He killed because he could

PALESTINE: Manhunt on radical West Bank settler turns into clever psychological portrait of loner with a tormented soul.
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Modern Times Review.
Published date: May 31, 2019

One morning in 2004 it all went terribly wrong. A Palestinian, Sael Jabara al Shatiyam, was in his old blue Ford Transit minivan. Earlier on he had lost his job in Israel and now worked an unofficial taxi service in the West Bank. With eight passengers in the car, he spotted an Israeli checkpoint on the road. Convinced that the soldiers would stop him he did what Palestinians usually do – took a dirt road to circumvent the checkpoint.

Approaching the main road again, Sael Jabara al Shatiyam had to speed up to negotiate a steep climb through the gravel. There he was seen by Yehoshua Elitzur from the radical settlement of Itamar. The settler opened fire with his M16 rifle and fatally wounded the Palestinian driver. The settler was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but surprisingly the court decided to put him in house arrest. By the next court meeting, Yehoshua Elitzur had disappeared.

Ettal Convent

Shay Fogelman, a journalist from the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz, got interested in the story. The court’s lenient attitude puzzled him, and he wondered why the authorities seemed to have done next to nothing to find Yehoshua Elitzur. He launched his own manhunt, but what he expected to be a one-month assignment for the paper turned out to be an over ten-year ordeal. Now he has turned his many travels into a captivating documentary that was screened at the 2019 DocAviv, the Tel Aviv documentary film festival.

One morning in 2004 it all went terribly wrong.

Fogelman has a good story to tell with the film becoming a psychological portrait of Yehoshua Elitzur. He lived alone in a makeshift cottage in Itamar. He worked in a nearby settlement, and in spite of being part of the community, nobody seemed to know him well. It turns out, Elitzur hails from Pfarrkirchen, a small town in lower Bavaria. In his earlier life, his name was Johannes Wimmer, but he converted to Judaism and became Yehoshua the radical settler. The family is staunchly Catholic and deeply conservative. His mother does not want to meet Fogelman, and the brother claims to have lost contact to Johannes. But in spite of this wall of feigned silence, a certain picture comes together. At the local archives, he learns about the killer’s grandfather, …

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