Brother of slain Palestinian in Hawara demands accountability from Israeli authorities. The man was killed by Israeli settlers during a riot in the occupied West Bank and his family were unable to report his death to the police. Instead, they had to rely on Israeli media reports to trigger an investigation into the incident.
The victim, Sameh al-Aqtash, was shot outside his home near Hawara in February. Israeli settlers and soldiers had gathered at the perimeter fence of the nearby Palestinian village of Zaatara when the incident occurred.
According to Sameh's brother, Rashdan, the family tried to report the death to the Israeli authorities twice in the days following the killing but were turned away. An investigation was launched by Israeli police only after media reports highlighted the family's difficulty in reporting the death.
Rashdan al-Aqtash stated that the residents of Zaatara, all part of the extended al-Aqtash family, were unarmed when confronted by the crowd of settlers on 26 February. He added that they had started throwing stones, and the Palestinians had responded by throwing stones back while shouting 'Allah is Great.'
He further mentioned that in such situations, the Israeli army usually fired tear gas to disperse people, followed by rubber bullets and firing into the air. However, this time, they began firing live ammunition directly into the people.
Sameh took 40 minutes to reach the hospital because the roads were blocked. He was pronounced dead on arrival. The family's initial attempt to report the death to the military liaison office in Hawara was unsuccessful as the officers there refused to receive them.
The individual responsible for firing the bullet that led to Sameh's death remains unknown. Typically, incidents involving soldiers in the West Bank are referred to Israel's military command, while incidents involving settlers are referred to the police, who are often based inside Israeli settlements.
After their unsuccessful attempt to report Sameh's death at the military liaison office, the family, accompanied by their lawyer, went to a police station located in the Israeli settlement of Ariel. Rashdan explained that they waited outside the station for an hour, but the police refused to meet with them, citing a security issue that needed to be addressed first. The family returned to the same police station the following day, but they were once again turned away.
Ziv Stahl, who serves as the executive director of the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, highlights that numerous Palestinians in the West Bank face difficulties when reporting crimes to Israeli police. Stahl explains that police stations are mainly situated inside settlements, which Palestinians are prohibited from entering without a permit.
As a result, they must arrive with a police escort. Once there, they frequently encounter issues such as claims of no available investigator or a lack of personnel who speak Arabic and can take their complaint.
A family member of the slain man weeping while others console her
Following media reports about the family's difficulty in reporting Sameh's death, police from Ariel eventually contacted the family. In a statement, a police spokesperson confirmed that an investigation had been initiated, which involved the collection of forensic and other evidence. However, it was discovered that Sameh's body had already been buried before the investigation was launched, and police have no official record of any prior attempts to report the incident.
Although Rashdan stated that the police listened to them, he expressed skepticism about their willingness to take action. Ziv Stahl from Yesh Din reported that 93% of complaints filed with Israeli police concerning settler violence or ideologically motivated crimes are closed without any indictments.
In military cases, the rate of indictments is less than 1%, according to the organization's data. When questioned, the Israeli police declined to respond to these figures.
Ms. Stahl emphasized that Palestinian trust in the system has eroded so severely that over a third of families do not even file a complaint in cases like these. Rashdan opined that the likelihood of the police identifying the person who shot his brother was minimal, lamenting that Sameh had been renowned for assisting everyone, including Jews, and his children still struggle to accept his death.
For months, violent confrontations and attacks have been escalating between Palestinians and Israelis in the occupied West Bank. The riots in Hawara followed the killing of two brothers from a nearby settlement by a Palestinian gunman on the main road passing through the town.
During this time, three British-Israeli women were shot and killed by suspected Palestinian gunmen in the Jordan Valley, an Italian tourist died in a car-ramming attack by an Israeli Arab in Tel Aviv, and a Palestinian teenager was shot dead during an Israeli raid near Jericho.
The widening division and mistrust between Israeli and Palestinian residents is starkly apparent, as Rashdan's final words reveal: "There's no justice. His Jewish friend told us to file a case, but it won't bring Sameh back. [They] kill people and get away with it. For us, what's done is done."