it… Nofal was shot dead by settlers on his confiscated land in Ras Karkar.”
Following the incident, IDF troops raided Ras Karkar. According to Palestinian media, the soldiers detained Nofal’s father and brother, bringing them to the scene of the crime to identify his belongings.
Settlers from the Sde Efraim outpost have clashed with local Palestinians in the area in the past, notably in the case last July.
In that incident, Ze’ev and six others went to a plot of land outside the Palestinian village of Biddya in order to work it. There, they encountered a group of dozens of Palestinians from Biddya, who blocked their way out. According to the settlers, the Palestinians also threw rocks at them.
According to the indictment against him, Ze’ev then took out his pistol and told the Palestinians to leave the area, firing his gun next to one of them. The bullet struck another Palestinian man at the scene, moderately wounding him.
The charge sheet does not specify how that clash between the Palestinians and the settlers broke out, with each side saying the other side started it. The case garnered national attention, with right-wing politicians and activists praising Ze’ev, saying he acted in self-defense after being attacked by Palestinians.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.