Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich urged the military to “go on the offensive” and called for more settlement construction on Saturday after a terror attack killed two Israelis in the West Bank.
Shay Silas Nigreker, 60, and his 28-year-old son Aviad Nir, were shot to death in the West Bank town of Huwara, the site of a series of violent incidents between Israelis and Palestinians in recent months. A terrorist armed with a handgun shot the men to death at a carwash, then fled the scene.
“The IDF must go on the offensive in Judea and Samaria and restore deterrence and security, while we work to intensify construction and the strengthening of settlements in the area,” Smotrich said in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.
“Terror will never achieve its goal of uprooting us from our land,” he said.
Earlier this year, Smotrich sparked widespread outrage in Israel and abroad when he called to destroy Huwara after two Israeli brothers were killed in a terror attack in the town. After that shooting, extremist settlers rampaged through Huwara, destroying property, terrorizing residents, and leaving a Palestinian man dead in unclear circumstances.
“The village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it,” Smotrich said in March after the terror attack and the settler rampage. He later sought to walk back the remarks.
Smotrich, who heads the far-right Religious Zionism party, also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of the body that authorizes settlement construction and the demolition of Palestinian homes in much of the West Bank. That area of authority includes large parts of Huwara, in the northern West Bank, where some 7,000 Palestinians live.
A Friday report said Smotrich is advancing a plan to legalize 155 wildcat outposts throughout the West Bank.
Expressions of condolences for the terror victims and vows to apprehend the perpetrator poured in from other politicians on Saturday night. The IDF has launched a manhunt for the shooter and closed off a number of roads in the area.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to the families of the victims “whose lives were cut short in such a cruel and criminal way over Shabbat.”
“Security forces are working diligently in order to find the murderer and bring him to account,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
President Isaac Herzog lamented “a sad Saturday that ended with great pain,” adding that “we mustn’t allow terror to win.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said, “The heart breaks.”
“Another family joins the tragic circle of bereavement. I send condolences to the family and friends at this difficult hour,” Lapid said.
Settlements Minister Orit Strock of Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party said the attack “demands lessons not just for whoever pulled the trigger, but for the entire terror-supporting environment.”
The head of the opposition’s center-left Labor party, Merav Michaeli, slammed the government for the surge in terror attacks this year. Last year, while the coalition parties were in the opposition, they blamed the government for the violence, but now evade responsibility, Michaeli charged.
“At every terror attack that occurred on the watch of the previous government, this government’s members came to the scene of the attack in order to dance on the blood of the victims,” Michaeli said in a statement. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, then an opposition lawmaker, often showed up at the scene of terror attacks at the time.
“They came to the scene of the murder together with a cheerleading squad, sang and screamed with megaphones at the previous governments’ ministers. The year has not yet ended and there are already over 30 murdered under the current government, but they swallow their tongue,” Michaeli said. “Now, some of them stay silent, while some blame the opposition for terrorist attacks. The responsibility is never on them.”
The US State Department said, “We unequivocally condemn today’s terrorist attack in the West Bank.”
“The United States expresses its condolences to their families and calls for immediate steps to end the violence and incitement to violence,” the State Department said in a statement.
The Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups praised the attack, calling it “heroic” and “a natural response to the crimes of the occupation.”
Huwara has long been a flashpoint in the West Bank, thanks to a main thoroughfare running through the town also being used regularly by Israelis to travel to and from settlements.
Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.
Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank have left 28 people dead and several others seriously wounded since the beginning of the year, including in Saturday’s shooting.
According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 173 West Bank Palestinians have also been killed during the same period — most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances, including by armed Israeli settlers.