Palestinian said shot dead by settler while harvesting olives in West Bank

Bilal Muhammed Saleh, 40, was reportedly part of a group working outside their village near Nablus; IDF says combat soldier on leave was involved in incident, it is investigating

A video appears to show Israeli West Bank settlers in an incident near Nablus in which Palestinians say a settler shot dead a Palestinian olive farmer, October 28, 2023 (video screenshot)
A video appears to show Israeli West Bank settlers in an incident near Nablus in which Palestinians say a settler shot dead a Palestinian olive farmer, October 28, 2023 (video screenshot)

A Palestinian man was shot dead by a settler as he harvested olives near the West Bank village of As-Sawiya, Palestinians said Saturday.

Bilal Muhammed Saleh, 40, was allegedly shot in the chest. His death was confirmed by the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry.

According to Haaretz, Saleh was part of a group harvesting olives outside the village near Nablus when they were attacked by settlers. A number of olive groves were apparently attacked in the area.

In a video circulating on social media, which does not show how the incident began, it appears that there is a group of at least four settlers dressed in white. At one point, what sounds like a gunshot can be heard.

According to Haaretz, the settler who fired the fatal gunshot was an off-duty IDF soldier, who emerged from the nearby settlement of Rehelim with members of his family shortly before the shooting.

The Israel Defense Forces told Haaretz that a “violent conflict” broke out between a number of Palestinians and Israeli citizens near Rehelim, and a Palestinian was reported killed. “From an initial inquiry, it appears that an IDF soldier on leave took part in the incident. An investigation has been opened to find out the circumstances of the incident,” the IDF added.

Sami, Saleh’s uncle, told Haaretz that he was nearby during the incident and “it was totally quiet… there was nothing before, no conflict.” Sami said that his family “was trying to be responsible” considering the tense atmosphere and therefore went to harvest on Saturday, when they believed it would be quieter.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan issued a rare video statement on Shabbat describing the incident: “This incident is a simple incident,” he claimed, saying that the settler family involved was “upstanding,” and a father and “son, a combat soldier on weekend leave” were “attacked with rocks by dozens of wild Hamas supporters.”

The son, claimed Dagan, “fired in the air to protect the life of his father and younger brothers… the details are clear and straightforward. A family was attacked and I completely back the on-leave soldier who protected his family.”

Israel’s Yesh Din rights group said on Monday that there had been over 100 incidents of settler violence and harassment against Palestinians in at least 62 Palestinian towns and communities in the West Bank since Hamas’s savage assault on Israel on October 7, and the beginning of Israel’s military campaign against the terror group in Gaza.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday made a point of criticizing Israel for not clamping down on settler violence, while continuing to back Jerusalem’s military operations in Gaza against Hamas, which staged a bloody incursion into Israel on October 7, slaughtering some 1,400 people — mainly civilians — and taking some 220 hostages into the Strip.

“I continue to be alarmed by extremist settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank,” Biden said, adding that the violence is “adding fuel to the fire.”

“They’re attacking Palestinians in places they’re entitled to be… it has to stop now,” he said.

Biden has urged Netanyahu during phone calls in recent days to ensure that Israeli authorities are preventing growing incidents of settler violence, fearing that spiraling tensions in the West Bank could significantly exacerbate the current Gaza war, the Axios news site reported Wednesday.

Yesh Din said that in various incidents, settlers have stolen Palestinian property such as solar panels and generators, and carried out acts of vandalism such as torching homes and vehicles and uprooting trees. The group claimed that not a single settler has been detained, arrested or investigated following the assaults. The police did not respond to a request for comment.

The rights group said settler violence is frequently aimed at displacing Palestinian communities in a bid to take control of their homes and lands. Entire shepherding communities have been forced to evacuate since the beginning of the year in response to an uptick in settler violence, according to the group.

On Wednesday settlers fired warning shots in the air when confronted by unarmed anti-settlement activists in the South Hebron Hills region. In another incident, settlers attacked Palestinians harvesting olives outside the village of Burin in the northern West Bank, reportedly destroying and stealing some of their equipment and belongings.

Both incidents were filmed.

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