Top Palestinian official calls on world to designate Otzma Yehudit a ‘terrorist party’

Far-right members of government have ‘history of inciting for the killing of Palestinians,’ Hussein al-Sheikh charges, as former aide suspected in fatal West Bank shooting

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh. (WAFA)
Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh. (WAFA)

A top Palestinian official said Saturday that the Israeli government’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party should be designated as a “terrorist party,” following the killing of a Palestinian in the West Bank allegedly involving a former party aide.

Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs minister and secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, tweeted: “We call on the international community and international institutions to consider the party of the terrorist Itamar Ben Gvir as a terrorist party due to its personal and partisan history of inciting for the killing of Palestinians.”

Elisha Yered, currently under arrest for alleged involvement in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Qusai Jamal Matan, is a former spokesman for Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech. He quit in April due to his criticism of the government’s security policies.

On Friday night, Matan was fatally shot in the neck outside the West Bank town of Burqa, close to Ramallah, on private Palestinian land, according to Palestinian health officials and Israeli defense sources. He was buried on Saturday. According to the PA’s official Wafa news agency, the clashes broke out after settlers attacked the village, leading residents to confront them. The settlers say they were attacked and acted in self-defense.

Yered in the past called for the “erasure” of Palestinian villages on social media as well as for “revenge…with blood” for attacks, saying if security forces did not do so, “brave Jews” would.

An unidentified security source told Ynet the former Otzma Yehudit employee “has been heating things up in the area for a long while, also leading to a rise in Palestinian terror and rock throwing.”

Earlier this year he was named by the right-wing Channel 14 as one of “Israel’s most promising young individuals.”

Elisha Yered, suspected of involvement in the death of 19-year-old Palestinian Qusai Jamal Matan in the West Bank village of Burqa a day earlier, arrives for a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, August 5, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit is a far-right party formed by disciples of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. The Brooklyn-born Kahane founded the Kach movement, which is blacklisted in both the US and Israel as a terror group.

Prior to becoming a lawmaker, Otzma Yehudit chairman Ben Gvir regularly represented Jews suspected of nationalistic attacks. Since joining the government as minister in charge of police, he has repeatedly downplayed the severity of Jewish attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank while lambasting security forces’ treatment of settlers suspected of nationalistic attacks and calling for far harsher security measures toward Palestinians.

Ben Gvir was in the past convicted of criminality on several counts, including support for a terror organization, due to his backing of Kach.

Ben Gvir gained notoriety before the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin when he proudly held up an ornament that he’d managed to rip off Rabin’s Cadillac during a TV interview and said, “We’ll get to Rabin too.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

For years, Ben Gvir had a picture of Baruch Goldstein — the Jewish terrorist who carried out a massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, killing 29 Palestinians — hanging on the wall of his Kiryat Arba home. He removed it in 2019 after it became heavily publicized in local media and began to harm him politically.

Party MKs have repeatedly made headlines with extreme and racist comments.

MK Son Har-Melech on Saturday assailed police for arresting Yered and a second suspect in the killing, comparing their actions to that of Tel Aviv patrolmen, one of who was shot dead by a terrorist in Tel Aviv earlier in the day before his partner killed the attacker.

Ben Gvir and his party were once considered beyond the pale, but were brought into the mainstream by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who engineered repeated deals over the course of recent election campaigns to have the party run with other far-right slates on a joint ticket. Netanyahu said he did so to prevent the parties from falling below the electoral threshold, thus wasting votes for the right-wing camp, in his words.

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Friday’s deadly incident came after several other Palestinians were killed in disputed circumstances involving settlers. In June, a Palestinian was shot dead during a settler rampage in Turmus Ayya that followed a deadly attack and in February a Palestinian was killed while settlers rioted in Huwara after a terror shooting.

Also in February, the Shin Bet joined police in investigating the killing of a Palestinian man near Qarawat Bani Hassan in the West Bank, allegedly by Israeli settlers.

There has been a rise in settler violence in recent months, with the UN on Friday reporting there have been nearly 600 attacks on Palestinians and their property over the past six months.

The riots have been condemned by a number of politicians, including some from the hardline right-wing coalition, but there has been little clear-cut condemnation from settlement leaders.

Emanuel Fabian and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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