Palestinian hurt in alleged settler attack still in prison, settlers not questioned

Hafez Hureini, injured along with a settler in a violent incident in the Hebron Hills, has been in detention since Monday; no settlers involved have been questioned by police.

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Masked settlers approach a Palestinian man on private Palestinian land close to the Havat Ma'on illegal settlement outpost in the south Hebron Hills, in an incident on September 12, 2022. (Screenshot)
Masked settlers approach a Palestinian man on private Palestinian land close to the Havat Ma'on illegal settlement outpost in the south Hebron Hills, in an incident on September 12, 2022. (Screenshot)

A Palestinian man whose arms were both broken during a violent incident involving masked settlers from an illegal settlement outpost had his detention extended on Monday for the second time.

Hafez Hureini, 52, from the village of At-Tuwani in the south Hebron Hills region, has been in detention in the Ofer military prison since the incident last Monday, on suspicion of attempted murder. He is the only individual involved in the skirmish who has been questioned under warning or arrested. He was ordered held until Wednesday.

None of the five settlers who were involved has been questioned or arrested.

Despite the police claiming they need to keep Hureini in detention due to a concern that he may interfere with the investigation if released, the police have failed to carry out the investigative steps they said they needed to take in order to prevent such interference.

During a hearing in the Judea Military Court on Monday morning, a representative for the police, Senior Chief Sergeant Rafi Sabag, acknowledged that the police had not carried out three investigative operations which they had previously said were necessary to prevent obstruction of the investigation.

The police therefore requested on Monday that Hureini’s detention be extended by another nine days, in order to complete the investigation, but Judge Major Mazi Maknon granted only a three-day extension, noting the police’s failure to progress with the investigation in a timely manner.

Maknon was critical of the police for failing to complete the investigation and described the request for a nine-day extension for Hureini’s detention as “disproportionate,” especially when “it appears that the investigation is not progressing as would have been expected and while others involved [in the incident] have not been arrested or questioned under warning in order to clarify in detail what happened.”

Initial reports of the event claimed that Palestinians had attacked settlers close to the Havat Ma’on settlement outpost and severely injured one of them, Itamar Cohen, who was hospitalized as a result of his injuries.

Head of the Hebron Hills Regional Council Yochai Damri said immediately after the incident, “This was an attempted murder. The security services must act decisively against the attackers and restore deference and security to the residents of the region.”

A video that subsequently emerged, however, and which was obtained by the Times of Israel, clearly shows that masked settlers instigated the incident, arriving at the site, which was on private Palestinian land, armed with metal and wooden poles, and attacking the Palestinians there, some of whom also had wooden poles.

One of the Israelis involved in the incident was an off-duty, serving IDF soldier armed with an M-16 assault rifle who fired seven warning shots in the air during the attack.

The very choppy footage shows one of the masked men, presumed to be Cohen, approaching and then attacking one of the Palestinian men, who appears to be Hureini, who was carrying a hoe at the site.

The man presumed to be Cohen then continued the attack, but the rest of the incident was out of the camera’s range, and the next time Cohen appeared, he was lying on the floor, having apparently suffered a blow or been shoved to the ground.

He stood up and walked away, but had apparently sustained a serious head wound and was later hospitalized in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

Hureini has acknowledged in court that it is possible he struck one of the settlers in the head with the hoe during the skirmish but insisted he was doing so in self defense.

Hureini was also hospitalized in Soroka and had his broken arms put in plaster casts before being incarcerated in Ofer prison.

Security forces at the scene of an apparent brawl between Israeli settlers and Palestinians near the settlement of Ma’on in the South Hebron Hills area of the West Bank, on September 12, 2022. (Courtesy)

The police representative in court on Monday acknowledged that the site of the attack was private land belonging to Hureini, and that Cohen would likely be questioned once he leaves hospital.

The police representative said unsuccessful efforts had been made to find and question the other settlers, despite the fact that their identities are known to the police and some of them filed complaints against Hureini at the Hebron police station.

Hureini’s attorney, Riham Nassra, also pointed out that the attack was ostensibly initiated by the masked, armed settlers on Hureini’s private land, and argued that whatever action Hureini took was in self-defense.

She also dismissed the police’s justification for continuing Hureini’s detention, namely that he could interfere with the investigation, since the police have not questioned other Palestinians involved in the incident with whom Hureini might coordinate accounts, should he be released.

“A group of masked men come armed to someone’s private land and initiated an attack and here [in court] is someone with two broken arms,” said Nassra.

“A man on his land, faces a man with an iron bar, a man with a wooden club, and a man with a gun. How should he act in order to stay alive?”

The police did not reply to a request for comment as to why the steps required in the investigation to prevent interference are yet to be completed, nor why the settlers involved in the incident have not been questioned.

Nassra said in a statement that “By refraining from questioning the settlers who attacked my client on his land, the police have harmed the investigation it is supposed to be conducting. I hope and believe that the extension of the detention will be the last and that Hafez Hureini will be released on Wednesday.”

According to the Kerem Navot settlement watchdog organization, there is a long history of violence emanating from the Havat Ma’on outpost, with 60 incidents reported since 2017.

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