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April 14, 2023
- Thousands of Israelis – Including Ministers Smotrich & Ben Gvir – March to West Bank Outpost Site
- Somtrich Meets with Settler Leaders to Discuss Security Needs; Settler Calls for Collective Punishment of Palestinians
- Bonus Reads
On April 10th, an estimated 50,000 Israelis were permitted to stage a massive march through a part of the West Bank that is the area of operations of some of the West Bank’s most extreme and violent settlers. At least 20 Israeli lawmakers and seven ministers participated in the march and subsequent rally, including longtime Greater Israeli acolytes Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who is the de facto sovereign authority in the West Bank.
The march started from the Tapuah Junction (itself located deep inside the West Bank) and ended at the site of the illegal Evyatar outpost in the central West Bank. Organizers said the march was staged in response to the deaths of two British-Israeli sisters killed by a Palestinian gunman on April 9th (the girls’ mother was also wounded in the attack and later died).
As a reminder, Evyatar is an illegal outpost (established by settlers in violation of Israeli law, in addition to international law). It was evacuated by the Israeli government in 2021 in the context of an agreement with settlers that left all construction at the site in place, maintained an IDF presence at the site, and made clear the government’s intent to legalize settlement at the site in the future. Since then, re-establishment/legalization of Evyatar has been a regular demand of settlers and their political backers, and was agreed to in writing as part of the coalition agreements that formed the current Israeli government. This week’s march continued that campaign, with march organizers hosting a carnival-like rally at the Evyatar site and demanding that the government grant the outpost retroactive legalization. Importantly and perhaps tellingly, Haaretz reports that this is the first time settlers have received approval to enter the Evyatar outpost since the aforementioned 2021 agreement. For full background on the Evyatar outpost saga, see previous FMEP reporting here.
While marching, Minister Smotrich told Haaretz:
“We’re building here and financing roads and Infrastructure… God willing, we’ll bring here another half a million Jews on top the half a million that are all ready here.”
Revealingly, when asked why the government had not yet given the Evyatar outpost full authorization, Religious Zionism lawmaker Zvi Sukkot said that is will happen soon, explaining:
“There’s a certain order to these things..We got the responsibility for the Civil Administration only recently…legalizing such an outpost takes time. We’re not afraid of America.”
Ben Gvir said in a speech to the crowd:
“We’re returning home to the Land of Israel and to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem… We legalized nine outposts and god willing we’ll legalize and build more… The answer to terror is to keep on building more.”
The march ended on Mt. Sabih, where the outpost of Evyatar (currently uninhabited by settlers) still stands. Mt. Sabih is land that has historically belonged to the nearby Palestinian villages of Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. Palestinians from the area attempted to protest the march, and in response the IDF used tear gas and rubber coated bullets in order to keep Palestinians away from the thousands of marchers. 216 Palestinians were reportedly wounded as a result of IDF actions, 22 with wounds from rubber-tipped bullets and 2 by tear gas canisters to the head. Clearly identified members of the press were also targeted and injured, with camera capturing an Israeli soldier deliberately throwing a tear gas canister at a journalist. As a reminder: Evyatar became a recurring headline news story mostly as a result of the determined effort by Palestinians from Beita to protest the outpost and to resist the Israeli government’s efforts to retroactively legalize it. Along the way, Beita has seen incredible violence and tragedy in the past two years, as weekly protests near the site of Evyatar outpost have been met with harsh and violent actions by the IDF to quash the protests, resulting in the deaths of at least seven Palestinian protesters.
An entire Israeli army battalion was reassigned from other duties to protect the marchers, despite the fact that many senior security officials were reportedly opposed to the march, in large part because it forced the IDF to divert so many resources at a time when Israeli security forces are dealing with challenges in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, from Gaza, and from Lebanon (not to mention recent actions against Syria). These concerns notwithstanding, the head of IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, ultimately gave approval for the march to take place.
Steps taken by the IDF to secure the event included closing a number of area roads, including Route 505, which connects the Nablus area to the Jordan Valley. Palestinian schools in the area were also closed and classes were held online (Palestinian schools are often targeted and damaged by settlers). And notably, the route of the march passed alongside the village of Huwara, which was the site of a recent pogrom carried out by settlers.
Somtrich Meets with Settler Leaders to Discuss Security Needs; Settler Calls for Collective Punishment of Palestinians
On April 8th, Bezalel Smotrich – acting in his capacity as a minister within the Defense Ministry with virtually unchecked power over civil affairs in the West Bank – held a meeting with fourteen settler leaders to discuss the security situation in the West Bank. During the meeting, the settler leaders asked Smotrich for the following, to which Smotrich reportedly agreed:
- Additional IDF checkpoints throughout the West Bank;
- An Israeli-led operation to collect weapons from Palestinians suspected of terrorist affiliations;
- Reinforcement of West Bank infrastructure, including investments in building new settlements.
Shlomo Ne’eman, Chairman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and Head of the Yesha Council, called forthrightly for the “collective punishment” against all Palestinians in the West Bank, saying in a statement following the meeting:
“Our statement is sharp and clear: We will not allow the security of half a million residents of Judea and Samaria to be abandoned to the Oslo Accords, which for a long time have been immaterial. The Arab towns and villages of Judea and Samaria have become the headquarters for the enemy’s offensive operations against the citizens of Israel everywhere in the country, while the residents of Judea and Samaria are situated on the battlefront. We demand that the government provide a plan of action that takes on two angles, being sur mera ve’ase tov – turning away from evil and doing good.
Unwavering actions against the enemy also includes collective punishment and impairment to the Palestinian Authority, which produces terrorism, finances terror, and educates towards terror against development in Judea and Samaria without hesitation.
It is time to pass a government decision in support of building up Judea and Samaria, which means taking substantial steps immediately. The history of our country has proven that the most appropriate Zionist answer is to act harshly against the enemy and continue construction and development in the Jewish communities.
We thank our friend, Minister Smotrich, for convening this discussion and listening to us. The minister has accepted and agreed to our demands and pledges to act with the prime minister and the state security cabinet to realize these demands.
We have told him unequivocally: You are the state leadership; we trust you and will fully support you in every firm action taken. Our heroic residents are prepared to suffer for Israel’s victory against her enemies, but they will not agree to be used as moving targets in the land struggles of the Palestinian Authority.“
- “Israel’s Ben-Gvir push for a National Guard could give him own militia” (Al-Monitor)