Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinian Authority to take firm action against the PA policemen responsible for the death of Ben-Yosef Livnat, who was killed in Nablus on Sunday.
Livnat, 25, who was married with four young children and lived in Jerusalem, was fatally wounded when at least one Palestinian policeman opened fire on a group of Breslav hassidim on their way to prayer at Joseph’s Tomb, on the outskirts of Nablus. Four other worshipers were wounded.
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Livnat was the nephew of Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu sharply condemns the murder of Ben-Yosef Livnat and demands that the PA take tough steps against the perpetrators of this criminal act against Jews who were on their way to pray,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in the statement.
The office declined to be more specific about what steps Netanyahu was demanding and whether he had sent the request directly to the PA in addition to the statement he released to reporters.
Netanyahu spoke to Limor Livnat and expressed his condolences to her and to the entire Livnat family. She and thousands of others attended the victim’s funeral on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon.
An initial IDF inquiry found that three vehicles with about 15 Breslav worshipers entered Joseph’s Tomb just after sunrise without having obtained IDF approval and security coordination, as required by the Central Command. According to the rules, Israeli civilians are forbidden from entering on their own Area A in the West Bank, where the PA has security jurisdiction.
The hassidim became entangled in a verbal confrontation with PA policemen, who ordered them to leave the site immediately, and fired in the air.
As they fled, the Israelis drove past a PA police checkpoint, and at least one policeman fired directly at a vehicle, fatally wounding Livnat.
Of the four others wounded, one was in serious condition, two were described as having been moderately wounded, and one was lightly wounded. They were able to reach the Samaria Brigade base, near the Har Bracha settlement. From there, three were rushed by paramedics to Beilinson Medical Center in Petah Tikva. The fourth did not require hospital care.
After the attack, Palestinians vandalized the tomb, burning tires outside and inside the structure and trying to damage the roof.
One of the hassidim who snuck into Nablus early on Sunday morning along with Livnat described the events for Channel 2.
“We entered the grave for what appeared to be a routine visit. We kissed the grave. But when we exited and entered our car, we saw the victim’s vehicle bypass us,” he said.
He then saw a Palestinian policeman draw his gun. “He shot at the rear window and shouted Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar!”
He saw that Livnat had been hit but did not imagine the seriousness of his wounds. “We thought he had just lost consciousness. They also shot at my vehicle,” he said.
The IDF and the PA are conducting parallel investigations.
“This is a severe incident,” Brig.- Gen. Nitzan Alon, commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, said Sunday. “An Israeli was killed by bullets fired by PA security forces. We have launched an investigation of this incident, and the PA security forces in Nablus are simultaneously investigating, too. A number of arrests have been made.”
Israeli police said four of the worshipers were held for questioning on Sunday and then released to house arrest for two days.
The PA’s governor of Nablus, Jibreen al-Bakri, told Reuters, “We have detained the forces responsible for securing the area and are investigating what happened.”
According to an Israeli security source, the PA police officer who shot the worshipers later told Palestinian interrogators that he had identified “suspicious” individuals and fired at them.
Unofficially, the Palestinians have already acknowledged that the policeman “fired erroneously,” the source said, adding that the PA is viewing the incident with a great deal of embarrassment.
It is too soon, however, to discuss the possibility of handing over the PA policeman to Israeli custody, according to the source.
From a long-term perspective, security coordination between the IDF and PA security forces is a significant tool in maintaining stability in the West Bank, the source said.
The PA has given a number of accounts regarding Sunday’s incident. While some security officials admitted that Livnat had been killed by shots fired by a Palestinian policeman, others claimed he had been shot by IDF soldiers in a watchtower overlooking Nablus.
Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the PA security forces in the West Bank, denied earlier reports that the policeman who fired at Livnat’s vehicle had been detained by the PA for interrogation.
A PA security official in Nablus accused Livnat and his “armed settler friends” of storming Joseph’s Tomb without coordination with the Palestinians.
The official said that when Palestinian policemen stationed at the tomb informed Livnat and his friends that they were not authorized to enter the area without coordination, a scuffle ensued during which a PA policeman fired several warning shots into the air.
According to the official, IDF soldiers who heard the shots returned fire from the watch tower, apparently killing Livnat.
Dani Dayan, head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said on Sunday he believed the Palestinian police were aware that they were shooting at men who had come to pray at Joseph’s Tomb.
“This is a terrorist attack from every point of view,”” Dayan told The Jerusalem Post
“There was no provocation here. The Palestinian police knew exactly whom they were shooting at. They knew perfectly well that [the hassidim] were unarmed.”
He dismissed claims that the Palestinians felt threatened or did not know who their victims were. Breslav hassidim often go to the tomb without coordination with the IDF, he said.
“There was a sort of modus vivendi, an implicit understanding [between the PA police and the worshipers],” Dayan said.
Alon said Sunday’s violence would not affect future coordinated trips to the tomb that are taken with the authorization of the IDF and the PA. He added that the army would continue to coordinate visits by Jewish worshipers, although he called on them to arrange their movements with the army.
“The dangers are obvious,” he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the attack. He ordered the IDF to investigate the incident and demanded that the PA investigate the shooting swiftly and take all necessary steps against the shooter.
“No lack of security coordination can justify such an incident and the opening of fire on innocent people,” Barak said.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) issued a statement placing responsibility for the killing on the PA.
“The murder at Joseph’s Tomb reveals the face of the Palestinian Authority, and there is no doubt that it is the result of continuous incitement. The IDF should be returned as a permanent presence to Joseph’s Tomb, and worshipers should not be left to the mercy of the Palestinians,” Herschkowitz said.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.