Israeli authorities conditionally released on Thursday a Palestinian man and three of his sons who had been detained over clashes with Jewish settlers accused of a deadly attack near a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank last week.
Following the incident on Friday near Burqa village in the northern West Bank, two Jewish settlers face possible homicide charges after a 19-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead and another wounded in the leg.
The incident, the latest in a series of raids by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank over recent months, drew rare sharp condemnation from the United States, which described it as a “terror attack by Israeli extremist settlers”.
“What happened today was amazing,” said Ismail Taweel, a lawyer for the 54-year-old Ammar Asaliyyeh and his three sons, who were released on bail of 2,000 shekels ($539) each after the court dismissed police accusations they hurled rocks and fireworks at a crowd of Jewish settlers.
“The police could not convince the court to keep them detained. The court reviewed the evidence and found that it was false,” Taweel said.
The four, who were handed the court’s decision in Hebrew as a soldier translated it to Arabic, were ordered to remain in Burqa until Aug. 17.
Residents of Burqa, a village in the northern West Bank which has seen repeated raids by settlers living in six surrounding Jewish settlements, said the incident began when a group of settlers began harassing Palestinian shepherds.
According to the residents, an argument broke out and stones were thrown before more settlers arrived, bringing their number to around 150-200. The settlers vandalized homes and torched cars and as the confrontation escalated, a settler opened fire, killing 19-year-old Qusai Maatan.
Rising settler violence
As Israel continues to expand settlements that most countries deem illegal, settler violence has risen. The United Nations recorded 591 settler-related incidents that led to Palestinian casualties, property damage or both in the first six months of 2023, the highest daily average since 2006.
Thursday’s arraignment hearing in a military court followed proceedings this week in which two settlers were accused of “deliberate or depraved-indifference homicide” with a racist motivation.
According to their lawyers, the accused, one of whom is in hospital with a head injury he says was caused by a rock thrown at him, said gunfire was their last resort in self-defense against what he said was hundreds of rock-throwers confronting them.
“Their act was to save life, their lives, and other’s lives,” lawyer Nati Rom said.
Israeli military and security officials have warned that the series of attacks on Palestinian villages by Jewish settlers in the West Bank over recent months has placed troops under growing strain and risks undermining national security.
Palestinians say such attacks are intended to drive them from their land and accuse authorities of regularly failing to take action to prevent them.
“What self-defense?” said Akram Shaawar, a resident of Burqa who said he witnessed Friday’s incident.
“We are the ones defending our land. They are the ones who mounted an attack on us, who attacked the shepherds,” he said.
West Bank Palestinians are subject to Israeli military courts where, civil liberties groups say, they are often denied due process of law. As Israeli citizens, the two settlers held in the case have been subject to criminal courts in Jerusalem.
The Palestinians and rights groups have pointed to the dual legal systems as an example of Israel practicing apartheid against Palestinians, a claim Israel rejects.