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An Israeli Settler, a Dead Palestinian and the Crux of the Conflict

Mr. Zaal had been waging his own, quiet campaign to defend his land. He had planted six acres with pistachio, fig, apricot, apple and olive trees, vines and berries for the birds. “He worked his land in an attempt to stop the settlers moving in,” said Mahmoud Odeh, a cousin. “He turned the whole area into a paradise.”

That November morning it was stained with his blood. There seems to be little doubt that Mr. Zaal was killed after the settler armed with the M-16 opened fire. The settlers have hailed that man as a hero, saying he fired into the air to save the children’s lives as Palestinian youths pelted them with stones.

Residents of Qusra, including Mr. Zaal’s oldest son, Awad, 23, who was with him at the time, insist that the stone-throwing started only after Mr. Zaal had been shot.

Both sides agree, more or less, on these facts: To protect the children, the two fathers pushed them into a cave. Palestinian youths blocked them from leaving, continued to throw stones at them, and robbed them of wallets, snacks and cellphones. Two older Palestinian men worked to calm the situation and prevent the violence from getting worse. Israeli soldiers arrived about 40 minutes later and extricated the group. The man suspected of shooting Mr. Zaal was treated at a hospital for a superficial head wound.

The Israeli military’s investigation concluded that the Palestinians had attacked the settlers first and that the escorts had opened fire in self-defense. It criticized the settlers for not coordinating their hike with the army in advance. The organizers said they had sent an email describing the route to the local command but had not received a reply.

The Israeli police have also been investigating the escorts, as is routine in such cases, looking into whether the shooting was justified or whether they caused the death by negligence. The escorts were questioned but were not arrested. On Wednesday, the police said their investigation had so far backed up the settlers’ version: that the Palestinians attacked first and that the hikers found themselves in a life-threatening situation.

But Awad, Mr. Zaal’s oldest son, said there was nothing random about the shooting and insisted that his father had posed no danger. Sitting by his grieving mother at home recently, he said his father had gone out to farm alone, but had called him at around 10 a.m. and asked him to come quickly because a settler was approaching.

The settler, carrying an M-16, ordered them off the land, Awad said, but they refused. The settler shot once in the air, repeated his demand then fired once more, hitting his father in the upper body, Awad said, before fleeing downhill.

Source: NYT > World

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