QUSRA, West Bank — It began as a bar mitzvah hike by means of rocky, biblical terrain. It ended with a Palestinian man shot dead and 20 traumatized Israeli schoolchildren sheltering in a cave from Palestinian stone-throwers.
The Palestinian man, Mahmoud Zaal, 48, was from Qusra in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and his widow has given that added a sobriquet to his name: “Habib al-Ard,” Arabic for lover of the land.
In the course of a confrontation — how it began is a matter of dispute — Mr. Zaal was most probably shot by a parent escorting the college group, according to nearby residents, legal representatives and the Israeli authorities.
This is the story of 1 Palestinian village and an adjacent settlement in the hills south of Nablus — formerly friendly communities now tinged with hostility and suspicion. The deterioration reflects the broader strife from a volatile mix of populations, 50 years of Israeli occupation and a competition over the very same land that is only intensifying.
The bar mitzvah celebration set out from the settlement of Migdalim on the morning of Nov. 30 to celebrate Avitzur Libman, 13, whose family members moved there a couple of years ago. Most of his classmates came from other settlements nearby, like Yitzhar and Itamar. Two fathers accompanied them, armed with an M-16 rifle and a pistol. The father suspected of shooting Mr. Zaal is a senior officer in Israel’s military reserves.
Igal Kassus, a longtime resident of Migdalim, ran into the celebrants ahead of they left and warned them to keep away from Qusra. They said not to be concerned — they had been heading to the hilltop outpost of Kida, via the valley and up the steep inclines dotted with olive groves.
Belying its pastoral setting, the location has long been a problems spot. Settlers who think the land was promised to them by God walk through it to assert their presence and claim ownership. Local Palestinians view such hikes as a provocation and they have led to violent confrontations.
The region has also been the scene of horrific violence. Two Palestinians stabbed 5 members of a household to death in their beds in Itamar in 2011. Four years later, a deadly arson attack by Jewish extremists in the Palestinian village of Duma, visible from Mr. Zaal’s land, killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents.
Mr. Zaal had been waging his own, quiet campaign to defend his land. He had planted six acres with pistachio, fig, apricot, apple and olive trees, vines and berries for the birds. “He worked his land in an try to cease the settlers moving in,” stated Mahmoud Odeh, a cousin. “He turned the whole location into a paradise.”
That November morning it was stained with his blood. There appears to be tiny doubt that Mr. Zaal was killed soon after the settler armed with the M-16 opened fire. The settlers have hailed that man as a hero, saying he fired into the air to save the children’s lives as Palestinian youths pelted them with stones.
Residents of Qusra, such as Mr. Zaal’s oldest son, Awad, 23, who was with him at the time, insist that the stone-throwing started only after Mr. Zaal had been shot.
Both sides agree, much more or less, on these information: To safeguard the youngsters, the two fathers pushed them into a cave. Palestinian youths blocked them from leaving, continued to throw stones at them, and robbed them of wallets, snacks and cellphones. Two older Palestinian men worked to calm the scenario and prevent the violence from getting worse. Israeli soldiers arrived about 40 minutes later and extricated the group. The man suspected of shooting Mr. Zaal was treated at a hospital for a superficial head wound.
The Israeli military’s investigation concluded that the Palestinians had attacked the settlers very first and that the escorts had opened fire in self-defense. It criticized the settlers for not coordinating their hike with the army in advance. The organizers said they had sent an e mail describing the route to the regional command but had not received a reply.
The Israeli police have also been investigating the escorts, as is routine in such situations, seeking into no matter whether the shooting was justified or regardless of whether they caused the death by negligence. The escorts were questioned but were not arrested. On Wednesday, the police mentioned their investigation had so far backed up the settlers’ version: that the Palestinians attacked very first and that the hikers discovered themselves in a life-threatening circumstance.
But Awad, Mr. Zaal’s oldest son, mentioned there was practically nothing random about the shooting and insisted that his father had posed no danger. Sitting by his grieving mother at home recently, he stated his father had gone out to farm alone, but had referred to as him at around ten a.m. and asked him to come speedily simply because a settler was approaching.
The settler, carrying an M-16, ordered them off the land, Awad stated, but they refused. The settler shot after in the air, repeated his demand then fired when a lot more, hitting his father in the upper body, Awad said, ahead of fleeing downhill.
“I saw his face and I saw him pulling the trigger,” Awad mentioned. “He could have shot me as an alternative of my father.”
Mr. Zaal’s widow, Manal, 46, is now searching for assist to finish a house he had started developing closer to their land. “Our God will not forget,” she mentioned. An additional son, Ahed, 18, mentioned of the settlers: “We do not go there. They come to us.”
The adult escorts have not been identified in the news media for their security. When the name and photograph of the principal suspect was posted on a Qusra Facebook web page, it drew death threats against him. Honenu, a correct-wing legal help organization, asked the police to order the posting removed. It has considering that been taken down.
Adi Keidar, a Honenu lawyer representing the escorts, said Awad’s version did not fit with any other testimony he had heard. Mr. Keidar suggested that due to the fact of the rough, steep incline of the land, it was challenging to see what had been happening and exactly where folks had stood.
“If they had panicked there would have been a disaster,” he mentioned of the parents. “They remained coolheaded.” The children, he stated, “saw death before their eyes.”
Eran Schwartz, a spokesman for Honenu from Yitzhar, and other folks briefed on the information of the episode, mentioned the man suspected of shooting Mr. Zaal was unaware that he had hit anybody at the time.
Qusra has since been seething with clashes between Palestinians, Israeli forces and settlers who have attempted to revisit the cave. One particular of Mr. Zaal’s cousins stated with a hint of sarcasm that the settlers now regarded as the cave a holy site. The path under it is now planted with tiny olive saplings and strewn with bullet casings.
One evening the army raided Qusra and arrested 22 residents suspected of involvement in the recent disturbances. At dawn on Dec. 8 soldiers closed off the village while the settlers recreated the bar mitzvah hike as a “positive experience,” accompanied by some appropriate-wing politicians.
This week the Israeli military announced that 1 of these arrested, Muhammad Wadi, was getting charged with attempted murder soon after he hurled rocks at the head of one particular of the adults inside the cave.
Qusra residents keep in mind when items had been different. Migdalim was established in the 1980s as a secular settlement, and residents would shop in Qusra, operating up monthly tabs at the grocery retailer.
Four years ago a group of religious, more nationalistic settlers moved into some empty homes there and rapidly filled a new neighborhood of trailer houses. Migdalim has now doubled in size, from about 40 households to far more than 80. The once-well-liked Balaclava pub, which used to operate more than the Sabbath, has closed. A synagogue has been constructed.
Amir Odeh, 19, 1 of two young males from Qusra who have been shot and wounded during the recent skirmishes, was functioning on residence renovations in Migdalim. He calls the original residents “the Jews” and the newcomers “the settlers.”
“All the problems started considering that they came,” he stated.
Mor Shoshani, 27, who was born and nevertheless lives in Migdalim, bemoaned in a Nov. 30 Facebook post what he referred to as a “takeover” of the settlement by religious extremists.
1 of the religious newcomers, Rivka Harel, 34, who moved into a cramped trailer with her loved ones 3 years ago, stated she hoped the very good relations with Qusra would continue.
Mr. Kassus, 62, an artist and a constructing contractor who moved to this windy hilltop a lot more than 20 years ago, employs workers from Qusra, speaks Arabic and maintains friendly relations with all the surrounding villages.
“I was naïve,” he mentioned of when he 1st arrived. “I believed it was a matter of talking to men and women and building trust.”
Getting grow to be far more religious a few years ago, Mr. Kassus has welcomed the influx of new families.
But in the end, he stated, the newcomers’ much more radical outlook is that “the Arabs have a lot of areas to go,” and “all this land should be Jewish.”
Published at Fri, 22 Dec 2017 15:14:20 +0000