Far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich, one of the most senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, said Wednesday that Israel should “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara in the West Bank.
The remark by Smotrich — who is the finance minister and also a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank — came days after a terrorist from Huwara shot dead two Israeli brothers, which was followed by extremist settlers rampaging through the Nablus-area town and setting homes and cars on fire, resulting in one Palestinian shot dead and several badly hurt.
The Sunday evening rioting was explicitly backed the following morning by coalition backbencher Zvika Fogel, a lawmaker for the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, which triggered widespread outrage. On Wednesday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and State Prosecutor Amit Aisman cleared police to launch an investigation of Fogel, head of the Knesset’s National Security Committee and a former IDF brigadier general, over his comments.
The new remark Wednesday was made by Smotrich, a far more senior politician, and it arguably went even further — saying that as a matter of policy, Jerusalem should seek to remove the entire town, which has a population of some 7,000.
The Religious Zionism party leader, who was taking part in a financial conference hosted by The Marker business daily, was asked why he had on Sunday evening “liked” a tweet by Samaria Regional Council deputy mayor Davidi Ben Zion that called “to wipe out the village of Huwara today.”
“Because I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it,” Smotrich replied.
He added that “God forbid,” the job shouldn’t be done by private citizens, condemning the rampage and saying “we shouldn’t be dragged into anarchy in which civilians take the law into their own hands.”
In his remarks earlier in the week, Fogel, the Otzma Yehudit MK, told Galey Israel Radio: “A closed, burnt Huwara — that’s what I want to see. That’s the only way to achieve deterrence. After a murder like yesterday’s, we need burning villages when the IDF doesn’t act.”
Following the outrage over his comments, Fogel tweeted that his words had been “distorted,” without explaining how. He has since then contended that the military should have acted, not private citizens, though he has not taken back his initial remarks.
Hours after a Palestinian shooting terror attack that killed brothers Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, from the settlement of Har Bracha, dozens of settlers ran riot through Huwara and other nearby towns, leaving one Palestinian dead and several others badly injured, in what the top general in charge of the area has labeled a “pogrom.”
Eight Israeli suspects detained on the night of the rioting were released, three of them to house arrest, according to law enforcement officials. Another six were detained by police on early Wednesday, one of whom was released by the afternoon.