Hardline MKs demand review of alleged IDF report on settler violence

Right-wing members of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee rail against ‘comprehensive and false’ campaign against settlers, say it causes ‘enormous political damage’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Israeli settlers hurl stones at Palestinians during the annual harvest season near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank on October 7, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Israeli settlers hurl stones at Palestinians during the annual harvest season near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank on October 7, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Seven hard-right lawmakers called Sunday for a hearing into what they termed a “comprehensive and false campaign” against Israeli settlers, following the reported release of an internal IDF report recording a surge in nationalist crimes committed by Jews in the West Bank.

In a letter to MK Yuli Edelstein, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the lawmakers, all members of the panel, expressed doubt regarding the existence of the document, and argued that “to the extent that it does exist,” it is part of a larger effort that “is causing enormous political damage to the State of Israel.

“Therefore, we ask to check if such a document was indeed produced, by whom and for what purpose, and most importantly to pass it on to the members of the committee and hold a discussion in the coming days in order to clarify the data presented therein,” the lawmakers wrote.

The MKs’ letter was published by Army Radio, which had initially reported on the IDF document.

The paper, according to Army Radio, found that the West Bank saw a 54% increase in incidents of nationalist crimes committed by Jews during the two months following Hamas’s brutal October 7 assault on southern Israel, compared to the two months prior to the attack.

During that period, the IDF recorded 201 incidents: 136 described as “violent confrontations or stone throwing,” 35 “agricultural crimes” and 21 involving attempts to burn down Palestinian property or physically assault Palestinians. Nine incidents involved attacks on Israeli security forces, Army Radio reported.

A significant rise in violence and threats by extremist Jews in the West Bank since October 7 has been reported by numerous sources, including human rights groups in Israel and abroad, Washington, the European Union, the UN and this publication.

Washington and London have said they will ban violent settlers from entering their countries, a move which is also being actively discussed in the European Union.

Sunday’s letter was issued by Likud MK Amit Halevy, who wrote that his demand was supported by fellow Likud MKs Boaz Bismuth, Hanoch Milwidsky and Nissim Vaturi, a deputy Knesset speaker.

It was also supported by ultranationalist MK and radical settlement activist Tzvi Succot (Religious Zionism), MK Limor Son Har-Melech (Otzma Yehudit) and MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism).

Likud MK Amit Halevi poses in front of the Dome of the Rock during a visit to the Temple Mount in September 2020 (courtesy Chaim Kreuzer, United Temple Movement)

Avner Gvaryahu, the director of Breaking the Silence, a group that publishes testimonies of Israeli soldiers about alleged human rights violations in the West Bank, welcomed the call for a review of the matter.

“This violence is carried out by settlers who are fueled by settler ideology and is done for settler goals. Its perpetrators are embraced and protected by the settler establishment and it has been possible for such a long time thanks to settler privileges. It’s the truth. Even if it is ugly,” he tweeted. “Looking forward to the discussion.”

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 revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

In February, after two brothers were killed in a terror attack in Huwara, settlers rampaged through the Palestinian town, torching homes and cars and killing sheep in what was described as a “pogrom” that caught the military off-guard.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel last month that the government has stepped up its activities to combat settler violence, which it argues is being perpetrated by a “nucleus” of several hundred extremists at most.

This August, military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari warned that that violence by settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians was spurring more Palestinians to carry out acts of terror.

Cars burned by settlers during riots in Hawara, in the West Bank, near Nablus, February 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Criticism of the mounting violence voiced by members of the security establishment has led to a backlash from nationalist politicians, including one minister who likened security officials to Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group.

Multiple members of the coalition have made statements that appeared to either downplay or condone violence against Palestinians, such as Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel, who called for a “closed, burnt Huwara” and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who said that Israel should “wipe out” the village as a matter of national policy.

During a debate in January, Milwidsky declared that that he “prefer[s] Jewish murderers over Arab murderers,” and claimed there have never been Jewish terrorists.

Succot, who backed Halevy’s letter, was arrested in 2010 by police due to Shin Bet suspicions that he was involved in arson at a mosque in the northern West Bank, near where he lived in the Yitzhar settlement. He was not charged over the incident.

More recently, Har-Melech called the Jewish terrorist convicted in the 2015 murders of three members of a Palestinian family a “holy righteous man” during a speech at a fundraising event on his behalf, denying he had hurt anyone.

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