Israeli campaign raises funds for torched Palestinian town

Isaac Scharf & Ami Bentov

AP  / March 2, 2023

YOKNEAM, Israel – An Israeli-led crowdfunding campaign has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Palestinian residents of a West Bank town that was set ablaze by radical Jewish settlers, the organizer of the drive said Thursday.

Some 12,000 Israelis donated nearly 1.7 million shekels (465,000 dollars) since the campaign was launched this week. The fundraising effort was a rare instance of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians at a time when tensions have been surging between the sides over spiraling violence.

Scores of Israeli settlers went on a violent rampage in the northern West Bank town of Huwara late on Sunday, setting dozens of cars and homes on fire after two settlers were killed by a Palestinian gunman there earlier in the day. One Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire during the incident, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

The rampage, the worst such violence in decades, prompted Israeli activist Yaya Fink, an observant Jew, to launch the fundraising initiative.

“I had very bad feelings for when I saw hundreds of religious Jews tried to burn Hawara, including innocent people,” he said, adding that it delivered a message that “the majority of the Jews are against extremism, against racism.” He said most of the money was raised within the campaign’s first 12 hours.

Fink said the money will be sent as compensation to Palestinians whose property was damaged in the attack. He said he received threats from opponents to the campaign, who called him a traitor for raising money for the Palestinians, even as some are carrying out attacks.

The rampage prompted international condemnation. But Israel’s government, which is made up of pro-settlement ultranationalists, expressed little outrage and only called on the perpetrators not to take the law into their own hands.

However, some lawmakers went even further, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who said Hawara should be “erased” — but by state authorities and not by private citizens. He later backtracked on those remarks.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday called on Netanyahu to “publicly and clearly reject” Smotrich’s comments, describing them as “repugnant” and “disgusting.”

On Thursday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric called Smotrich’s remark about Hawara “irresponsible” and “unacceptable.” The U.N. chief, Antonio Guterres, has reiterated his call for all sides to “refrain from incitement, inflammatory rhetoric and all acts of provocation,” Dujarric added.

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, head of the military’s Central Command in charge of the West Bank, said this week the army was not prepared for the intensity of the Hawara violence, which he called “a pogrom done by outlaws.” He was using a term that usually refers to mob attacks against Jews in eastern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

More than 60 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, about half of them militants, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 14 Israelis during that same time. It has been one of the deadliest periods between Israelis and Palestinians in years.

Scharf reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report