| 15 April 2024, Monday |

Israel’s Ben-Gvir rebukes police over ‘collective punishment’ of settlers

Israel’s far-right police minister chastised the force for what he called “collective punishment” of Jewish settlers, as tensions between the security forces and the government intensified over sectarian violence in the occupied West Bank.

Following the killing of four Israelis in a Hamas armed attack, settler rampages in Palestinian towns and villages drew international outrage and declarations of concern from the US.

U.S.-brokered peace talks aimed at founding a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza collapsed in 2014. Most countries deem the settlements Israel built on land it seized in the 1967 war as illegal, a view Israel disputes.

Israel’s military, police and domestic security service chiefs said in a statement on Saturday that the settlers’ actions over the last week amounted to “nationalist terrorism”, which they pledged to fight.

The terminology upset far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, who in the past have rejected comparisons between Jewish and Palestinian militants.

One of them, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, said on Sunday he had demanded police explain why they had blocked the gates to the settlement of Ateret to screen those coming and going and “tased a person who was standing nearby”.

Ben-Gvir told the police chief that “he opposes any violation of the law” but cannot accept “collective punishment” of settlers, a statement from the minister’s party said.

Police spokespeople did not immediately respond for comment.

The military said it detained a soldier suspected of taking part in a “violent confrontation” in Umm Safa village, where bystander video showed two men aiming rifles in the direction of a Palestinian shouting at them in Arabic. Gunshots can be heard.

Netanyahu has sought to calm Western concern about his ultranationalist partners, saying he would steer policy. But the veteran politician has raised U.S. hackles with settlement building.

Last week he issued a general censure of rioting in the West Bank. Asked if Netanyahu agreed with the security chiefs’ designation of the rampages as “terrorism”, his office referred Reuters to that statement and declined further comment.

At least two cabinet ministers from Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party shied from the term.

“I think the (rampages) are actions, nationalist actions – as they have been designated – taken against a nationalist backdrop, and that’s something that shouldn’t be permitted,” Likud’s Energy Minister Israel Katz told Army Radio.

  • Reuters