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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israeli general denounces Jewish settler violence in West Bank



An aerial view of the Evyatar settler outpost in the northern West Bank, July 7, 2024. The settlement is one of five settler outposts that Israel recently decided to give legal status. Settlements in the territory are widely considered to be illegal under international law. (Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times)

By Ephrat Livni


Amid rising tensions between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and new moves by the Israeli government to expand its hold on the territory, an Israeli general on Monday issued a harsh rebuke of the government’s policies there and condemned rising “nationalist crime” by Jewish settlers.


Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuks, the outgoing chief of Israel’s Central Command, which is responsible for the country’s military forces in the West Bank, said at a departure ceremony that a “strong and functioning” Palestinian Authority was in Israel’s security interest.


The general’s statement appeared to be a swipe at Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who is himself a settler and who has been crippling the authority by withholding tax funds that Israel collects on its behalf in the roughly 40% of the West Bank that the authority administers.


Fuks also expressed dismay over an increase in settler violence in the West Bank, which is home to about 2.7 million Palestinians and a Jewish settler population that has grown to well over 500,000. An extremist minority of violent settlers, he said, had been undermining Israel’s reputation internationally and sowing fear among Palestinians. “That, to me, is not Judaism,” he said. “At least not what I was raised on in my father’s and mother’s home. That is not the way of the Torah.”


Israel seized control of the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 during a war with three Arab states, and Israeli civilians have since settled there with both the tacit and explicit approval of the government, living under Israeli civil law while their Palestinian neighbors are subject to Israeli military law.


The international community largely views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal, and many of them are illegal under Israeli law but are tolerated by the government. Many outposts that began as illegal under Israeli law have subsequently been legitimized by the government, and Palestinians have long argued that they are a creeping annexation that turns land needed for any independent Palestinian state into an unmanageable patchwork.


Last year, the United Nations reported that attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank had surged in the weeks following the Oct. 7 attacks that set off the war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, with at least 115 killed, more than 2,000 injured and nearly 1,000 others forcibly displaced from their homes, citing violence and intimidation by Israeli forces and settlers.


Fuks argued that terrifying the Palestinians living alongside Jews was “a dangerous mistake” and that the actions of violent Jewish settlers threatened Israel’s security.


But Smotrich has been vocal about wanting Israel to claim all of the West Bank. Last month, he struck a deal with ministers to release some money withheld from the Palestinian Authority in exchange for the legalization of five more Jewish outposts, and last week, the finance ministry released about $136 million.


Smotrich said in a post on social media that day that he was working with planning authorities on approving more than 5,000 additional housing units in the West Bank. “We’re building the good country and thwarting the creation of a Palestinian state,” he said.


Last month an Israeli ministry approved the largest seizure of West Bank land since the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, claiming about 5 square miles in the Jordan Valley, according to Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settler activity. Israel has seized roughly 9 square miles of the territory this year, making 2024 by far the peak year for appropriations, Peace Now said.


While settlers and ministers are defiant, their activities are a source of tension for Israel with other nations, including its ally the United States, at a time when it is increasingly isolated in the world over its conduct of the war in Gaza.


“Settlements continue to be counterproductive to a two-state solution,” John Kirby, the national security spokesperson for the White House, said in a briefing with reporters on Monday. “We don’t support that.”

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