Inclusion of entire outposts marks uptick in US crackdown

US targets three settlers, two illegal outposts in second round of sanctions

Sanctioned men allegedly behind repeated attacks on Palestinians, have expelled many from homes; Smotrich accuses Biden of capitulating to demands for ‘Palestinian terror state’

Illustrative: Israeli settlers hurl stones at Palestinians near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank on October 7, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90/File)
Illustrative: Israeli settlers hurl stones at Palestinians near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank on October 7, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90/File)

The United States imposed sanctions on three Israeli settlers and two illegal outposts implicated in West Bank violence, the US Treasury Department’s website showed on Thursday, a little over a month after it imposed a first round of sanctions on four extremist Israelis.

The two outposts targeted in the latest round of sanctions were Moshe’s Farm, also known as Tirza Valley Outpost, established in January 2021; and Zvi’s Farm, near the Halamish settlement.

The three settlers were identified as Moshe Sharvit, who runs Moshe’s Farm; Zvi Bar Yosef, who runs Zvi’s Farm; and Neriya Ben Pazi, from the Rimonim Farm in the West Bank.

The inclusion of entire outposts in the sanction list marked an escalation by the Biden administration in its crackdown on settler violence after years of pushing Israel to do more to address the largely unchecked phenomenon.

While the Treasury Department did not include information regarding the violence that the sanctioned individuals and outposts had been implicated in, the US State Department expanded on the decision a short while later.

Bar Yosef of Zvi’s Farm had “engaged in repeated violence and attempts to engage in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank,” the US State Department said. He has used “the outpost as a base from which he perpetrates violence against Palestinians and prevents local Palestinian farmers from accessing and using their lands.”

Bar Yosef has been accused by Israeli human rights activists of threatening Palestinian families on a picnic at gunpoint on two separate occasions, one of which was documented by West Bank watchdog Kerem Navot in 2021.

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper earlier this month, Mousa Qatash, a 43-year-old resident of the West Bank’s Jalazone refugee camp, recalled being attacked by Bar Yosef while picnicking alone in April 2020.

According to The Guardian, Qatash was left with a slipped disc, torn ligaments, broken teeth and ongoing trauma after he was beaten by Bar Yosef with a club.

“Still to this day, when I think about that attack I am traumatized,” he told The Guardian, adding that even now, four years after the attack, fear has prevented him from returning to his private land.

Moshe Sharvit, meanwhile, has “repeatedly harassed, threatened and attacked Palestinian civilians and Israeli human rights defenders in the vicinity of Moshe’s Farm,” the State Department said.

“In October 2023, Sharvit issued a threat against the residents of the Palestinian village of Ein Shibli, and while armed, ordered them to leave their homes. This threat resulted in up to 100 Palestinian civilians fleeing their village in fear for their lives.”

Moshe’s Farm has been used by its owner as “a base from which he perpetrates violence against Palestinians,” the State Department added.

While Sharvit and Bar Yosef were initially spared from the first round of US sanctions last month, they were targeted by the United Kingdom as it followed the US’s lead and slapped its own sanctions on four settlers — the two aforementioned, as well as Yinon Levy and Ely Federman.

Of the four men implicated by the UK, only Federman has yet to be sanctioned by the US.

Ben Pazi, the final settler implicated in Thursday’s decision, “has expelled Palestinian shepherds from hundreds of acres of land,” the US said, adding that, in August 2023, he and other settlers had “attacked Palestinians near the village of Wadi as-Seeq.”

In December 2023, a restraining order was imposed on Ben Pazi by the IDF, barring him from the West Bank for three months after a slew of violent incidents around Wadi as-Seeq, next to which Ben Pazi established Rimonim Farm.

Objects are seen scattered across the West Bank village of Wadi as-Seeq more than a week after it was attacked by Jewish settlers, October 24, 2023. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

The order was protested by senior leaders of Israel’s religious Zionist movement, many of whom visited Ben Pazi on his farm. Among those who voiced support for the now-sanctioned extremist were the Chief Rabbi of Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and his son, Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu.

The latest round of sanctions is intended to send a message that the US is not only targeting individuals, but also entities involved in providing logistical and financial support for attacks against Palestinians, Axios reported on Wednesday evening ahead of the announcement.

More than that, they are a further demonstration of the lack of US trust in Israeli law enforcement, which rarely succeeds in prosecuting Israeli suspects, while Palestinians are convicted of attacks against Israelis at far higher rates.

While news of the additional round of sanctions was applauded by Israeli peace activists, the US’s latest attempt to wrangle settler violence against Palestinians back under control was met with derision by religious Zionist groups.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party, roundly criticized US President Joe Biden’s administration and decried the sanctions as “a capitulation to the BDS campaign, which is designed to tarnish the entire State of Israel and bring about the elimination of the settlement movement and the establishment of a Palestinian terror state.

“The government of Israel stands by the side of the settlements, and these steps are totally unacceptable and we will fight to have them abolished,” he added.

A man looks at graffiti that reads, in Hebrew, ‘revenge, death to Arabs,’ allegedly sprayed by Jewish West Bank settlers in the Palestinian West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, February 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

The Yesha umbrella organization for West Bank settlement authorities similarly slammed the US decision as “outrageous,” and accused it of being part of Biden’s election campaign.

“Instead of fighting the roots of Palestinian terrorism, the US is choosing to give backing to terrorists and anarchists to continue to come and attack settlements around Judea and Samaria,” said Yesha chairman Shlomo Neeman, referring in part to civil rights campaigners and pro-Palestinian activists who document settler violence in the West Bank.

The Peace Now organization, which campaigns against the settlement movement, welcomed the sanctions, declaring that “the time has come for the criminals of the illegal outposts to pay for their violence and systematic criminal activity.”

The organization added that “violence against and displacement of Palestinians” has emanated from illegal West Bank outposts for years, and said that the Israeli government should now take action and begin to dismantle the dozens of illegal outposts around the territory.

The Israeli government and its citizens must soon choose “between continued control of another people through suppression in exchange for diplomatic and economic disaster, or giving up this control in exchange for peace and growth,” said Combatants for Peace, which campaigns against Israeli rule in the West Bank. “Only a political agreement will bring about a solution,” the group added.

Settler violence spiked after the October 7 massacre carried out by the Hamas terror group in southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were slaughtered and 253 were taken hostage, but violence was already on the rise before then, according to watchdogs.

Illustrative: Smoke rises during a riot carried out by Israeli settlers near the village of Deir Sharaf, west of the city of Nablus, November 2, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

In October, the Shin Bet was reported to have warned the government that the increase in settler attacks may cause an eruption of violence committed by Palestinians.

The West Bank has been under Israeli military rule since the 1967 Six Day War, while the Palestinian Authority has controlled parts of the territory since 1994. About 490,000 settlers live among approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank in settlements that are widely considered illegal under international law.

The Biden administration said in February that Israel’s expansion of settlements in the West Bank was inconsistent with international law, signaling a return to long-standing US policy on the issue that had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.

That US announcement came hours after Israel announced a plan to advance the construction of thousands of new settlement homes in response to a terror shooting in the West Bank.

The swiftness of the US move highlighted Washington’s ever-shrinking patience with Israel’s policy in the West Bank, as the Biden administration continues to come under fire from progressives at home and many allies abroad over its broad support for Israel in the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

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