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In first, Biden administration to sanction entire Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, not just individuals

IDF and Israel Police stats indicate decline in settler violence in second half of 2023

Illustrative - Israeli soldiers and Israeli settlers at the entrance to the West Bank village of Turmus Aya, June 21, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to an Axios news media report on Wednesday, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is set to levy sanctions against two Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria as early as Thursday. 

While the two sanctioned settlements have been declared "illegal settlements" by the United States, the Biden administration is not sanctioning them for that reason, rather, Axios stated they are being sanctioned for being “a base for attacks by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians.” 

The Biden administration appears to be drawing upon data provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to address the issue of settler violence.

“Since 7 October, 2023, and as of 31 January, 2024, OCHA has recorded 494 Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians, resulting in Palestinian casualties (49 incidents), damage to Palestinian-owned property (388 incidents), or both casualties and damage to property (57 incidents),” the OCHA report stated.

OCHA also wrote: “One-third of the settler attacks against Palestinians after 7 October 2023 have involved firearms, including shootings and threats of shootings.” 

The levying of sanctions against an entire settlement is a new development, as previously the U.S. had only restricted weapons sales to Israel or imposed sanctions on individual settlers.

Sanctions against three individual settlers are included in the new measure and would prevent them from accessing the U.S. financial system or getting entry visas to the U.S., and would freeze any of their existing assets in the United States.

The move follows the imposition of sanctions against four settlers in early February

At that time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protested that “the overwhelming majority of residents in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are currently fighting—as conscripts and reservists—to defend Israel.” 

Netanyahu even raised the issue in a phone call with Biden later that month. However, the U.S. president told Netanyahu that Washington would continue to impose sanctions against Jews living in Judea and Samaria, internationally known as the West Bank. 

According to Israeli police statistics, there was a year-on-year decrease of almost 50% in incidents of settler violence against Arabs in Judea and Samaria during the second half of 2023. 

On Tuesday, the commander of the Central Unit of the Israel Police Judea and Samaria District told the Knesset that half the complaints filed by Arabs against settlers in Judea and Samaria since Oct. 7 turned out to be false. 

Avishai Mualem told a subcommittee meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: “Most of the complaints are deliberate complaints from radical left-wing organizations which are situated in Tel Aviv.” 

Mualem said that there have been 270 incidents of “Jewish nationalist crime” in Judea and Samaria since Oct. 7, compared to 537 in the previous year. He attributed some of those incidents to the increase in enforcement against violators compared to previous years. 

In December, Israel Defense Forces, which also tracks incidents of settler violence against Arabs, reported a 50% decline in incidents compared to the previous year. The IDF admitted that there was a slight increase in incidents immediately after Oct. 7, which declined dramatically in the following weeks. 

However, both the police and the IDF noted that some of those incidents had been carried out in the days immediately after the war by rapid response teams defending their settlements.

Because rapid response teams include IDF reservists, the police are not permitted to investigate the incidents and it is not clear whether they are incidents of illegal violence by settlers or legitimate incidents of the security teams protecting their settlements from Arab violence. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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