Far-right lawmakers slam IDF, Gallant over razing of illegal West Bank outpost

Ben Gvir: ‘While we’re counting our fallen soldiers… Gallant comes and destroys a settlement’; defense minister rebuts claims IDF general Fox is targeting settlers

Israeli forces are seen at an illegal settler construction in the Pnei Kedem outpost in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, January 9, 2024. (Courtesy)
Israeli forces are seen at an illegal settler construction in the Pnei Kedem outpost in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, January 9, 2024. (Courtesy)

IDF and Border Police forces razed illegal settler construction overnight in the Pnei Kedem outpost in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, settler activists said Tuesday.

Six temporary housing units, including some occupied by IDF reservists, were demolished in the early morning raid, according to a statement from settler activists involved in establishing illegal outposts.

The demolitions ignited already tense discussions between far-right ministers and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over civil affairs in the West Bank.

Associates of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of civilian issues in the West Bank, were quoted by the Israel Hayom daily as criticizing the move and charging that IDF Central Command head Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox had bypassed Smotrich by deeming the demolition as a task of “immediate security urgency.”

The sources were also quoted as lamenting that Gallant had not acted with the same urgency to demolish illegal Bedouin construction that allegedly was at the same site for years.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir squarely blamed Gallant for the demolitions. “On this difficult morning, while we’re counting our fallen [soldiers], when our troops in Gaza and the nation is united, Gallant comes and destroys a settlement,” he said in a statement.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech also claimed that settlers were being targeted, lashing out at Fox over what she called “the destruction in Gush Etzion.”

“While our enemies seek to erase our memory from the face of the earth, Central Command General Yehuda Fox has found the real culprits — settlers,” she said in a statement.

The hardline MK charged that Fox had ordered the demolitions with Gallant’s approval as an “act of revenge” to promote his own political career and to push a two-state solution in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Gallant quickly came to Fox’s defense in a post on X, formerly Twitter, where he stated, “Hundreds of terrorists in the West Bank were eliminated this year on their way to perpetrate attacks on Israeli citizens. Gen. Yehuda Fox led all of these operations.”

“A significant portion of those who are attacking General Fox live in the places he was fighting to defend. I urge the public: if you need to attack someone for political reasons, attack me — not the commanders of the IDF,” the defense minister added.

IDF soldiers scuffle with settlers from the Einav settlement trying to storm the town of Deir Sharaf in the Nablus governorate of the West Bank on November 2, 2023, after an Israeli was killed when his car came under fire. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the terror group’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel, there has been an uptick in violent attacks by extremist settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, which has been noted by human rights groups in Israel and abroad.

Israel has come under increasing pressure from its allies to rein in settler violence, and far-right activists have slung accusations at Fox over the efforts in recent weeks.

In late December, Channel 12 news reported that Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar had warned there may be a “concrete threat to the general’s life” due to threats from far-right activists.

Bar attributed the intensified criticism of Fox to steps he has taken in the West Bank since October 7, such as the enforcement of administrative orders that see extremist settlers jailed without charge, and the collection of guns that had been distributed to communal security squads without oversight.

While the international community considers all settlements illegal, Israel differentiates between settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.

However, outposts are sometimes erected with the state’s tacit approval, and successive governments have sought to legalize at least some of the unrecognized neighborhoods as a result.

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