ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Ben Gvir says his right to be safe in West Bank outweighs Arabs’ freedom of movement

In TV interview, far-right national security minister places blames for violence on more moderate defense minister

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a police event in Jerusalem, August 17, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a police event in Jerusalem, August 17, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Wednesday said his right to safe movement in the West Bank was more important than the rights of Arabs to free movement.

The far-right minister was asked in an interview with Channel 12 news about West Bank security after a spate of deadly Palestinian terror attacks. Ben Gvir blamed the more moderate defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for the violence, saying Gallant “needs to change the picture.”

“I trust the prime minister but I think that Gallant is simply in the wrong in his policy,” Ben Gvir said.

“My right, and my wife’s and my children’s right, to get around on the roads in Judea and Samaria is more important than the right to movement for Arabs,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

“Sorry Mohammad,” he said to Channel 12 journalist Mohammad Magadli, who was arguing with him, “but that’s the reality. That’s the truth. My right to life comes before their right to movement.”

Ben Gvir is a resident of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, on the outskirts of the city of Hebron (which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Israel in an 80%-20% split) in the southern West Bank. An Israeli kindergarten teacher was shot to death in front of her daughter in a terror attack on a road near the city earlier this week. Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have left 29 people dead and several others seriously wounded since the beginning of the year.

Arab MK Ahmad Tibi of the Hadash-Ta’al party lashed Ben Gvir for his comments.

“For the first time, an Israeli minister admits on air that Israel enforces an apartheid regime based on Jewish supremacy,” Tibi said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Ben Gvir, the head of the coalition’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party, has long taken a hardline approach to the Palestinians and clashed with the security establishment over West Bank policies.

He also has a history of anti-Arab incitement. As a youth activist, he grew up in the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach movement, which has been blacklisted by both the US and Israel.

Karine Elharrar, an MK from the opposition’s Yesh Atid party, in response to the Channel 12 interview called Ben Gvir “the authentic representative of the most racist, messianic and Kahanist government we’ve ever had.”

Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir was convicted in the past of supporting a terror organization for anti-Arab activities, though he insists he has moderated in recent years. He has repeatedly spoken at annual memorial events for Kahane, however, including last year.

Since assuming office, Ben Gvir has also downplayed extremist settler violence against Palestinians, which has also climbed this year.

Earlier this month, Ben Gvir praised an Israeli settler who allegedly shot dead a Palestinian man, saying, “Anyone who defends himself against rock-throwing should get a medal of honor.”

Ben Gvir’s Wednesday Channel 12 interview mostly dealt with violent crime in Arab Israeli communities, which has surged under his watch. As national security minister, Ben Gvir oversees the police force.

He told Channel 12 that the crime wave poses a security threat to the State of Israel and could spill over into Jewish communities, which he termed a “bigger threat” than the current state of near-daily murders among Arabs.

In response to his comment, the interviewer asked if “we should only care because it might spill over into Jewish communities,” to which Ben Gvir said that noting this aspect was “important.”

“It’s going from being a crime problem to a security threat to the State of Israel,” he said. “There’s a reality that is bad, and it’s going to get worse. We don’t fully grasp the issue.”

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