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Scene of the incident. Photo by Nedal Eshtayah, Anadolu Agency, 3 April 2019
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Israeli settlers execute Muhammad ‘Abd al-Fatah; military covers up their deed

Muhammad 'Abd al-Fatah with his daughter. Photo courtesy of family

B’Tselem’s investigation has found that in an incident reported by the media as an attempted stabbing at Huwarah on 3 April 2019, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Fatah had been throwing stones at Israeli cars driving along the road and was then shot by a settler who pulled over. As al-Fatah lay wounded on the ground, the settler, along with another settler who also pulled over, shot him again, killing him. Soldiers erased video footage of the incident.

On 3 April 2019, media reports stated that a “would-be Palestinian attacker was shot dead Wednesday morning during an attempted stabbing near Huwara in the West Bank. The man was shot by two armed Israeli civilians.” Reports added that the assailant had attempted to stab a father and his daughter.

B'Tselem's investigation of the incident found that at 8:30 A.M. that morning, Muhammad 'Abd al-Fatah – a 23-year-old Palestinian from Khirbet Qeis, Salfit District, who was married and had a daughter – crossed the road. He stopped by a dumpster across from the village square in the nearby village of Beita and started throwing stones at cars bearing Israeli license plates that were heading from the direction of Huwarah towards the village of Za’tarah and Tapuah Junction. ‘Abd al-Fatah threw stones at two passing cars and then threw a third stone, which hit a car. The driver, an Israeli named Yehoshua Sherman, pulled over. Then two gunshots were heard, apparently fired from inside the vehicle. The driver then got out of the car.

At that point, ‘Abd al-Fatah was crouching among the dumpsters. Sherman approached him and fired several more shots at him. A truck driving along the road also stopped, and the driver got out. He came over to stand next to Sherman, and the two men fired several more shots at ‘Abd al-Fatah, who was lying wounded on the ground. According to media reports, ‘Abd al-Fatah succumbed to his wounds a short while later, at Beilinson Hospital in Israel.

This chain of events is also clearly established by partial video footage published in the media. The footage shows Sherman’s car stopping near ‘Abd al-Fatah. Then, about fifteen seconds later, Sherman is seen getting out of the car. Next, a truck is seen pulling over. At that point, the footage breaks off. When it resumes, Sherman and the truck driver are seen firing at ‘Abd al-Fatah.

A young man who works in a nearby shop was hit in the abdomen by one of the shots. He was treated in Rafidiya Hospital, Nablus, and discharged on 7 April. Minutes after the two settlers opened fire, Israeli military jeeps arrived on the scene and soldiers used stun grenades to disperse the crowd that had begun to gather.

Immediately after that, about eight soldiers went into two nearby shops to check their security cameras. They dismantled a DVR in one of the shops and left. About twenty minutes later, the soldiers returned to the shop, reinstalled the DVR and watched the footage. Two soldiers filmed the screen with their mobile phones. They then erased the footage from the DVR and left.

B’Tselem’s investigation found that, contrary to media reports, Sherman’s shooting of ‘Abd al-Fatah was unjustified, as the latter had already moved away from the car and was kneeling behind some dumpsters. Moreover, there was clearly no justification whatsoever for the additional shots that Sherman and the truck driver fired at ‘Abd al-Fatah when he was already lying injured on the ground.

The Israeli security forces that arrived on the scene ignored these facts. They did nothing to arrest the two settlers, promptly drove the Palestinians away from the scene, and then addressed the urgent task of eliminating any footage of the incident, to ensure that the truth never comes to light and the shooters would not face any charges or be held accountable in any way.

The identity of both shooters is known. If the authorities so choose, they could easily track them down, at least for questioning. Yet given the troops’ conduct immediately after the incident, and Israel’s longstanding policy, the chances of this are slim to none.