Police announced Wednesday that an investigation into a November clash between Palestinians and settlers has thus far reinforced the claims of the settlers, who maintain that residents from the neighboring village of Qusra attacked them while they were hiking outside the town.
On November 30, a group of several dozen Israeli youths, chaperoned by a pair of fathers, had embarked on a tour of the northern West Bank to celebrate the bar mitzvah of Elitzur Libman.
They departed the Migdalim settlement and continued past Qusra, southeast of Nablus. There, dozens of Palestinian residents began throwing rocks at them, according to the group.
One of the armed chaperones opened fire, killing 48-year-old Mahmoud Za’al Odeh.
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.
The incident significantly raised tensions between settlers and local Palestinians.
While police, in their Wednesday statement, did go as far as to say that the manslaughter charges would be dropped against the parent escorts, a spokeswoman for the Israel Police’s West Bank District said she believed that would soon be the case.
“The investigation of the two accompanying parents is expected to be completed in these days and the investigation file will be forwarded for review and decision of the Central District Attorney’s Office,” police said.
The statement justified the chaperones’ actions, saying they indeed felt that the Palestinians “posed a danger to their lives along with the lives of the youths, and that the shooting was carried out in self-defense.
Adi Keidar, an attorney from the right-wing Honenu legal aid organization, praised Wednesday’s announcement. However, he said, police arrests of the 20 Palestinians were insufficient. Claiming that hundreds of Qusra residents had taken part in the clash, he said families of the youths on the hike “expect that any offender who took part in the incident be prosecuted and placed behind bars.”
Police said that in addition to the indictment filed against Muhammad Wadi for what is the equivalent to attempted murder, charges are also “expected to be filed” against four other Palestinians who allegedly participated in the clash. Files pertaining to their conduct were transferred to the military prosecution, which is expected to reach a conclusion in the coming days.
Wadi — one of 20 Palestinians arrested in connection with the incident — was accused of entering the cave where one of the adult chaperones was sitting with the boys, and throwing large stones at them from a short distance, some of them aimed successfully at the chaperone’s head.
For their part, the Wadi family released a statement denying the charges against Muhammad. “The residents of Qusra are victims of ongoing settler harassment under the auspices of the army and the police.”
The family insisted that the clash only began after the settlers provocatively entered the village and shot Odeh who was working his field along with his 5-year-old son.
“Everyone knows that this time, as well as many times in the past, the family protected the lives of settlers who had entered the village.”