Police make rare arrests in connection to settler violence against Palestinians. But the circumstances surrounding the shooting were unique, and likely played no small role in pushing police to investigate seriously.
Update (April 3): Police released all of the suspects and cleared them of wrongdoing, according to The Jerusalem Post.
In a rare display of law enforcement against violent Jewish settlers, Israeli police raided the notorious illegal outpost of Esh Kodesh early Tuesday morning. Police arrested five settlers, including an active duty soldier, in connection with the near-fatal shooting of a young Palestinian man from the nearby village of Qusra a month and a half ago.
While the arrests are commendable, there are two things to keep in mind. Firstly, arrests do not necessarily mean that indictments will be filed, and if they are, what charges will be brought.
More significant, however, is that the shooting of Hilmi Abdul Azizi in Qusra was a unique case in several regards.
The shooting came at the crescendo of Palestinian protests surrounding hunger striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, six killings in as many weeks of unarmed Palestinians by the IDF, and a price tag attack against the village only days before.
Media outlets in Israel and around the world were speculating at the time that a third Intifada might be around the corner. Israel was so worried that Abdul Azizi’s death might spark more widespread violence that it even sent Israeli doctors on a covert mission into Nablus (a truly exceptional step), in order to transfer him to a hospital in Israel for lifesaving treatment.
Additionally, Israeli media picked up on the story and was highly critical of the “embarrassing” lack of law enforcement when it came to the string of settler attacks against Qusra. (Watch the Channel 2 report in Hebrew.) Police inexplicably closed their investigation into the price tag attack, in which six Palestinian cars were torched, based on “evidence” they “gathered” — without ever exiting their vehicles or stepping foot in the village.
Furthermore, the incident in which Abdul Azizi was shot, was captured in a series of photos that show settlers pointing guns at Palestinians while IDF soldiers stood idly by.
There should be little doubt that the combination of critical media coverage, the embarrassing police investigation into the price tag attack and the fear of an outbreak of violence are significant factors, which create the context for today’s arrests.
Had those external factors not existed, one might question whether police would have taken this case seriously enough to even investigate, let alone arrest the suspects, who were photographed at the scene of the shooting, pointing their weapons at Palestinians.
It’s not that police have never arrested Jewish settlers for attacks against Palestinians, but cases in which they do are rare, and convictions are even rarer. On the off chance that this case results in any convictions, it shows the paramount importance of critical media coverage, which shines light on incidents that would otherwise be ignored. Most of the time such exposure is a futile exercise, but every once in a while it makes it so that police have no choice but to take the violence seriously.