Truth is one of the first casualties of this conflict, and no one should assume the violence at Joseph's Tomb will be any different.

© Palestine Monitor
Joseph’s Tomb, 2007
It could happen any time but it usually occurs under the cover of the night.

Settlers come down from the mountain above the Palestinian city of Nablus to pay their respects to the purported resting place of Joseph, Patriarch and 11th son of Jacob. The early morning of Sunday, April 24th should have been no different. Sometime early in the morning, close to thirty settlers packed in five cars arrived in the area around Joseph's Tomb to pray. After these established facts, the fog of war obscures. The subsequent events and the circumstances surrounding the death of one of these settlers and the injuries of four others remains shrouded in mystery.

An old mustachioed shopkeeper in Balata village near Joseph's Tomb did not see or hear anything unusual.

"How often to the settlers come down into the village," I asked.

"Every day," he said.

"Always armed?"

"Of course."

For years midnight visitations to the Tomb were common place, and growing security coordination between Israeli and Palestinian forces had even led to a monthly, chaperoned pilgrimage. Sunday's fatal settler excursion was, however, not coordinated with the Israeli military.

Illegal since Ehud Barak pulled out of the area in the Second Intifada, the standard response to these visitations by the PA security forces is to stand aside, lay down their weapons and make way for the settlers armed to assert their authority in Palestinian territory. But on April 25, the PA was unaware of the intended settler visit - despite Israeli deployment of the Givati Brigade around the Tomb after intelligence reported a nocturnal visit was likely by the death-focused Breslav Hassidim settler sect.

In the early morning after prayers in the Tomb, Ben-Yosef Livnat's car attempted to run through the nearby Palestinian checkpoint. Warning shots were fired skyward, then level when the car didn't stop, killing Livnat and wounding four others.

Born in the nearby Elon Moreh settlement, Livnat is the nephew of "hawkish" Israeli Culture and Science Minister Limor Livnat, claims the killing as cold blooded murder by "a terrorist disguised as a Palestinian policeman." But doubt has even been cast on this version of the events. The Sources have detailed numerous different accounts of the events that took place that morning. Jerusalem Post reported that the four injured settlers were detained by Israeli police by refusing to comply with the investigation and not telling their version of the events. Meanwhile, the PA detained for questioning the Palestinian police who were on duty during the shooting. An anonymous source, fearful of PA and Israeli reprisal, claimed that, as often occurs, settlers and IDF soldiers shot down from the mountain after seeing suspicious activity near Joseph's Tomb, thus resulting in an incident of friendly fire. The popular belief among many people in the area is that the entire story is a fabrication.

"Where is the blood, where is the signs of any fighting?" I was asked while being led into the complex of Joseph's Tom yesterday. All I see are cigarette butts and soda cans in the courtyard of this small and gray structure that, I hate to admit, is far less than impressive.

While conspiracy theories abound, it is hard to find any evidence amongst the involved parties to prove what actually happened that fateful morning. Sometimes it only matters what the people think. This is the most dangerous part.

Politicians like Livnat's aunt and Likud Knesset member Danny Danon preached hate and retribution at the funeral yesterday, the latter relating Sunday's shooting to Itamar's quintuple homicide. While I talked to scared villagers near the Tomb, President Benjamin Netanyahu greeted thousands at the funeral and expressed condolences to the family - Livnat was "cruelly attacked." Perhaps the hard-line settlers these politicians represent will use this incident to continue to exact their price tag policy against Palestinian civilians. Meanwhile, any Palestinian denial of the events that took place risks damaging their credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world. Recent events in Gaza and the West Bank have already managed to start this process.

The smoke has cleared from the burned tires near Joseph's Tomb, the only signs of any skirmishes between Israeli soldiers and local youth. The military presence is long gone. Local residents said that, to their knowledge, no one in Balata Village was arrested or targeted by Israeli soldiers; although according to the International Solidarity Movement, the military initially invaded Balata to look for suspects, but handed authority to the PA soon after.

Balata currently breathes easily - this is a relief. If only the Palestinians who were attacked by settlers near Huwarra checkpoint in Nablus had been as lucky.

As I make my way from Joseph's Tomb, a Balata villager's question burns in my mind.

"Why is everything so quiet, why is the IDF gone already?" he said.

It is an interesting question, one that expresses the sort of collective doubt shrouding the circumstances of the incident. We may never know what actually happened. I am told that only a select few do. One thing is certain.

The story presented to the world is murder. The absence of evidence and the silencing fear of people is frustrating anyone seeking the truth about this bloody Sunday. The version of events that is likely to become the public discourse is that a Palestinian policeman shot and killed a devout Jew. Considering how little we know about the events that took place, how quickly the story has become etched in the stone is alarming and potentially portentous for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.