Military Police opened an investigation into the death of a Palestinian man in the northern West Bank in May, following reports that he may have been killed in clashes provoked by armed settlers during which an off duty-soldier fired toward a village, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.
The incident occurred May 14, during the 11-day conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip, which also saw protests by Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as attacks by settlers on Palestinian villages.
That day, Nidal Safadi was shot dead under unclear circumstances in Urif, a Palestinian village southwest of the Yitzhar settlement. Many residents of Yitzhar and nearby illegal outposts are hardliners who regularly clash with nearby Palestinian communities and Israeli security forces.
Video footage from May 14, which was distributed by the anti-occupation B’Tselem human rights group, showed a bare-chested man wearing IDF pants with a shirt wrapped around his face as a mask apparently firing an M-16 rifle toward Urif, as at least two IDF soldiers look on. The military later confirmed that the shirtless man was an IDF soldier who lived in Yitzhar but was not on duty at the time.
In the footage, the off-duty soldier can be seen opening fire twice toward Urif as two officers stand by. It is not clear from the video what he is firing at, nor are there any signs of violence by Palestinians.
Residents of Urif told the left-wing Local Call news outlet that they did not know if Safadi was killed by that man or by IDF soldiers in a separate incident.
The IDF said the Military Police probe would determine if there was a connection between Safadi’s death and the incident in the video, as well as investigate the conduct of the off-duty soldier and the IDF officers, who served in a reservist battalion that had been stationed in the area.
In a statement, the military said a riot had taken place on the outskirts of Urif on the day of the incident, a claim that is disputed by residents of the village, who say settlers instigated the violence and that they were defending themselves from attack.
“There were many protests in the area, but Urif was quiet. It is a small village and the residents stayed indoors. Had the settlers not arrived to attack the houses, nothing would have happened,” the head of the village council, Mazen Shehadeh, told Local Call, which broke the story.
According to Shehadeh, that afternoon a group of settlers entered the outskirts of the village, uprooted olive and fig trees and threw stones at the local school, while IDF soldiers stood by. Urif residents then “came out to protect the village,” he told Local Call.
During these clashes, Safadi was shot and later died of his wounds.
The IDF said the incident was being investigated internally in addition to the Military Police probe.
“An armed soldier, a resident of [Yitzhar], who was not part of the reservist force operating in the area, entered the scene while he had his face covered and apparently also fired his weapon,” the IDF said.
The military has regularly been criticized by human rights groups for failing to prevent settlers from attacking Palestinians in the West Bank and sometimes effectively aiding their efforts by shooting Palestinians who fight back against them. However, it is highly unusual for soldiers to stand by as settlers shoot Palestinians unprovoked.