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Israeli military and police chiefs condemn Jewish settler violence against Palestinians as ‘terror’

Ben Gvir and Smotrich complain of ‘collective punishment’ of settlers, call for investigation

A field fire during clashes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers near the Palestinian village of Qusra, in the West Bank, June 22, 2023. (Photo: Flash90)

The heads of Israel’s security establishment issued a joint statement condemning a series of Jewish settler attacks on Palestinian towns in the West Bank, calling the attacks “nationalist terrorism in every way.” 

Israel Defense Forces chief, Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, Israel Security Agency Director Ronen Bar and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai issued the statement on Saturday, following several attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinian towns over the last five days. The attacks were allegedly acts of revenge for the murder of four Israelis near the settlement Eli, located in the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria. 

“In recent days, violent attacks have been carried out in Judea and Samaria by Israeli civilians against innocent Palestinians,” the statement read. “These attacks go against every moral and Jewish value and are also nationalist terrorism in every respect, and we are committed to fighting them.” 

The statement also accused the settler violence of undermining the work of security forces and creating problems for Israel internationally. 

“The security forces are acting against these rioters, who endanger the lives of IDF soldiers, Israel Police officers and those serving in the Israel Security Agency,” the statement continued. “This violence increases Palestinian terrorism, harms the State of Israel and the international legitimacy of the security forces to fight Palestinian terrorism, and diverts the security forces from their main mission against Palestinian terrorism.” 

One danger for Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet, comes from the need to divert their forces from counter-terrorist activities in order to focus on settler violence. 

“The IDF will divert and reinforce forces to prevent incidents of this kind in Judea and Samaria, and the Shin Bet will increase arrests, including administrative detentions, against rioters who act violently and in an extremist manner in Palestinian villages.” 

The security heads called on religious, social and educational leaders to help them by publicly condemning the settler violence. 

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke about the settler attacks at Umm Safa yesterday,

“I strongly condemn the violence that led to the burning of houses and vehicles in the village of Umm Safa; this is not our way,” said Gallant.

From left: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar at a May 9 press conference (Photo: Ariel Harmoni/Ministry of Defense)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid also called for an immediate condemnation of the violence by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

“Settler violence breaches every boundary. Setting fire to innocent people's homes and cars is inhumane and certainly not Jewish,” Lapid said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu must condemn this disgrace and act severely. This is a moral disgrace and a security threat.” 

Meanwhile, coalition ministers Itamar Ben Gvir, head of National Security and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich rejected criticism of the security chiefs, alleging that equating violence by Israeli settlers and violence by Palestinians is “morally wrong and dangerous.” 

Posting on social media, Smotrich wrote, “The IDF and security forces must act with greater firmness against terror and rioting by Arabs.” 

He slammed the use of administrative detention against settlers rioting in Palestinian towns. He also accused security forces of “collective punishment” following reports of security personnel stopping and checking vehicles entering the settlement of Ateret near Umm Safa. 

Damage caused to Palestinian homes and cars by Jewish settlers in the West Bank village of Turmus Aya, June 21, 2023. (Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Because Umm Safa is next to the settlement of Ateret, Shin Bet forces had been looking for settlers who participated in the Umm Safa violence.

Ben Gvir also called the security checks at Ateret “collective punishment.” 

On Sunday morning, National Unity party Knesset Member Gadi Eisenkot, former IDF chief-of-staff, accused Ben Gvir of aggravating the situation in the West Bank. 

“Some government ministers are consciously failing the IDF and contributing to the feeding of violence,” Eisenkot said on 103FM radio. 

He mentioned Ben Gvir’s comments on Friday, when the minister openly encouraged settlers to “run to the hills, we have your back.” This was widely perceived as a call, with the backing of the Israeli government, to illegal settlement activity and violence against Palestinians by settler youth.

“When they tell the IDF to remove roadblocks in order to settle illegally in Homesh, or when they shout what the minister shouted, 'Run to the hills,' this is a failure for the army and an expression of the steps to dismantle the Defense Ministry, which makes it difficult to control and makes it difficult for the security forces to implement government policy,” Eisenkot said.

On Friday, following settler violence in Judea and Samaria, Ben Gvir made a statement calling for more settlement activity, including violence. 

“Run to the hilltops,” he said. “Here, there should be a full settlement, not only here, but in all the hills around us. We should settle the Land of Israel, and at the same time, launch a military operation, take down buildings and eliminate terrorists. Not just one or two, but dozens and hundreds and if needed, thousands.” 

He also accused Ben Gvir and Smotrich of exaggerating the problem of administrative detention, noting that the security establishment has used it against “hundreds of Palestinian” terror suspects. 

“This is a tool that we have used and are using against hundreds of Palestinians. It only makes headlines when a few Jewish terrorists are arrested,” Eisenkot said. “The same people who are in power today and are encouraging others to ‘run to the hills’ are the ones who encouraged young people to take actions like murdering a one-and-a-half-year-old baby.” 

Eisenkot was referring to the 2015 killing of the Dawabsha family, including the 18-month-old baby Ali, when their home was firebombed. Only Ahmed, then four years old, survived the attack. 

Before entering politics, Ben Gvir served as the defense attorney for the two settlers accused – and later convicted – of the firebombing attack. 

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

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