Shin Bet said to warn settler violence could cause West Bank eruption

Agency head has warned war cabinet of potential for conflagration, report says; defense minister said to note most assailants are not from settlements; US, France slam incidents

A picture provided by Yesh Din, allegedly of Palestinian property being burned by extremist settlers during an attack against Palestinian olive formers outside the village of Burin in the northern West Bank, October 25, 2023. (Courtesy Yesh Din)
A picture provided by Yesh Din, allegedly of Palestinian property being burned by extremist settlers during an attack against Palestinian olive formers outside the village of Burin in the northern West Bank, October 25, 2023. (Courtesy Yesh Din)

The Shin Bet security service has warned the government of its concerns of an eruption of violence in the West Bank, noting an increase in settler violence and clashes with Palestinians amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, Hebrew media reported Sunday.

Channel 12 reported that Shin Bet head Ronen Bar has alerted the war cabinet, wider cabinet, and the defense establishment over the matter.

The US and EU have also warned that the West Bank is at a boiling point.

“These incidents are likely to set the area alight” and harm the war effort against Hamas, the report quoted Israeli sources as saying.

Channel 12 said some Israeli decision-makers are urging far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich, a minister within the Defense Ministry, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir “to take responsibility and calm things down.”

The two ministers have defended acts of settler violence as self-defense in the past and have resisted taking action against them.

According to Channel 13, Bar and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi addressed the issue of settler violence at the war cabinet on Saturday.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reportedly responded that “the phenomenon is known. We need to make sure that the area is not enflamed.”

According to Gallant, most of the violence is being perpetrated by people who don’t reside in the settlements.

Israel’s Yesh Din rights group said last week that there had been over 100 incidents of settler violence and harassment against Palestinians in at least 62 Palestinian towns and communities in the West Bank since Hamas’s savage assault on Israel on October 7, and the beginning of Israel’s military campaign against the terror group in Gaza.

Terrorists rampaged across southern communities on October 7, slaughtering some 1,400 people — mainly civilians — and taking some 239 hostages into the Strip.

As a result of repeated instances of violence in the West Bank, residents of A’nizan, a small Palestinian hamlet in the South Hebron Hills, began packing up their belongings and leaving, Yehuda Shaul, human rights activist and co-director of the Ofek Israeli Center for Public Affairs tweeted Sunday.

A’nizan is made up of four families totaling some 35 residents, he said, adding that it is located across the road from Khirbet Zanuta — another hamlet deserted by its residents due to settler violence, which has intensified since the outbreak of the Gaza war.

Shaul called the situation “forcible transfer.”

On Saturday, 40-year-old Palestinian Bilal Muhammed Saleh, 40, was allegedly shot in the chest and killed by a settler outside the village of As-Sawiya some 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of Yitzhar.

According to Haaretz, Saleh was part of a group harvesting olives outside the village near Nablus when they were attacked by settlers. A number of olive groves were apparently attacked in the area.

The settler who allegedly fired the fatal gunshot was an off-duty IDF soldier, who emerged from the nearby settlement of Rehelim with members of his family shortly before the shooting. He has been arrested and is under investigation.

Also on Sunday, prominent settlement activist Ariel Danino was put into administrative detention for four months, in a move approved by Gallant. The order — which enables authorities to hold a suspect without charges for indefinitely renewable periods and was reportedly approved by the Shin Bet — cited “a reasonable foundation to assume that state security/public security requires” his detention.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday called out the “totally unacceptable” uptick in settler violence since the outbreak of the war and said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has a responsibility to rein in the settlers.”

“This is an ongoing challenge. We expect over time to see the Israeli government step up on this. We expect accountability for extremist settlers who engage in this kind of violence,” Sullivan told CNN.

France also condemned the “unacceptable” Israeli settler attacks, noting “the deaths of several Palestinian civilians over the past few days in Qusra and Sawiya, as well as the forced departure of several communities,” a French Foreign Ministry statement read.

File: US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday made a point of criticizing Israel for not clamping down on settler violence, while continuing to back Jerusalem’s military operations in Gaza against Hamas.

“I continue to be alarmed by extremist settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank,” Biden said, adding that the violence is “adding fuel to the fire.”

“They’re attacking Palestinians in places they’re entitled to be… it has to stop now,” he said.

Biden has urged Netanyahu during phone calls in recent days to ensure that Israeli authorities are preventing growing incidents of settler violence, fearing that spiraling tensions in the West Bank could significantly exacerbate the current Gaza war, the Axios news site reported Wednesday.

Yesh Din said that in various incidents, settlers have stolen Palestinian property such as solar panels and generators, and carried out acts of vandalism such as torching homes and vehicles and uprooting trees. The group claimed that not a single settler has been detained, arrested, or investigated following the assaults. The police did not respond to a request for comment.

The rights group said settler violence is frequently aimed at displacing Palestinian communities in a bid to take control of their homes and lands. Entire shepherding communities have been forced to evacuate since the beginning of the year in response to an uptick in settler violence, according to the group.

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