Rights group seeks probe of MK who called for blocking Palestinian traffic

Yesh Din documents 25 instances of anti-Arab violence allegedly perpetrated by settlers in 24 hours after Bezalel Smotrich called for removal of Arab cars from West Bank roads

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich at his party's weekly faction meeting at the Knesset, December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich at his party's weekly faction meeting at the Knesset, December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Yesh Din rights group submitted an official request to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday asking him to open a criminal probe into MK Bezalel Smotrich over a tweet the Jewish Home lawmaker posted that urged settlers to block a major West Bank road to Palestinian traffic.

“The tweet should have brought law enforcement agencies to launch an immediate investigation into suspicions that MK Smotrich committed offenses of incitement to violence and incitement to racism,” wrote Michael Sfard, an attorney representing the left-wing NGO, in his complaint to Mandelblit.

Hours after a shooting at the Givat Assaf Junction in the central West Bank that left two soldiers dead and two others seriously injured last Thursday, Smotrich wrote on Twitter, “I call on my heroic [settler] friends and pioneers to come out tonight and close Route 60 along its entire length to the movement of Arab vehicles.”

“If there are terror attacks, there will be no Arabs on the roads,” he concluded.

In a video statement from Givat Assaf Junction posted to Twitter that night, Smotrich further defended the call, saying that “our lives are more important than their quality of life.”

In the 24 hours after the lawmaker’s plea, Yesh Din said it documented 25 instances of violence carried out by settlers against Palestinians throughout the West Bank. This included the shooting of live bullets at homes in the villages of Ein Yabroud and Beitin; the hurling of stones at Palestinian cars at the Givat Assaf, Yitzhar and Kedumim junctions; and the chopping down of olive trees in the villages of Turmusaya and Tuwani. Over a dozen Palestinians were treated for injures in these various attacks, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.

“Even if one assumes that the harm done to innocent Palestinians outside the roads that were blocked [by settlers] cannot be directly and unequivocally connected to Smotrich, the disturbances that took place on Thursday night and Friday… leave no room for doubt that the MK’s call fell on attentive ears and that he indeed incited the ‘heroic settlers’ into action,” Sfard wrote in his letter to Mandelblit.

The Yesh Din legal representative asserted that the only way to block the West Bank’s main north-south artery to Palestinian traffic, as Smotrich was demanding, is to employ violence, which is what the settlers went on to do.

“On the day when riots are raging in one of the most violent and volatile territories after a series of murderous attacks, a Knesset member calls on his supporters to break the law and harm Palestinians simply because they are Palestinians,” wrote Sfard.

“The matter is clear and at least raises sufficient suspicion to open a criminal investigation against MK Smotrich for incitement to violence and racism,” he concluded.

The Attorney General’s Office has received the request, but has yet to respond.

Smotrich’s Twitter plea came amid a week of deadly Palestinian violence across the West Bank.

Hundreds of settlers, joined by several Israeli cabinet ministers, protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 16, 2018. (Sam Sokol/JTA)

Four days before the Givat Assaf attack, a Palestinian terrorist opened fire from a passing vehicle on a group of Israelis standing at a bus stop near the Ofra settlement. Seven people were injured, including a pregnant woman whose baby died after being delivered prematurely.

Last Friday, a Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli soldier and bashed his head with a rock, seriously injuring him, at a military post outside the Beit El settlement. The assailant then fled the scene, prompting a manhunt, but later turned himself in.

On Thursday morning, two Border Police officers were lightly wounded in a stabbing attack at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.

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