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UN rights chief: 'Unfathomable statement of incitement'

‘Racist and irresponsible’: Saudi Arabia blasts Smotrich’s call to wipe out Huwara

Riyadh issues ‘complete rejection’ of far-right lawmaker’s comments, French foreign ministry ‘appalled,’ adding to international outcry

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Saudi Arabia, France and Egypt on Friday condemned Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for saying Israel should “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara in the West Bank, adding to the fierce international blowback sparked by the far-right lawmaker’s statements and violence in the West Bank.

Smotrich’s remark came days after a terrorist in Huwara shot dead two Israeli brothers. Hours later, extremist settlers rampaged through the town, setting homes and cars on fire and leaving one Palestinian dead.

In addition to being finance minister, Smotrich serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank.

His call to destroy the town has prompted widespread international condemnation, including harsh criticism from the US and UN.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday expressed “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s strong condemnation of the extremist statements made by an Israeli occupation official by demanding an (erase) of the Palestinian village of Huwara.”

“The Ministry affirms the Kingdom’s complete rejection of these racist and irresponsible statements, which reflect the amount of violence and extremist practiced by the occupying Israeli entity towards the brotherly Palestinian people,” the statement said.

The ministry called on the international community to step in to “provide the necessary protection to civilians.”

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

A French foreign ministry spokesperson said, “We are appalled by Israeli minister Bezalel Smotrich’s remarks about the Palestinian village of Hawara.”

“These remarks are unacceptable, irresponsible and unworthy of a member of the Israeli government, which moreover is in charge of the civil administration of the occupied Palestinian territories,” the statement said. “These remarks only inflame hatred and fuel the current cycle of violence. Once again, France calls on the Israeli government to protect Palestinian civilians and hold the perpetrators of violence accountable.”

A French foreign ministry official also visited Huwara on Friday as part of a European diplomats delegation to the village. The French consulate in Jerusalem said after the visit that the mission “condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and violent acts committed by settlers.”

The Egyptian foreign ministry on Friday condemned Smotrich’s statements as “unacceptable, dangerous incitement to violence that go against all laws, norms and moral values.”

Qatar described Smotrich’s comments as “hateful and provocative” and said it considered them “a serious incitement to a war crime.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long sought to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom has shied away from open cooperation with Israel. Egypt and Israel have long had formal diplomatic relations.

Israeli security forces block Palestinian and Israeli peace activists protesting at the entrance of Huwara in the West Bank, March 3, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

On Thursday, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan also blasted Smotrich for the comments. A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the rhetoric was “provocative, it’s inflammatory and statements like these are just unacceptable.”

UN human rights chief Volker Turk on Friday denounced Smotrich’s comments as “an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence and hostility.”

The US has forcefully condemned the comments and has urged Netanyahu to disavow them. Smotrich is one of several members of the coalition to tussle with the US since the premier’s return to power in late December at the head of a right-religious coalition.

The US condemnation pointed to a further escalation of frustration in Washington with Israel days after the Biden administration expressed its outrage over the deadly Huwara rioting, and called on Israel to prosecute the perpetrators and compensate the dozens of Palestinians whose property was destroyed.

Smotrich is set to visit Washington next week to speak at an Israel Bonds conference, but the White House said Thursday that US government officials would not be meeting with him.

In the onstage interview on Wednesday, Smotrich was asked about the recent rampage through Huwara by a group of Israeli ultranationalists that left one person dead, dozens wounded, and many homes and businesses burned, in revenge for the terror attack in which two Israeli brothers were shot dead earlier that day.

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)

Smotrich said he was against civilians conducting such retaliatory attacks and believed that the military should have done it instead.

“I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it,” Smotrich said.

He added “God forbid,” that the job should not be done by private citizens. He condemned the rampage, saying, “We shouldn’t be dragged into anarchy in which civilians take the law into their own hands.”

As condemnations poured in, Smotrich issued a statement saying the media was trying to “create a distorted interpretation” of his remarks. He claimed Huwara, home to some 7,000 Palestinians, is a “hostile village” where residents throw stones and shoot at Israelis every day and that he supports a “disproportionate response” by the IDF against the town for every act of terrorism in order to establish deterrence.

He appeared to have deleted the clarification but later in the day wrote, “so there isn’t any doubt, I did not mean wipe out the village of Huwara, rather act in a targeted manner against the terrorists and supporters of terrorism living there and to exact a heavy price from them in order to restore security to the [Jewish] residents of the area.”

Israeli troops on Friday clashed with hundreds of left-wing Israeli activists trying to enter Huwara on a solidarity visit. Footage from the scene showed troops scuffling with marchers and in several cases stun grenades were thrown.

In addition to the violence in the West Bank, the Netanyahu-led government is dealing with massive blowback over its plan to overhaul the judicial system, both at home and in the international arena.

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