Settler kills Palestinian protester

Mutaz Hussein Hilal Bani Shamsa, 23, was fatally shot by an Israeli settler near Huwwara checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on 18 May. An AP photographer was shot and injured by the settler in the same incident.

Ayman Ameen APA images

An Israeli settler shot and killed a young Palestinian man in the northern occupied West Bank on Thursday.

Mutaz Hussein Hilal Bani Shamsa, 23, died shortly after he was shot in the head by the settler who opened fire at a group of protesters. The settler also shot AP photographer Majdi Eshtayya, injuring him in the hand.

Shamsa was one of about 200 Palestinians who had gathered at the Huwwara military checkpoint, near Nablus, to demonstrate in solidarity with the mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strike that entered its second month this week.

Also on Thursday, Israeli soldiers fired on demonstrators at a protest in Ramallah, wounding at least one Palestinian.

Following the shooting of Shamsa and Eshtayya, the settler fled the scene, running over several Palestinians and crashing into an ambulance on his way.

The video above shows that Israelis fired tear gas and other dispersal weapons at the protesters, forcing them to retreat.

Another video of the same scene, after the protesters’ dispersal, shows the settler’s vehicle, a silver hatchback, stopped by the ambulance. Through the tinted windows, it shows what appears to be the settler firing his gun again.

On Friday, the army and Shin Bet secret police arrested the man who was allegedly driving the ambulance that the shooter ran into, claiming he blocked the man’s escape. The army also seized the ambulance.

Shooting in “random manner”

The United Nations and the Associated Press are calling for a full investigation into Thursday’s shooting.

Israeli police have already stated that the settler is not considered a criminal suspect, while the army said the incident is under review.

Ahmad Jibril, the head of the ambulance and emergency department at the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told the Ma’an News Agency that he saw the settler get out of his vehicle and open fire at Palestinians “in a random manner.”

Jibril also reported that the settler crashed into three people and a Red Crescent ambulance after he shot Shamsa and Eshtayya.

The settler has said his vehicle came under attack by protesters and claimed he fired his gun in self-defense.

“Praise God, fortunately I managed to get away after looking death in the face. They almost lynched me,” the shooter said in a videotaped statement that he made to the police after he filed a complaint against the Palestinian protesters.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that “he refused to answer additional questions.”

The police distributed the settler’s statement to the media and immediately came to his defense.

“He was in a critical, life-threatening situation,” said Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld.

The shooter, whose identity has not been revealed, lives in the Itamar settlement, which is built on land seized from Nablus-area villagers in violation of international law.

Settler impunity

Far-right Israeli minister Naftali Bennett praised the settler’s actions.

“In order to prevent a lynching, he fired at his attackers and killed one of them,” Bennett said.

The immediate exoneration of the settler without even the pretense of a thorough investigation fits a broader pattern.

Human rights organizations have frequently criticized senior Israeli officials for encouraging soldiers and civilians to shoot to kill Palestinians even where there is no danger to their lives.

Israeli soldiers and police enjoy near total impunity for killing and injuring Palestinians.

This impunity extends to settlers who attack Palestinians as well. The human rights group B’Tselem says that Israel’s “undeclared policy” toward violence by settlers is “lenient and conciliatory.”

“Perpetrators are rarely tried, and many cases are not investigated at all or are closed with no operative conclusions,” B’Tselem adds.

Between 2013 and 2016 just eight percent of the “ideologically motivated” settler crimes against Palestinians tracked by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din resulted in indictments.

Following the shooting on Thursday, another Israeli settler handed out chocolate bars to Israeli vehicles near the Huwwara checkpoint, in celebration of the slaying of Shamsa:

“We killed a Palestinian vandal today,” the man says in a video, which shows him distributing the candy bars with the protection of Israeli soldiers, according to the Ma’an News Agency. “I am distributing candy to celebrate the killing. I want to congratulate the Israeli people for the vandal’s death.”

Shamsa is the fourth person killed by Israelis in less than a week and the second to die while demonstrating in support of the hunger strikers.

Israeli forces killed Saba Abu Ubeid, 23, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh last Friday during confrontations with soldiers following a march.

Israeli forces also killed a Jordanian citizen who attacked an Israeli officer in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, and a Gaza fisherman died after being shot by the Israeli navy.

On Wednesday, an Israeli settler shot a Palestinian youth demonstrating near Ramallah in support of the hunger strikers. Israeli forces arrested the 19-year-old protester.

They also arrested the driver and the passenger, but released them after their attorney Itamar Ben Gvir claimed they were acting in self-defense. Ben Gvir is considered the “go-to man” for Israelis who have committed violence against Palestinians. Ben Gvir is a former member of the outlawed violent anti-Palestinian group Kach.

Shamsa, from the Palestinian village of Beita, is the 24th Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces or settlers this year.

Hunger strikers’ health declines sharply

On Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority’s committee on prisoners’ affairs announced that all 1,300 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike had been transferred to just three prisons that have makeshift field hospitals set up in response to the hunger strike.

Palestinian prisoners have refused food for 32 days, while Israeli authorities refuse to negotiate over their demands. The condition of the strikers has sharply declined and many are experiencing chronic vomiting, vision impairment, fainting and significant weight loss.

The striking prisoners are demanding improvements in conditions, an end to solitary confinement and heavy restrictions on family visits, and for Israel to stop using administrative detention – prolonged imprisonment without charge or trial.

The Israel Prison Service denies that all prisoners have been transferred, claiming only those in the Naqab (Negev) region had been moved.

Some fear the move indicates Israel may begin force-feeding the prisoners.

The committee coordinating media for the strike said the field hospitals are unfit and ill-equipped to provide medical care.

“In these clinics, the role of doctors resembles the role of jailers who offer all kinds of food to the sick detainees and offer to provide medical treatment in return for ending the strike,” the committee said.

This article has been updated since initial publication.

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.