Middle East Monitor / June 24, 2023
Israel’s National Security Minister, on Friday, urged tougher military action against Palestinian resistance fighters in the Occupied West Bank and urged Jewish settlers to expand their presence there, despite surging violence and international calls for a halt to new construction, Reuters reports.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, was speaking at a settler outpost – one of several the Israeli military said had been discovered across the West Bank since Thursday but were not authorized.
They would be dismantled “according to enforcement priorities”, a military statement said, without elaborating.
The developments followed some of the worst violence in years involving Palestinians, Israeli forces and Jewish settlers in the West Bank in the past week.
“We have your backs, run to the hilltops, settle the land,” Ben-Gvir said during his visit.
The United Nations Human Rights chief said in Geneva he situation “risks spiraling out of control” and he urged Israel to comply with international law.
But Ben-Gvir called for tougher action.
“We must launch a military operation, bring down buildings, eliminate terrorists, not one or two but dozens and hundreds and, if necessary, thousands,” he said.
“Because, ultimately, it is the only way we will seize this place, strengthen our hold and restore security to the residents.”
Most countries deem Jewish settlements built on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Their expansion has, for decades, been among the most contentious issues between Israel, the international community and Palestinians, who say they undermine a viable future Palestinian state.
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported at least seven new outposts were built in the West Bank since Thursday.
The new construction follows Netanyahu’s announcement on Wednesday of plans for 1,000 new homes in the Eli Jewish settlement in response to a Palestinian gun attack in the area the previous day that killed four Israelis.
According to the Israeli watchdog, Peace Now, Eli was built in 1984 and some 4,600 Jewish settlers reside there. Palestinians in the area say they were dispossessed of their land to allow for the settlement’s expansion over the years.
Tuesday’s shooting came a day after an Israeli raid on Jenin that led to an hours-long exchange of fire between Palestinian resistance fighters and Israeli forces, backed by helicopter gunships. Seven Palestinians were killed and more than 90 wounded and seven Israeli personnel were also wounded.
In retaliation for that attack, hundreds of Jewish settlers rampaged through Palestinian towns in the West Bank such as Turmus Ayya, killing a young Palestinian father and setting dozens of houses and cars ablaze.
Amal Abdulhalim, a Palestinian who is a dual US national, said she was doing schoolwork at home in Turmus Ayya on Wednesday when she heard glass shattering and gunshots. She and her siblings locked the doors and tried to find a safe room in the house, she said.
They only realized that the cars outside had been torched and their house was about to catch fire when a neighbour called and alerted them to leave.
“I texted my family, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to be alive but I love you,'” she said.
She and her family managed to climb out a window, some without shoes on, and walk down the street for safety.
A delegation of more than 20 foreign missions visited the town on Friday to witness the damage.
“These were terrorist attacks committed by settlers to scare these people, to drive people away from their land,” said Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff of the European Union in Palestine.
Military spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said police arrested three people on suspicion of involvement in the rampages. The army had not been adequately prepared for the outburst of settler violence, he said.
“What happened in Turmus Ayya, the nationalist crime, is a severe event that we should prevent. We failed to prevent it,” he told a news briefing.
He said they would investigate themselves to prevent such an incident happening again.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Israel’s new settlement projects, which it said were part of its plan to de facto annex the West Bank.
Israel is “permanently closing the door to any opportunity for a political solution to the conflict,” it said.
Israel cites biblical, historical and political ties to the West Bank as its justification for claiming the land.