National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has clashed in recent days with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai over his demands to step up the demolition of illegally built Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, Hebrew-language media reported Tuesday.
Multiple reports said that in both cases conversations were heated and “voices were raised” and in the end, Ben Gvir vowed to push ahead with demolitions and was ordering the call-up of three reserve Border Police companies.
Ben Gvir, of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, has vowed to take a more aggressive stance against Palestinian homes that were built without the necessary permits from Israel in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He has framed demolition of such structures as part of Israel’s efforts to combat Palestinian terror, even though there have been no links between the owners of the homes razed for a lack of permit in recent weeks and security offenses.
Ben Gvir’s first clash occurred during and after Sunday’s cabinet meeting to decide on what Netanyahu called “broader action” after three Israelis, including 6- and 8-year-old brothers, were killed in a ramming attack in Jerusalem on Friday.
According to the Ynet news site, tempers were raised during the meeting and in a follow-up conversation between Ben Gvir and Netanyahu.
Ben Gvir reportedly demanded that he be allowed to raze an uninhabited 14-story building constructed without permits next to the security barrier in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sawarha. He reportedly called for army engineers to implode the building.
When Netanyahu asked him to show restraint, noting that demolishing the building would likely spark an international backlash, Ben Gvir reportedly shouted at Netanyahu: “I’m tired of carrying out a policy of appeasement.”
The Ynet news site quoted sources close to Netanyahu as saying, “The Arabs would see it like the bombing of Dahieh in Beirut,” a reference to the massive Israeli Air Force strikes that leveled much of the Hezbollah terror group’s stronghold during the 2006 war.
Netanyahu then told Ben Gvir that there were “diplomatic reasons” not to demolish the building.
Ben Gvir reportedly yelled at Netanyahu: “What diplomatic considerations? Our children were murdered. The world will understand that they killed children and a sovereign state implements its laws in its capital.”
“Children were killed and you are worried about annoying the Arabs,” he reportedly said.
“They killed our children, there is no reason we should not respond,” Ben Gvir said, asserting that the building also presented a security threat to Israel as it overlooked the barrier and Palestinians throw stones from it at the security forces.
Ben Gvir then clashed with police chief Shabtai on Monday, multiple Hebrew media reports said.
The national security minister reportedly demanded that the police step up the pace of carrying out building demolitions in East Jerusalem.
“This is not how you make decisions,” Shabtai reportedly retorted, according to the Haaretz daily.
“I presented you with a plan of what is possible to do taking into account operational constraints. We don’t have another 300 police to deploy for this. Do you have another 300 officers to give me?” Shabtai asked.
“We will demolish the buildings in Jerusalem according to the operational plans we have set,” Shabtai reportedly said.
The Kan public broadcaster reported similar quotes.
Kan said that despite Shabtai’s objections and those of other senior police officers, Ben Gvir insisted on the demolition campaign and it would go forward in the coming days.
Kan later reported that Ben Gvir ordered the call up of three reserve Border Police companies to support the police.
The report said that the order had not yet received its final approval but was likely to get it soon.
Police declined to comment on closed-door conversations and Ben Gvir’s office denied the conversation took place.
The clash came after Netanyahu last week ordered a stay on the razing of a 12-apartment, four-story building that is home to some 100 Palestinians. The building was built without a permit in 2014 and Ben Gvir had been pushing to carry out a court order to demolish it.
Palestinians say they are forced to build unauthorized structures because it is next to impossible to receive permits for construction, as the municipality ostensibly does not advance the expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods.
The UN’s Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted in an April 2019 report that in East Jerusalem “a restrictive planning regime applied by Israel makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits.”
“At least one-third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack an Israeli-issued building permit, potentially placing over 100,000 residents at risk of displacement,” it added.
OCHA says that only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is designated for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built up, while 35 percent has been allocated to Israelis for construction.
But Israel says the Jerusalem Municipality advances and approves building permits for Palestinians in East Jerusalem at a similar rate to Jewish neighborhoods in the capital.
In 2018, Palestinian neighborhoods saw a massive bump in approved building permits compared to their average over the past three decades, but approvals for Arabs during that time lagged significantly behind those granted to Jewish residents of the capital’s eastern neighborhoods.
In 2021, 177 structures in East Jerusalem were demolished for lack of permits.
Such demolitions often set off clashes between residents and security forces in tinderbox neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Ben Gvir was also prevented from launching a sweeping police crackdown in East Jerusalem.
Shortly after Friday’s attack, he released a statement saying he’d told police to gear up for a major anti-terror crackdown starting Sunday, specifically mentioning a massive 2002 military campaign against West Bank terror groups. However, Ben Gvir lacks the authority to approve such an operation on his own and his comments were dismissed by a senior government official.
This is not the first time Ben Gvir has feuded with police brass in recent days. Over the weekend he lashed out at Jerusalem police after they failed to use force to disperse anti-government protesters.
Agencies contributed to this report.