JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli settler suspected of involvement in the killing of a 19-year-old Palestinian man in the West Bank last week was released from detention on Wednesday and transferred to house arrest, a Jerusalem court said.
The Israeli judge said there was insufficient evidence to extend the detention of the radical Jewish settler, Elisha Yared. The court also ordered a second Israeli settler accused of shooting and killing the 19-year-old Qusai Matan to remain in custody while being hospitalized for wounds sustained during the attack last Friday on the Palestinian herding village of Burqa.
For Matar’s family and other Palestinians, Yared’s transfer to house arrest seemed to underscore the sense of impunity enjoyed by Jewish extremists in the occupied West Bank.
“They did something that is so horrific, so immoral,” said Matan’s 34-year-old uncle, Hamam. “We can only expect these attacks to continue.”
The killing of Matan near the West Bank city of Ramallah enraged Palestinians and drew condemnation from human rights groups and foreign diplomats. In a rare statement, the United States Office for Palestinian Affairs denounced the killing of Matan as a “terrorist attack” — a phrase typically reserved for Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians — and urged “full accountability and justice.”
A mob of armed Israeli settlers stormed into the West Bank village last Friday, torching at least two cars and opening fire at Palestinians who thronged the street. Matan was killed and four other Palestinians were wounded. The Israeli military said that Matan was shot after an altercation between Palestinians and Israeli settlers escalated, leading Israeli settlers to open fire and Palestinians to hurl rocks and fireworks.
The episode added to an intense surge of violence that has gripped the West Bank and Israel in recent months.
Matan’s family on Wednesday said that the court decision to place Yared under house arrest diminished their already grim expectations for justice.
“That they could shoot a young, innocent man in the neck and walked home, that tells you everything about the occupation,” his uncle said.
Matan was “shy and good-humored,” Hamam added, and had dropped out of high school to work at a spice shop in Ramallah and support his family. He was recently engaged to be married. “Our whole country is grieving,” he said.
Police have accused the two Israeli settlers — Yared and Yehiel Indore — of causing death, obstructing justice and committing a nationalistically motivated arson attack. The defendants claim that they were acting in self-defense.
Yared, wearing a lime-colored knitted skullcap, long Orthodox hair locks called payots and a green T-shirt, grinned as he entered the courtroom. He left the hearing singing and dancing down the stairs, videos showed, surrounded by clapping supporters.
The case has also stirred controversy in Israel because Yared worked as a spokesperson for a lawmaker in the far-right Jewish Power party led by Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Ultranationalist settler leader Ben-Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric and stunts, helped propel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power late last year and continues to exert pressure on his right-wing government.
In recent months, groups of radical Jewish settlers have increased their attacks on Palestinian towns and villages, attacking civilians and vandalizing property. Netanyahu’s government has vowed to take a harder line on Palestinians and assert greater control over the occupied West Bank.
“A Jew who defends himself and others against the murder of Palestinians is not a murder suspect, but a hero who will receive my full support,” Ben-Gvir wrote on Twitter this week about the arrests of Yared and Yehiel.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for future state.
Rights groups say the settler enterprise leads to a deep power imbalance in the West Bank, where Palestinians are prosecuted in military courts with an extremely high conviction rate, while Israelis are charged in civilian ones, if at all.
The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din reported in February that out of more than 1,500 investigations of violence, property crime, seizure of Palestinian land and other offenses allegedly committed by Israeli citizens against Palestinian civilians since 2005, only 7% had led to indictments.