analysisIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

What happened in Burqa

A visit to the open area between Burqa and Oz Zion raises questions about the deadly Aug. 4 confrontation.

The Jewish community of Oz Zion is seen from Burqa during the funeral of Palestinian Kosai Ma'atan, Aug. 5, 2023. Credit: Flash90.
The Jewish community of Oz Zion is seen from Burqa during the funeral of Palestinian Kosai Ma'atan, Aug. 5, 2023. Credit: Flash90.
Akiva Van Koningsveld

A visit to the desolate open area between the small Jewish farming community of Oz Zion and Burqa, where Palestinian Kosai Ma’atan, 19, reportedly died after being shot by 22-year-old Israeli Yehiel Indore on Aug. 4, seems to tell an entirely different story than the prevailing narrative.

National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz on Aug. 6 warned of the development of a “dangerous Jewish nationalist terrorism.”

Labor Party Chairwoman Merav Michaeli tweeted: “The time has come to say it in a clear and clear voice: There is a party of terrorist supporters in the Netanyahu government. Terrorist supporters. If you want to deport families of terrorists, you can start by deporting the family of the terrorist settler [Indore].”

The U.S. State Department has repeatedly referred to the incident as a “terror attack” committed by “extremist settlers,” with spokesman Matthew Miller seemingly likening the events near Burqa to the shooting in Tel Aviv in which municipal security officer Chen Amir was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist.

The alleged area of the attack. Video by JNS.

According to the testimony of multiple Israeli witnesses, around 7 o’clock on the evening of Friday, Aug. 4, a large crowd of Arabs from Burqa confronted a lone Jewish shepherd grazing his flock near the village.

“I was sitting in the pasture, and suddenly nine or 10 Arabs with clubs arrived, threatening me: ‘Wait a second, we’re coming for you.’ After 15 minutes, I saw that people were gathering in the area below me, and suddenly, a mass of 30 or 40 people began to surround me from all directions and throw stones at me,” the young shepherd told Channel 14 on Thursday.

“I called the guys here in the Oz Zion area. They came very quickly and started to kick them out,” continued the herder, referring to the group of Israelis that included Indore and Elisha Yered, who is also considered a suspect in the shooting. Yet as sunset approached, between 80 and 120 more Arab villagers arrived at the scene, the shepherd related, and initiated a “crazy attack” using wooden and iron bars.

Through his attorney, Nati Rom, Indore has said that he fired a warning shot but was then surrounded, and he only shot to kill in self-defense after he was struck in the head by a rock.

Speaking from his hospital bed last week as he recovered from surgery for a major skull fracture, Indore said he never experienced “such severe danger to life” during his IDF service. “We tried to escape the whole time [but] they attacked us from several directions. People around me recited viduy [confession prayers] and Shema Yisrael because they thought it would be their death,” Channel 14 quoted Indore as saying.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement following the riot that “verbal confrontations ensued, which were followed by the hurling of rocks by both sides, and the firing of fireworks by Palestinians.

“During the confrontation, Israeli civilians fired at the Palestinians. As a result of the confrontation, a Palestinian was killed, four others were injured, and a Palestinian vehicle was found burned. Several Israeli civilians were injured by rocks,” according to the IDF’s version of events.

The fact that Ma’atan’s family refused to have an autopsy performed at Tel Aviv’s Abu Kabir Forensic Institute will likely complicate the case against Indore. Furthermore, police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) investigators have yet to establish the exact location of the shooting, it was reported last week.

At the invitation of the Binyamin Regional Council, which has jurisdiction over large parts of southern Samaria, JNS on Aug. 9 visited the environs of Burqa. The tour took us from Oz Zion, located just off the Route 60 highway, through dirt roads and empty fields, to a gravel junction where the council says the Arabs launched their attack.

Notably, the location indicated by the council’s security department clearly matches the area visible in TikTok videos shared by Palestinian accounts. In the footage, local Palestinians can be seen brandishing what appear to be wooden clubs.

The topographical features of the area cast serious doubt on widely-circulated claims that the Jewish group sought the confrontation, a spokesperson for the council explained. Crucially, Burqa is not visible from the site—it is located at a much lower altitude, and maps indicate the Arab rioters had to hike approximately 500 to 700 meters (550 to 765 yards) uphill before encountering the shepherd.

The entire area, all the way up to Burqa’s entrance, is classified as Area C under the Oslo Accords, added a security official, meaning that Israel has full administrative and security control there and Israelis are allowed to be there without restrictions.

Map by JNS. Images: Flash90, TikTok, Yaakov via Wikimedia Commons.

At the Binyamin Regional Council offices, Tzur Blonder, responsible for collecting information on violations of the law throughout Area C, placed the Aug. 4 incident in the context of recurring attacks on Jewish farmers in Judea and Samaria.

Earlier this month, Israeli Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter applauded farmers’ role in protecting state lands in the region. “There are no better guardians than hundreds of sheep, tended by an Israeli shepherd, of course,” Dichter stated following a tour of Jewish-owned agricultural sites in Binyamin.

But data collected by the regional council suggests that Arab aggression against shepherds has been on the rise in recent weeks. Many of the herders in Judea and Samaria are teenagers, according to Blonder, often 15 or 16 years old, and their animals need to graze seven days a week, a practice explicitly permitted by halacha (Jewish law).

“Jewish farmers are grazing their sheep in open areas; Arabs don’t like that, even if it happens in Area C. They’re trying to stop them by using violence. … The farms are constantly attacked because the Arabs understand it’s a fight over open land,” stated Blonder.

During one of those recent attacks, on a ranch outside Nahliel, a 14-year-old Israeli boy was hit in the head by a rock and required evacuation to a nearby hospital. The Palestinian attackers also set fire to the farm’s pasture in what the Binyamin Regional Council described as a “lynching attempt.”

In a June 20 attack near Kochav Hashachar, four Palestinians stopped their car at the sight of a Jewish shepherd and proceeded to abuse him. An Israeli bypasser, who caught the incident on video, managed to repel the attackers. “[He was] lucky that I got here because otherwise, I don’t know what would’ve gone down,” Israel Hayom cited the eyewitness as saying.

Credit: Binyamin Regional Council.

With doubt being cast on some of the gravest accusations in the Burqa case in recent days—over the weekend, the police dropped charges accusing Indore of a nationalistic (i.e., terror) motive—critics have contended that the rush by large swaths of the media and political brass to condemn the Jewish residents of Samaria is revealing.

On Aug. 6, Israel Ganz, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, already accused the “extreme left” of giving “automatic backing to the terrorism that threatens us every day on the roads, in the communities and everywhere.”

He added, “I wish to strengthen the hands of all the Jewish shepherds who encounter systematic Arab terrorism.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit Party, likewise wrote on X, “The Israeli media (again) got confused: 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.”

As the whole picture of the Aug. 4 incident remains blurry, the eagerness with which many pundits jumped to condemn the events outside Burqa as alleged “Jewish terror” indicates a lack of due process, according to Gantz.

Or, as he put it: “It is to be hoped that the police investigation will not be affected by the racist campaign that attacks the injured resident simply because he is Jewish.”

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