Smotrich: It's like a blood libel

Far-right ministers slam IDF over drill simulating settlers kidnapping Palestinians

Military says exercise was among the ‘extreme scenarios’ troops drilled for, apologizes for vests labeled ‘enemy forces’ worn by soldiers pretending to be settlers

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Soldiers wearing "enemy forces" vests are seen in a video from an IDF exercise that included a simulation of Israeli settlers kidnapping Palestinians. (Social media/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Far-right ministers and activists on Monday deplored the Israeli military for carrying out a drill simulating a kidnapping attack carried out by Israeli settlers.

The IDF said that the kidnapping scenario, part of a large-scale exercise in the West Bank, was just one of more than 100 scenarios that were drilled, and is among the “extreme scenarios.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said the military officials who gave the order to “portray the settlers as the enemy and the Palestinians as the victim, have a severe moral blindness” and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said “whoever is responsible for it cannot continue in his role and be entrusted with looking after the lives and safety of the settlers.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Smotrich said the drill was “reminiscent of blood libels.”

“There has never been a case of a settler abducting an Arab child,” Smotrich told Army Radio.

“It’s a bit reminiscent of the blood libels that alleged that Christian children were taken and slaughtered to make matza,” the far-right minister said. “There has never been a case of abduction like that.”

“We don’t need to dress troops with a vest saying that they are the enemy, and calling them settlers,” Smotrich said. “There is unfortunately confusion, and I see it in all sorts of places.”

Several settler mayors issued a joint statement calling for the dismissal of the officer that drew up the drill and hit out at IDF Central Command, which oversees military operations in the West Bank and has regularly been criticized by far-right coalition figures and activists.

“Anyone who is able to discharge reserve combat soldiers who recite psalms in a mosque in Jenin most definitely is able to discharge the commander who planned an exercise that not only discredits the Judea and Samaria communities, but also endangers lives,” they insisted in a statement, referring to the suspension in December of several soldiers who appeared on video singing Hanukkah songs over the mosque’s loudspeaker system.

Other activists and far-right media commentators described the scenario as “unrealistic,” despite such acts by Jewish extremists occurring in the past, most notably the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2014.

Footage from the drill, which simulated settlers abducting a Palestinian in response to a terror attack, showed that several soldiers were wearing vests marking them as the “enemy force,” a common practice in military exercises.

The IDF apologized for marking the soldiers pretending to be settlers in the drill as the opposing force.

“The IDF did not drill scenarios that simulate settlers as an enemy, and the marking of the vests in question, whose purpose is to separate those training, is part of the exercise’s safety routine,” the IDF said in a statement.

“In the present case, it was a mistake to mark them with such an inscription and we apologize for that,” the IDF added.

Illustrative: 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)

There has been substantial documentation and reporting on rising settler violence in recent months following the Hamas-led October 7 attack on Israel, and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar reportedly warned the cabinet of the repercussions in late October.

The attacks have often targeted property, and have included stone-throwings at passing cars, assaults, and even alleged killings, with the vast majority of cases going unprosecuted, according to rights groups.

In the 18 months before Hamas’s devastating October 7 onslaught on Israel, in which thousands of terrorists murdered some 1,200 people and kidnapped another 255, mostly civilians, the West Bank had already seen its highest levels of unrest in decades. Confrontations there have risen sharply since Israel launched its retaliatory offensive on Gaza, aiming to destroy Hamas and return the hostages.

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