ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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For Israeli extremists sanctioned by US, many allegations of violence, little time served

All four radicals targeted by White House are accused of attacks on Palestinians, including leading the Huwara riot, harassing villagers, beating activists and throwing rocks

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Illustrative: Israeli settlers hurl stones at Palestinians  near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank on October 7, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90/File)
Illustrative: Israeli settlers hurl stones at Palestinians near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank on October 7, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90/File)

Last week, US President Joe Biden issued sanctions against four Israelis convicted, indicted, or suspected of carrying out violent attacks against Palestinian residents of the West Bank.

The measure, which blocks designated individuals from access to the US financial system, was a product of frustration with what Washington says is Israel’s failure to deal with settler violence, as well as backlash against Biden’s stance on the conflict in Gaza from within his Democratic party.

All four have been accused of violent crimes against Palestinians, but only David Chai Chasdai, the most prominent of the bunch with a raft of convictions going back over a decade, has ever served time.

Like Chasdai, Yinon Levi is a known figure within radical settler activist circles, but despite being accused on numerous occasions of violence and harassment towards Palestinians in the West Bank, he has never been prosecuted.

The other two sanctioned individuals, Shalom Zicherman and Einan Tanjil, have each been prosecuted on one occasion, but neither has been sentenced.

The sanctions have already begun to bite. On Sunday and Monday, it emerged that the Israeli bank accounts of two of the four —  Chasdai and Levi — had been frozen due to financial compliance requirements Israeli banks are legally committed to.

In a briefing last week ahead of the announcement of the sanctions, a senior US official said multiple forms of corroborating evidence are required for an individual to be sanctioned, which can include public reporting, court documents and intelligence.

David Chai Chasdai

Chasdai, a 29-year-old father of two, has a long record of criminal activity. He has on numerous occasions been arrested, issued with restraining orders of different kinds, indicted, and convicted. He is a resident of the West Bank outpost of Givat Ronen, outside Nablus.

David Chai Chasdai appears at a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on July 2, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)

By the age of 19, Chasdai, who grew in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, had racked up a long list of arrests, detentions, and restrictions on his movement in the West Bank on suspicion of nationalist violence.

In a 2014 report by the Makor Rishon newspaper, he was cited as “the number one target” of the West Bank police and a severe source of concern for the Shin Bet security agency’s department for dealing with Jewish nationalist crime.

Last year, Chasdai was arrested and arraigned on suspicion of participating in a deadly February 26 settler rampage in the Palestinian town of Huwara in the northern West Bank, after a gunman killed two Israeli brothers as they drove through the town.

Chasdai was released from prison by the Lod District Court on restricted conditions, but a short while later was ordered back into prison under a three-month administrative detention order by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said he was suspected of having instigated the vigilante violence.

Nonetheless, he has yet to be charged over the riot, described by some Israeli officials as a pogrom.

Settlers pray as cars and homes burn in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Chasdai does have at least three criminal convictions to his name, for which he has served several months in prison. He has also received suspended prison sentences and has been ordered to do community service.

In February 2013, he was convicted of aggravated assault for an attack on two Arab taxi drivers outside an event hall in Jerusalem, where he had attended a wedding.

In April 2015, he was caught with two other suspects in a car in the Jewish Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, near the Palestinian village of Beit Iksa, at 2 a.m. with three bottles of gasoline, matches, metal and wooden clubs, and spray paint. He was convicted a year later of intent to use dangerous substances in violation of the law.

And in December 2017, he was convicted in a plea bargain by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court of having violated several restraining orders issued against him by IDF commanders, including orders banning him from meeting certain individuals and leaving the settlement where he lived, and imposing a curfew on him.

Yinon Levi

Levi is the founder of the illegal outpost of Meitarim Farm in the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank. The 31-year-old father of three has been repeatedly accused of leading efforts to physically attack and harass local Palestinian communities in the area.

Nasser Nawaja, a Susya resident and activist for the Palestinian village, stands next to one of three water cisterns deliberately damaged during an incident on October 16, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon)

Over 1,000 Palestinians from 15 herding communities in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full military and civil control, have been displaced due to settler harassment since Hamas’s October 7 atrocities and the outbreak of war in Gaza, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported. The phenomenon has been particularly acute in the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley.

Levi is named in a petition to the High Court of Justice submitted in November by the Haqel human rights organization demanding that the IDF and police protect these communities. The petitioners accuse him of repeatedly leading and participating in attacks against these communities, their residents and their infrastructure.

Following Hamas’s shock October 7 onslaught in southern Israel, the Israel Defense Forces ordered work carried out in several locations to block Palestinian towns from accessing roads used by settlers.

In the Palestinian village of Susiya, near the Meitarim Farm outpost, locals say Levi drove a tractor to carry out the “engineering operations” for the army on October 16. According to their account, he also used the tractor to smash and badly damage three water cisterns used by the village for agricultural purposes.

The IDF said subsequently that the work had “exceeded the boundaries” of the assignment and that “lessons had been learned” from the incident.

Days earlier, according to the petition, Levi was among 14 settlers who, accompanied by two soldiers, went to the now-abandoned Palestinian village of Zanuta. Some of the men began beating residents, smashed solar panels, and destroyed vehicles, the petition alleges.

The former residents of Zanuta allege that on October 21, Levi and a man in IDF uniform, both armed with M16 assault rifles, came back to the village and started going into homes.

The pair “began to shout, curse, and threaten the residents… [shouting] ‘terrorists, you all need to die and get out of here,’” according to the petition.

A letter was sent to the police and the IDF on October 25 complaining of these attacks but no action was taken. By the end of October, the village’s approximately 250 residents had left to escape the harassment.

The abandoned Palestinian village of Zanutah in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank. Zanuta was abandoned by its residents following a series of alleged attacks and incidents of harassment by extremist setters from the region. (Jeremy Sharon / Times of Israel)

The High Court has ordered the police and army to detail what steps they have taken, including investigative measures, as a result of these and other complaints by February 13.

In an interview with Kan Radio on Monday, Levi described the accusations against him as “nonsense” and part of “a campaign of [alleging] settler violence by the leftists and anarchists, who come here to harass us.”

He added that ever since he set up Meitarim Farm he had tried to prevent Arabs “from taking over this area” and that these efforts had “bothered” Palestinian human rights activists.

Einan Tanjil

Einan Tanjil, 21, is principally known for participating in an attack in 2021 on Israeli activists who were assisting Palestinians to harvest olives in an olive grove located between the Palestinian village of Surif and the settlement of Bat Ayin in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, south of Jerusalem.

Tanjil is officially a resident of Kiryat Ekron in central Israel but has spent significant time in settlements and illegal outposts in the West Bank.

During the 2021 incident, some 20 Israelis, including Tanjil, began throwing rocks at the activists and Palestinian olive harvesters. Tanjil and another assailant then approached the activists at close quarters and began to beat them with wooden clubs, injuring veteran activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman and two others.

Veteran Palestinian rights activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman seen injured after being attacked by Einan Tanjil and other assailants close to the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, November 12, 2021. (Shai Kendler)

Tanjil has been convicted in a plea bargain for assault and actual bodily harm, but is yet to be sentenced.

During a sentencing hearing, Ascherman asked the court to throw the book at Tanjil.  Although he pointed out that Tanjil is not a leader among the radicals who harass Palestinian farmers in the West Bank, he said that he should be given as tough a sentence as possible since he showed no regret or remorse over the attack.

Shalom Zicherman

Zicherman, 33, is a resident of a small illegal outpost in the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank called Mitzpe Yair.

In June 2022, he was caught on camera hurling rocks at the cars of Israeli peace activists and Palestinian journalists.

One of the activists was injured and her face bloodied when a rock thrown by Zicherman smashed through the window of the car she was in.

Zicherman was indicted on charges of causing injury, assault, and deliberately damaging a vehicle. His trial is ongoing.

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