IDF is investigating after troops kill Palestinian who converted to Judaism to honor his grandfather, who rescued Jews


((JEWISH REVIEW)) — The Israeli military is investigating reservist soldiers who shot dead David Ben Avraham, a Palestinian who converted to Judaism to honor his grandfather for rescuing Jews during the deadly 1929 Hebron riots.

The soldiers considered the 63-year old suspicious when he got off the bus on Thursday in the West Bank near Elazar, an Israeli settlement where Jews normally alight, Israeli media said. They found a small knife that he kept for self-defense while searching his belongings and shot him. There was no reported evidence that he tried to use the knife.

One of the first reports of the incident was by Noam Arnon, a spokesman for Israeli settlers in Hebron, where Ben Avraham lived. Arnon, in grief-stricken language, reported the incident on Arutz Sheva, a right-leaning Israeli news site.

“This morning, the life of David Ben Avraham, a convert who above all wanted to join the people of Israel, came to a tragic end,” Arnon wrote.

The Israel Defense Forces, in a brief statement, did not identify Ben Avraham by name or report that he is Jewish. It said there would be an investigation.

“A short while ago, during operational activity, IDF soldiers fired shots toward a Palestinian who aroused their suspicion at the Elazar Junction,” the army said. “A hit was identified and he was later pronounced dead. Immediately after the report was received about the severe incident, the Military Advocate General’s Corps ordered the Military Police to open an investigation.”

Arnon said Ben Avraham, born Samaah Zeitoun, for years sought to convert to honor his grandfather, Iyad al Zeitoun, who is believed to have rescued 25 Jews, including whole families, during the deadly 1929 Hebron riots that killed dozens and marked an end to the centuries-old Jewish community in the city. The city is the second-holiest to Jews, after Jerusalem, and contains the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is revered by Jews and Muslims. The riots galvanized support for the Zionist enterprise among Haredi Orthodox Jews in Palestine and among Jews internationally.

Arnon said Ben Avraham sought for years to convert but faced a stringent Israeli religious system that did not know how to deal with a Palestinian seeking to convert. Jewish friends in Hebron eventually found a rabbi in B’nei B’rak, a Haredi suburb of Tel Aviv, who supervised the conversion. He posted a facsimile of Ben Avraham’s conversion certificate on the Arutz Sheva website.

Ben Avraham reported in 2019 that he faced constant harassment by Palestinian authorities for his conversion, and that he was held for 58 days in a Hebron jail and tortured, but would not relent or renounce his faith.

A video on Israel Hayom, an Israeli news site, showed Israeli first responders picking up Ben Avraham after his release from prison in 2019, and wheeling him out in a wheelchair.

Arnon wrote that Ben Avraham had sought Israeli citizenship, in part because of the hostility he endured among Palestinians for his conversion. He said Ben Avraham had been continuing his religious studies in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, and that he was on his way to Jerusalem when he was killed.