Palestinian officials on Tuesday denounced Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett for having reportedly called on Israel to kill captured terrorists and callously boasting that he has already taken the lives of many Arabs without regret.
“Bennett’s calling for the murder of Palestinian captives is in blatant disregard of international law and the Third Geneva Convention, which delineates the protections entitled to prisoners by international law upon their capture,” the general delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States said in a statement. “It is extremely alarming that a public Israeli official at the ministerial level calls for murder and utters explicitly racist remarks without being held accountable.”
The delegation called on the international community, and particularly the US, to condemn Bennett’s “inciting” remarks, demanding they be met with “serious action.”
Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, made the controversial remarks at a cabinet discussion about the release of Palestinian terrorists in order to enable the resumption of peace talks, according to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. Bennett, who opposed the government’s deal that will see 104 prisoners released over the course of the peace talks that resumed this week, reportedly said: “If you capture terrorists, you simply have to kill them.”
According to the report, National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror told him that this is illegal, to which Bennett responded: “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that.”
The comment’s publication Monday provoked domestic criticism of Bennett as well, with left-wing groups alleging racism and disregard for human life. Bennett’s office responded by saying that his comments were misinterpreted. The minister was speaking about killing enemy combatants in the context of army operations, a spokesperson said, adding that it might make more sense to kill captured terrorists rather than apprehending and later releasing them.
This week’s incident was not the first time the 41-year old Bennett sparked outrage with ostensible pejorative remarks about Arabs. In June, he drew condemnations for seemingly comparing the Palestinians to shrapnel in a soldier’s behind. In a speech to a settler-friendly audience, Bennett suggested that the conflict with the Palestinians was analogous to bomb fragments that could not be dislodged without causing serious harm to the body in which they were lodged, and that therefore his proposal to annex much of the West Bank to Israel was preferable to a two-state solution.
“I have a friend who’s got shrapnel in his rear end, and he’s been told that it can be removed surgically but it would leave him disabled,” said Bennett. “So he decided to live with it. There are situations where insisting on perfection can lead to more trouble than it’s worth.”
That metaphor elicited reproach from opposition and coalition members alike.
Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.