A village in the Nablus district of the occupied West Bank has expressed outrage over the killing of a Palestinian farmer by an Israeli settler under disputed circumstances on Thursday.
According to locals, Mahmoud Odeh, 47, was shot by an Israeli settler while on his private agricultural land in the village of Qusra. He died shortly after at the scene.
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Abd al-Atheem, a leader in Qusra’s village council, told Al Jazeera that Odeh – a father of 10 children – was a humble and talented farmer.
“The crops he harvested were so large they could feed an entire tribe,” he said. “He was a really good man who was killed in cold blood.”
The Israeli settlements of Migdalim and Shilo were built on land belonging to Qusra residents, and now border the village to the northeast and south. Three additional settler outposts were also established on the village’s lands in the past two decades. Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law.
According to Gilad Grossman, spokesman for Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din, the village has long been a “hot spot” for Israeli settler violence against Palestinians.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Al Jazeera that dozens of Palestinians had thrown rocks at an Israeli youth group who were hiking in the area. An armed adult in the group opened fire on the Palestinians, fatally shooting Odeh and wounding another Palestinian in the leg.
However, Yariv Mohar, a spokesperson for the activist group Rabbis for Human Rights, quoted Palestinian witnesses as saying Odeh was shot after an altercation with settlers while caring for his olive groves with his six-year-old son.
After Odeh was shot, his son called another resident in the village, prompting other Palestinians to arrive on the scene and throw rocks at the Israelis in an attempt to push them out of the area, the group said.
At this time the armed Israeli opened fire again, injuring another Palestinian.
The Israeli army spokesperson said the “travellers entrenched themselves in a cave near the village” until soldiers evacuated them from the area.
According to locals, an Israeli paramedic attempted to resuscitate Odeh, but to no avail. Israeli forces then confiscated his body amid clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli army.
Village in trauma
Qusra village is split in two: about half of its land is designated as Area C, where Israel retains full civil and military control. The other half is in Area B, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) has control over civil affairs, but security is under the control of Israel.
In the absence of any protection from the Israeli army or the PA, some villages must take security into their own hands to defend their communities. It’s common for Palestinians to throw rocks at Israelis on their land as such incursions often result in attacks on the village.
The trauma of settler violence in the community runs deep. According to the United Nations, settlers have uprooted hundreds of the village’s olive trees and have torched its mosque.
Settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost have long carried out so-called “price-tag” attacks on the village.
Abd al-Atheem said the settlers have also killed a number of the residents’ sheep and demolished the village’s water wells.
In 2011, Odeh’s nephew was killed by an Israeli soldier after attempting to stop settlers from uprooting his olive trees.
“We live a very difficult life here,” Atheem said. “Each one of my sons could use 10 psychologists.”
Grossman told Al Jazeera only about eight percent of cases involving settler violence against Palestinians lead to indictments and even less result in punishment.
“This causes an environment that allows the continued violence against Palestinians,” he said.
Others have pointed out that this impunity also encourages a trigger-happy mentality among armed Israeli settlers when dealing with Palestinians.
“If it’s not the settlers attacking us, then it’s the [Israeli] army,” Abd al-Atheem told Al Jazeera. “No one is here to protect us. We only have God.”