Security coordinators for a pair of Israeli communities in the central West Bank have been interrogated under caution by military police for their role in a clash that resulted in the death of a Palestinian father of four in January, settler leaders said Monday.
In an open letter to IDF Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, the leadership of the Amichai settlement and the Adei Ad outpost, whose coordinators were interrogated, said military police summoned the security officials on Sunday ostensibly to provide additional testimony regarding the January 26 incident. But shortly after their arrival the two were notified that they were being investigated under caution.
Military police also confiscated the two security coordinators’ phones as evidence.
Hamdi Na’asan, 38, was shot dead during the Saturday afternoon clash, which involved settlers, the IDF and Palestinians.
There are conflicting claims regarding how the incident unfolded. Local Palestinians say the settlers fatally shot Na’asan during an altercation, but residents of the neighboring Adei Ad outpost claim their security guards fired shots in the air to chase away Palestinians attackers who stabbed a Jewish teen.
In the days after the clash, military police summoned the security squad coordinators for questioning and confiscated their weapons in order to determine which fired the bullet that killed Na’asan. However, the IDF asserted at the time that the two Israelis, who maintain that they acted in self-defense, were not being interrogated as suspects.
The IDF did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday’s interrogation of the security coordinators.
“We expect you to act swiftly to complete the investigation and remove the cloud that overshadows the ability of the security coordinators and the security squad to act for the sole purpose of ensuring the safety and security of our residents,” the settler leaders wrote to Central Command.
They took particular issue with the military police’s confiscation of their phones, saying that it would prevent security coordinators in the region from being in touch with one another in cases of emergency.
Moreover, the settler leaders argued that the conduct of authorities “creates a negative balance of fear that will prevent the position holders from fulfilling their duties as expected. How is a security coordinator expected to protect residents while knowing that immediately after each action, he will be summoned for an interrogation under caution?”
Many settlements have civilian security teams composed of residents who are usually army veterans. The teams train regularly and serve as a first response unit during security incidents until the IDF or police arrive at the scene.
The January incident caused considerable uproar, with both Israelis and Palestinians claiming that the army had not done enough to protect them.
The IDF said initial indications were that a settler from Adei Ad had a “physical confrontation” with several Palestinians and was slightly hurt.
“Shortly thereafter, a conflict erupted between Israeli civilians and Palestinians in the area, in which live rounds were fired by the civilians,” the IDF said in a statement. “One Palestinian died and several others are injured.”
It said that troops and border police responding to the altercation used “riot dispersal means” to break up the disturbance, not live ammunition. Palestinians from al-Mughayyir have disputed that assertion, claiming that they saw soldiers firing at them along with settlers.
In a statement to the media, the 19-year-old Israeli who was allegedly attacked said he had walked 200 meters (600 feet) from the outpost for some solitude when “suddenly I saw three Arabs who ambushed me. They attacked me, hit me, and tried to drag me toward [their] village. I managed to escape to Adei Ad, and on the way I realized I had been stabbed in the hand. I saw blood.”
The teen said he got in touch with the outpost’s security squad and “they gave chase to the attackers.” He added that he was lightly injured, but did not require hospitalization.
Audio recordings obtained by Hadashot news appeared to show the army being called, half an hour after the clash started, by a local settler who said that the Adei Ad civilian security team had been sent to the village. The caller was told by the army officer that “we are not dispatching forces to that.”
Twenty minutes later, a member of the security team called the army again, saying, “We are talking about immediate threat to life.” The caller confirmed to the army dispatcher that he was talking about al-Mughayyir and the dispatcher replied that a Border Police force was already at the scene. However, the security team member said that the force was south of the village and apparently not at the location of the clash.
For their part, Palestinians in al-Mughayyir have said that save for arriving at the scene to collect evidence in the days that followed, the military police has not reached out to them for testimony, rather relying solely on the settlers’ account.
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov called Nasan’s killing “shocking and unacceptable!” on Twitter, saying that Israel “must put an end to settler violence and bring those responsible to justice.”