Sameh al-Aqtash was fatally shot outside his home near Hawara in February, after a group of Israeli settlers and soldiers gathered at the perimeter fence of the nearby Palestinian village of Zaatara. His family tried twice to report his death to Israeli authorities in the days following the killing but were turned away.
Israeli police eventually opened an investigation after media reports highlighted the family’s difficulty in reporting the death. Rashdan al-Aqtash, Sameh’s brother, said that the residents of Zaatara were unarmed when confronted by the crowd of settlers on 26 February.
“They started throwing stones, and we pelted them with stones as well while shouting ‘Allah is Great’,” he said. “In situations like this, the army usually fire tear gas to disperse people, and then rubber bullets, and finally they fire into the air. This time, they started firing live ammunition directly into the people.”
It took 40 minutes to get Sameh to the hospital, according to Rashdan, because the roads were blocked. Sameh was pronounced dead on arrival. The family first tried to report his death to the military liaison office in Hawara, but officers there refused to receive them.
It is unclear who fired the bullet that killed Sameh. Incidents involving soldiers are referred to Israel’s military command in the West Bank, while incidents involving settlers are referred to the police, who are often based inside Israeli settlements.
After being turned away from the military liaison office, the family went with their lawyer to a police station in the Israeli settlement of Ariel. “We waited an hour outside, but they refused to meet us,” Rashdan told the BBC. “They said there was a security problem and they needed to handle it first.”
The family returned to the same police station the following day but were again turned away. Ziv Stahl, executive director of the Israeli human rights organisation, Yesh Din, says many Palestinians in the West Bank encounter problems reporting crimes to Israeli police.
“Police stations are located mostly inside settlements,” she said. “Palestinians are forbidden from entering Israeli settlements [without a permit], so they have to come with a police escort. Then they are faced with claims that there is no investigator or no-one who speaks Arabic to take the complaint.”
Police from Ariel did later contact the family, after Israeli media highlighted the situation. A police spokesperson confirmed in a statement that media reports had prompted an investigation, including the collection of forensic and other evidence.
The BBC understands that police have no official record of other attempts to report the incident, and Sameh’s body was buried before the investigation was opened. “We will continue to investigate this case thoroughly in order to reach the truth,” the statement said.
“They listened to us,” Rashdan told the BBC, “but we are not hopeful they will do anything.” Ziv Stahl says 93% of complaints filed with Israeli police regarding settler violence or ideologically motivated crimes are closed without indictments.
“It says something about the quality of the investigations and resources that only 7% of complaints end with indictments,” she said. According to the organisation’s data, the rate for military indictments is even lower – less than 1%.
The Israeli police did not respond to the BBC’s inquiry about these figures. Ms Stahl says Palestinian trust in the system has eroded to the point where, in more than a third of cases, families do not file a complaint at all.
Rashdan al-Aqtash told the BBC that the chances of the police finding the person who shot his brother were extremely low. “[Sameh] was known for helping everyone,” Rashdan said. “He helped Jews. His children still can’t believe that he’s dead.”
Violent confrontations and attacks between Palestinians and Israelis in