There are No Israeli ‘Civilians’ in the West Bank

Israeli settler terrorism is a strategy employed by Israel to advance its territorial gains and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

US President Joe Biden recently called out Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as being the “most extreme” he’s seen, and pointed to members of the Israeli Prime Minister’s coalition as being “part of the problem.”

His comments immediately drew attention to Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, along with Israeli security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, and illegal West Bank settlers in general.

But Israeli settler extremism is not isolated to the West Bank, nor to Israel’s current far-right government’s ministers like Ben Gvir and Smotrich. Israeli settlers occupy the highest positions in the military and government, while extremists are operating special militias inside the Israeli army – with its approval – and additionally receiving funds from US charitable organizations.

Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians have been steadily on the rise over the past years, with an average of three violent incidents occurring per day in 2023, compared to two in 2022 and one in 2021, according to the United Nations.

One of the worst recorded attacks this year came on February 26, when a settler militia force, at least 400 strong, descended upon several villages surrounding the Palestinian city of Nablus, including the town of Huwara. 

The settler attack, even described as a pogrom by top Israeli general Yehuda Fuchs, resulted in the murder of a Palestinian man, in addition to the burning down of at least 30 homes and 100 cars. 

In support of the settler assault, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich openly proclaimed that he thought “the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it.”

In mid-June, another 400 armed Israeli settlers attacked Turmusaya and surrounding villages, torching 30 homes and around 60 cars, additionally resulting in over 100 injuries and the murder of another Palestinian man; while he was attempting to save children. 

The two most notorious far-right members of Israel’s current coalition government are ministers Smotrich and Ben Gvir, both of whom live in illegal settlements and were longtime activists as part of the settler movement. 

Ben Gvir, who has faced a laundry list of criminal charges ranging from terror group affiliations to incitement of racism, resides in the extremist settlement of al-Khalil (Hebron). Smotrich currently resides in Kedumim, a settlement located just a short drive from Yitzhar – the other infamous settler community. 

Their unified list, running under the name Religious Zionism, secured the third-highest number of votes from the Israeli public and now holds the position of the second-largest party in the current coalition government.

Not ‘a few bad apples’

Dror Sadot, spokesperson for B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, emphasizes that we cannot downplay the broader support and backing that enables such actions. She tells The Cradle that: “Even if it wasn’t this current Ben Gvir-Smotrich government, it would still be Apartheid.”

“When the Huwara pogrom happened, we should’ve paid attention to what sort of backup the settlers got from those politicians. What they are saying reveals the truth, it reveals the mechanisms in place that were always there under previous governments.”

Sadot continues: “We shouldn’t talk about settler violence as if it is a few bad apples, or extremists, or anything like this, because, at the end of the day, Israel is backing everything.” 

While attention has been drawn to figures like Ben Gvir and Smotrich, the truth is that radical right-wing settlers occupy significant positions within the Israeli government and military.

The recent decision to launch an invasion of Jenin, for example, was heavily influenced by pressure from settler communities. Yossi Dagan, head of the regional settlement council in the Northern West Bank, played a prominent role in encouraging the violent attack on Jenin, which experts at the UN have labeled a war crime.

Yet, Dagan’s ambitions did not stop there. He called on the government to “order the IDF to immediately launch a larger, broader, more thorough and in-depth operation.”

Radicals in the corridors of power 

Israeli Member of Knesset for the ruling Likud Party, Avichai Boaron, has also made alarming statements. Following the military operation in Jenin, Boaron suggested that “we must expand the military operation to include Nablus and Ramallah as well.”

Notably, Boaron himself is a settler activist who has come under fire for using euphemisms to refer to Palestinians while proposing extermination camps as a solution. 

In 2018, Netanyahu posted on social media to celebrate Avichai Boaron’s success with the Amihai settlement, which was built in 2017 as an alternative to the evacuated settler outpost of Amona – illegally developed on Palestinian land – that had turned into a “crisis” for the Israeli public. 

The Amihai settlement was added to the illegal settlement of Shiloh, accompanied by the settler outposts of Adei Ad, Geulat Zion, and others, which happen to surround Turmusaya, along with other Palestinian villages which have recently been targets of large-scale settler-militia attacks.

Boaron’s recently secured a position in the Likud Party to replace David Amsalem, who Netanyahu promoted to be the Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister. Amsalem is also a West Bank settler, from the illegal colony of Ma’alei Adumim, and is currently in charge of  “advancing partnerships with states in the region (the Mediterranean basin) and the Palestinian Authority.”

Moreover, the leadership of the Israeli military itself is not immune to this influence. Herzi Halevi, the current Chief of Staff, is a resident of the illegal colony of Kfar Ha-Oranim in the West Bank. His appointment to this key role was approved last year under the government of Yair Lapid, with no major objections.

Avi Moaz, the deputy minister and head of the national Jewish identity department in the Prime Minister’s Office, resides in an illegal settlement stronghold located in the Silwan area of occupied East Jerusalem. His position holds significant weight, and he is a leading figure in the Noam Party.

Speaking to The Cradle, the Executive Director of Bisan Center for Research and Development, Ubai al-Aboudi, says that “the settlers are a militia, these are not civilian groups, most of them are ideologues, they see themselves as tasked with replacing Palestinian villagers, their houses, and they call for this openly.”

The two strongholds of the settler terror groups are situated around the Palestinian cities of Al-Khalil and Nablus. Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva, in Yitzhar settlement, is the indoctrination center for many of the most extreme settler terrorists, where they are taught ideas, such as, that Arabs are a “cancer” and that killing non-Jewish babies is permissible

The army colludes with settlers

According to the conclusions of a 2022 report published by B’Tselem on settler violence, the attacks “are not perpetrated by “bands of outlaws” or “bad seeds,” nor are they simply “violent outbursts” or “unusual incidents,” but rather they are a “strategy employed by the Israeli apartheid regime.”

A 2021 investigation conducted jointly between The Intercept and Local Call found that at least four of the 11 Palestinians who were killed in the West Bank on 14 May of that year, were due to deliberate joint attacks carried out by Israeli settlers and soldiers. 

In the May 2021 joint settler-soldier attack on Palestinians in the village of Urif, the Israeli military confirmed in a statement that one of the masked settlers caught on film firing at Palestinians, alongside soldiers, was, in fact, from the settlement of Yitzhar and himself an active Israeli soldier. 

Zvi Sukot, who was a spokesperson for the settlement of Yitzhar and part of the ‘Hilltop Youth,’ applauded the Israeli army for the joint attacks on Palestinians at the time. Sukot, who is now a member of the Israeli Knesset as part of the current government, made his name campaigning for the release of a group of settlers who burned a Palestinian baby to death in 2015.

Israeli settlers were caught on a leaked video dancing at a wedding, celebrating the murder of the 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh, and stabbing at pictures of the Palestinian family they had killed alongside him. Present also at the wedding was the legal representative for the terrorist settlers, Itamar Ben Gvir.

As recently as June 24, Israeli settlers were documented to have used Israeli army-issued assault rifles – Colt M4’s manufactured in the US – to shoot at Palestinians in the village of Umm Safa. 

The settler extremists, despite not having known structured armed organizations, were revealed in May to have been integrated into a special Israeli military unit. The extremist settlers belonging to the Hilltop Youth have allegedly been inducted into the newly created ‘Desert Frontier’ army unit, where they represent a majority of the Unit and are carrying out severe abuses across the West Bank. 

B’Tselem spokeswoman, Dror Sadot, says that her organization has “documented hundreds of cases of settler violence, during many of which the soldiers were there, and in the “best cases” you will see they won’t do anything, but in the worst cases they will join the settlers against the Palestinians.”

In a frightening development, Israeli Security Minister Ben Gvir has been granted permission to build Israel’s new “national guard,” which is shaping up to be a publicly funded ultra-nationalist militia force to serve the extremist goals of the Israeli settler movement. One of the Israeli colonel’s that is helping Ben Gvir form the national guard is Efraim Laor, who made the following comment during a lecture in 2019:

“An enemy needs to be killed, you don’t shoot at [terror] cells, you shoot between the eyes – whoever can’t do that, 15 cm lower. Including those who are there and are not attacking. But you see an enemy – you do not find out whether he is involved or not — he’s involved — he needs to be eliminated.”

US charities fueling illegal settlements

The Hilltop Youth settler group, often portrayed as “bands of outlaws,” have direct links to the Israeli government and even charitable donations from the US. In 2008, the Hilltop Youth ushered in a new era of what was called “Price-Tag” violence, where settlers would attack Palestinian civilians, along with their mosques, schools, crops, and homes. 

One such figure within this context is Itay Zar, known as the first Hilltop Youth, who established the settler outpost of Havat Gilad in 2002. It is important to note that settlement outposts, including settler “farms,” are considered illegal under Israeli law.

However, many are eventually recognized by Israeli authorities, as was the case with Havat Gilad in 2018. The proximity of Havat Gilad to the Yitzhar settlement, which houses a notoriously radical Yeshiva (Jewish religious school), illustrates how extremist belief systems are transmitted within these religious educational institutions.

One US-based charity named the Central Fund of Israel (CFI) was found to have funded an extremist Yeshiva, along with the Honenu group that provides legal funds and financial support for settler terrorists. CFI still operates as a charity in the US, despite having funneled tens of millions of dollars to far-right extremist groups in occupied territory.

Worryingly, the settler extremists, despite not having known structured armed organizations, were revealed in May to have been integrated into a special Israeli military unit. The extremist settlers belonging to the Hilltop Youth have allegedly been inducted into the newly created Desert Frontier army unit, where they represent a majority of the unit and are carrying out severe crimes across the West Bank. 

A concerning web of US-based and registered charities exists, providing direct financial support to organizations guiding the settlement movement, according to Ubai al-Aboudi. This ongoing financial backing allows these organizations to receive funds, perpetuating the expansion of Israeli settlements.

The Israel Land Fund (ILF), for instance, supports the acquisition of real estate for Israeli settlers, providing legal assistance for them, and advertises properties in the occupied territories. The ILF’s fiscal sponsor is the aforementioned CFI, which is a registered charity in New York, it is also the fiscal sponsor for Regavim, which works to expand Israeli control over Palestinian land through applying pressure on the relevant Israeli authorities.

The Hebron Fund, directly registered in New York, plays a role in funding the illegal settlement project in al-Khalil (Hebron). The fiscal sponsor for the Ir David Foundation, which utilizes archaeological claims to displace Palestinians from East Jerusalem, is called the Friends of Ir David and is also registered in New York.

Similarly, Ateret Cohanim, working to establish a Jewish demographic majority in occupied East Jerusalem by replacing Palestinian families with Israeli settlers, has its fiscal sponsor named the Friends of Ateret Cohanim, registered in New York as well.

Two sides of the same coin 

Israeli settlers have recently attacked the properties of Palestinians who are US citizens, which according to the US’s stringent property laws, should force them to intervene and protect their own nationals. According to US law, since 1854 it has been seen as an obligation for sitting President’s to intervene in order to protect the lives and properties of citizens threatened by foreign powers.

Even in the cases of murdered US citizens, there is no protection or significant pressure applied on the Israeli government. In the cases of Shireen Abu Akleh, Omar Asad, Ourwa Hamad, and Mahmoud Shalan, all US citizens, no one was charged for their murders by the Israeli authorities. 

The Biden administration’s allowance of such financing, coupled with its failure to safeguard its own citizens, creates a contradiction as it condemns the settlement movement while inadvertently encouraging it. 

Meanwhile, his government continues to allow US dollars to finance Israeli settler extremism, and the settlement movement, does nothing to protect its own citizens from Israeli criminality. 

Never mind the White House’s public criticism of Israeli extremism. In reality, there are few punitive measures Washington is prepared to take against Israel’s ferocious aggressions. This, despite the mounting evidence that there is no separation between the Israeli government and the settler movement today.

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and has worked with RT, Middle East Eye, The New Arab, MEMO, Mint Press News, Al-Mayadeen English, TRT World, and various other media outlets. He has worked as a news correspondent, political analyst, and produced a number of documentary films.

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