Blinken says US concerned over Jewish settler violence in West Bank

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  June 28, 2023

Secretary of state’s words come as Jewish settler violence spirals ‘out of control’ in much of the West Bank, with dozens of Palestinian properties destroyed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed concern over increasing Israeli violence in the occupied West Bank affecting US citizens.

In a call with his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen on Tuesday, “Blinken underscored the need for all parties to work to further de-escalate the situation”, according to a State Department spokesperson.

There has been a spike of settlers attacking Palestinians over the past week, with at least 85 such incidents recorded, prompting security officials in Israel to warn that the ongoing violence could lead to anarchy. 

Middle East Eye spoke to several American citizens of Palestinian descent who were attacked by settlers holding American citizenship last week. They described a mob of around 50 settlers moving from house to house, many carrying guns and wearing black face masks and attacking anybody they saw.

“The [US State Department] is aware of the reports of US citizens and US Lawful Permanent Residents in Turmus Ayya being threatened and is actively engaging with the government of Israel on this matter,” the State Department spokesperson told Israeli daily Haaretz, referring to the West Bank village that was attacked by settlers.

Additionally, he added, the United States had already clearly stated that it expects the Israeli government “to ensure full accountability and legal prosecution for those responsible for these attacks, in addition to compensation for lost homes and property”.

‘Losing control’ of settler violence

Israeli media outlet Walla news cited a security official on Monday who called these settler attacks a “nationalist crime” and cautioned that the situation is approaching the moment of being “out of control”.

“There is a feeling of losing control in the field,” Walla quoted an army official as saying.

Settlers have been rampaging through Palestinian villages near Ramallah and Nablus since Tuesday last week. 

At least one Palestinian has been killed in the attacks and dozens of people wounded. The majority of the attacks involved setting crops, cars and houses on fire.

Israeli soldiers were seen either protecting settlers during the violence or participating in the attacks.

The attacks further escalated after two Palestinians shot and killed four Israeli settlers.

The chief of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, and the army chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, agreed to send two infantry battalions, a special unit patrol and a military police force to the West Bank as reinforcements.

“The police are not really dominating the area and the army is not managing to take control of it,” a security source told Walla.

Though there are enough forces in the West Bank, according to Walla, the decision to send more battalions came after an assessment concluded that the situation could tip into a war.

“Usually there is [Israeli] nationalist crime for a day or two and no more than that,” army officials said. “When you set fire to a Palestinian house where an elderly woman with children is, it increases the chance that the 20-year-old will go out and carry out an attack.”

US and European officials have been pressing Israel to rein in settlers, some of whose leaders sit as ministers in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Over the weekend, settler gangs burned crops in the Palestinian town of Turmusaya, north of Ramallah, only days after the village was subject to a rampage that left at least 30 houses and 70 vehicles on fire.

On Saturday, dozens of settlers swept through several other West Bank villages attacking Palestinian homes in scenes that have been described as an organized “pogrom”.

The heads of the police, army and Shin Bet released a statement denouncing the attacks as “nationalist terror”.