In fiery security meeting, Ben Gvir said to defend violent settlers as ‘sweet kids’

National security minister refuses to issue condemnation of recent rampages in Palestinian villages, as Gallant accuses him of paying ‘lip service’ to law and order

Illustrative: Screenshot from a video of settlers firing at the West Bank village of Umm Safa on June 24, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Illustrative: Screenshot from a video of settlers firing at the West Bank village of Umm Safa on June 24, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A high-level meeting meant to discuss settler vigilantism and violence in the West Bank reportedly devolved into a tense standoff Tuesday, as a far-right minister downplayed the actions of Israeli extremists who have rampaged through Palestinian towns in recent days.

The meeting, hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ended without any moves being agreed upon, as National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir reportedly blocked condemnation of the settler actions and opposed other moves against the trend, and instead called for a harsher crackdown on Palestinians.

Ben Gvir accused the other participants of hypocrisy and blowing the issue out of proportion, reportedly calling the settler vigilantes “sweet kids” who are turned into adults by being put in administrative detention.

“I got my [detention] order at 18. You’re turning snot-nosed kids into heroes,” he was quoted saying by the Kan public broadcaster.

Administrative detention is a contentious policy used by Israel to hold suspects without charge. It is sparingly utilized for Jewish suspects, but used widely with Palestinian detainees. Ben Gvir has railed against its use for Jewish detainees though he has supported the measure when used against Arab terror suspects and even called to extend its use to fight organized crime in the Arab community.

The Tuesday night gathering saw Ben Gvir, head of the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit party, spar mainly with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as IDF chief Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar.

Border Police officers stop Israeli settlers from entering the Palestinian West Bank town of Turmus Ayya, June 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

It came a day after a group of settler extremists verbally abused and chased off a senior IDF officer who had attempted to pay a condolence call to the family of a victim of a terror attack in the settlement of Eli last week. A day earlier, Settlements Minister Orit Strock had said the heads of security forces, who called settler attacks on Palestinians “terror,” were akin to Russia’s brutal Wagner Group militia that rebelled against the Moscow government.

A rare joint statement on Saturday from the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Israel Police condemned the settler attacks as “nationalist terrorism” and said the Shin Bet security agency would “expand arrests, including administrative detentions, against the rioters who act in a violent and extreme manner inside the Palestinian villages.”

During the Tuesday meeting, an unnamed senior defense official told Ben Gvir that “there is a direct link between what is said and weak condemnations [of the settler violence], and what is happening on the ground,” the Haaretz daily reported.

In quotes from the closed-door meeting widely leaked to the press, Netanyahu, Gallant and the heads of the IDF and Shin Bet are said to have chided Ben Gvir for giving tacit backing to the recent settler attacks.

Following the Palestinian terror attack in Eli last week, which killed four people and wounded four, hundreds of settler vigilantes rampaged through Palestinian towns in the area on several occasions, opening fire, terrorizing residents, burning cars and fields, vandalizing structures, and attacking people. One Palestinian was killed in unclear circumstances during the rioting. Eight people have been detained over the rampages, with five brought to court on Monday.

A delegation examines a torched home during a tour of the West Bank town of Turmus Ayya, days after a rampage by settlers, June 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

According to the reports, Netanyahu told Ben Gvir the settler raids on Palestinian villages were eroding Israel’s international legitimacy.

Bar reportedly warned that there is a “direct danger that the settlers will carry out a revenge terror attack on Palestinians,” according to Kan.

Meanwhile, Gallant accused Ben Gvir and other members of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party of paying “lip service” to law and order and called on them to publicly comdemn the rampages.

Ben Gvir refused, telling Gallant, according to Haaretz, that the government had issued “no condemnation of the protesters in Modiin, so why should we here?” — referring to a tumultuous rally on Tuesday outside the home of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, in which six people were arrested for burning tires and blocking roads.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, center, speaks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after a Knesset vote in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Gvir, meanwhile, slammed Gallant for a conversation he held on Tuesday with a senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh, calling it “a conversation apologizing to a terrorist.”

“A convicted terrorist who sat for 10 years in jail and we are calling to soothe him,” Ben Gvir said.

Gallant retorted that “we can’t behave like the enemy.”

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