Police say man shot dead by civil defense squad in south after pulling knife on member

20-year-old and 2 others from nearby Bedouin community caught after jumping kibbutz fence; police think break-in not terror-related; man’s family doubts claim he attacked security

Illustrative: Police at the scene of a fatal shooting in the Bedouin city of Rahat, July 21, 2022. (Israel Police)
Illustrative: Police at the scene of a fatal shooting in the Bedouin city of Rahat, July 21, 2022. (Israel Police)

A suspected thief was shot dead by a member of a civilian defense force of a southern kibbutz after pulling a knife on him Saturday, police said.

The man, 18-year-old Juma’a al-Danifri from the Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj, and two others, were spotted jumping the perimeter fence of Kibbutz Retamim. They were detained by the local security squad, police stated.

While they were being questioned, police said al-Danifri gestured for a member of the security team to come closer to him, at which point he tore off his hand restraints and pulled a knife from his pocket.

The security guard shot the suspect. Al-Danifri was later pronounced dead by medical teams at Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center.

Police said they took the other two suspects, also from Bir Hadaj, for questioning.

Based on a preliminary investigation, police believe the infiltration into the community by the three men was a criminal act, rather than terrorism.

“The civil defense squad at Retamim acted impeccably and defended the members of the community and their families,” the head of the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council, Eran Doron, said in a statement.

“After October 7, every thief and criminal that comes to steal should know that his blood is on his own head,” he said, and expressed concern for a “lack of governance” in the area.

Al-Danifri’s father, Jameel, told Ynet that his son had just finished high school and wished to enlist into the IDF’s Golani Brigade.

The elder al-Danifri also vehemently rejected the claim that his son tried to stab one of the civil defense squad members. “They say my son wanted to stab him. That’s not my son,” he told Ynet. “It’s a preposterous claim. This was an 18-year-old who wanted to enlist.”

The 49-year-old al-Danifri called to punish the member of the civil defense squad who shot his son. “If I see he doesn’t get a punishment like any other citizen, it won’t be easy. I’ll sue Retamim and the police. I won’t leave them alone. I’ll go all the way until he’s put behind bars.”

Salim al-Danifri, a relative, told Ynet that the religious Kibbutz Retamim is “a town of settlers,” apparently viewing the community as one that seeks to establish a Jewish presence in the area in place of Bedouins.

“They told us ‘We’re not like other towns in the Negev.’ In other words: ‘Watch yourselves.'” He said. “They think they can act like hilltop youth in the territories. In the past we’ve tried to make up with them.

“The ministers [Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich belong to them,” Salim said, referring to the far-right cabinet members. “The respectful face of the Israeli government has taken a turn with this extremist right-wing government.

He added: “Our anger is because they said he had a knife and neutralized him. After they handcuffed him, they say he tore off the handcuffs. His father went to identify the body and saw that he was shot in the head. We demand [an investigation].”

Salman Ibn Hamid, a Bedouin activist from Bir Hadaj, told Ynet that “there’s a feeling based off police’s initial press release that they’re going to sweep this case under the rug. The version of the story that has him trying to stab and then getting shot, we hear that a lot in the West Bank. It’s a claim they use to protect the shooter. Retamim is a town of people from the West Bank that brought an agenda with them. It comes with them. They use the same code of behavior towards the people of Bir Hadaj.”

Ben Gvir released a statement on the incident, saying that he “gives full backing to the civil defense squad member of Retamim who acted diligently… and took out a person who tried to murder the squad members.

“Here once again it was proven that weapons save lives,” the Otzma Yehudit leader added.

Civil defense squads are made up of residents of communities and are often the first to respond to infiltrations and attacks.

During Hamas’s October 7 massacre, several of the teams in communities near the Gaza border were overwhelmed as they took on dozens of terrorists, sometimes without adequate arms and equipment.

In the south, there have been longstanding complaints from local officials and residents about what they say are intolerable levels of crime, often perpetrated by minorities.

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