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Israel politician incited settler violence, NGO says

Bezalel Smotrich, Extremist Israeli Jewish MK [File photo]
Bezalel Smotrich, an extremist Israeli Jewish MK [File photo]

Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din has demanded that an investigation be opened into a Jewish Home politician who called for settler violence against Palestinians.

Yesh Din this week submitted an official request to Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, asking that he open a criminal probe into Bezalel Smotrich – a Knesset member (MK) for the Jewish Home party – after the latter used Twitter to encourage illegal Israeli settlers to commit violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

In a letter to Mandelblit, Michael Sfard – a lawyer representing Yesh Din – wrote that: “The tweet should have brought [Israeli] law enforcement agencies to launch an immediate investigation into suspicions that MK Smotrich committed offenses of incitement to violence and incitement to racism.”

The tweet to which Sfard refers was published on Thursday in the wake of an incident near Giv’at Assaf – an illegal Israeli outpost located on Route 60 east of Al-Bireh in the occupied West Bank – in which two Israeli soldiers died. According to the Times of Israel, Smotrich tweeted:

I call on my heroic [settler] friends and pioneers to come out tonight and close Route 60 along its entire length to the movement of Arab vehicles. If there are terror attacks, there will be no Arabs on the roads. Our lives precede their quality of life.

That night, scores of Israeli settler youth took to Route 60 to throw stones at passing Palestinian vehicles, forcing them to exit the road to avoid further damage or injury. Video footage showed masked settlers throwing stones at Palestinians’ windshields, before continuing down the road to target more vehicles.

Yesh Din says that, in the 24 hours after Smotrich’s tweet, it documented 25 similar instances of violence carried out by settlers against Palestinians. These included the shooting of live bullets at Palestinian homes in the nearby villages of Ein Yabrud and Beitin and the throwing of stones at Palestinian cars at the Huwara and Kfar Qaddum junctions, all near Ofra on Route 60 of the occupied West Bank.

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The close similarity between the types of settler attacks and the timing of the incidents suggests that Smotrich’s tweet significantly contributed to the escalation in “price tag” attacks carried out against Palestinians, which in turn heightened tensions ahead of Friday’s “day of rage”. Sfard detailed this connection explicitly in his letter to Israel’s Attorney General, writing:

[quote] “Even if one assumes that the harm done to innocent Palestinians outside the roads that were blocked [by settlers] cannot be directly and unequivocally connected to Smotrich, the disturbances that took place on Thursday night and Friday […] leave no room for doubt that the MK’s call fell on attentive ears and that he indeed incited the ‘heroic settlers’ into action.”

Smotrich – who lives on the illegal Kedumim (Kfar Qaddum) settlement and is also a member of the far-right Tkuma party, which advocates for Israeli annexation of the West Bank – has a long history of anti-Palestinian activities.

Settlers vandalised Palestinian property in the West Bank [Twitter]

Settlers vandalised Palestinian property in the West Bank [Twitter]

This week, the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would see the government legalise 66 illegal settlement outposts across the West Bank. The bill was initiated by Smotrich, who claimed that the “legalisation” of some 6,000 settlement units was “the definitive answer to the murderous terrorism of the Arabs”. Earlier in December, Smotrich initiated a bill which would create 200 extra communities where non-Jewish inhabitants can be banned, bringing the total number of such communities to 900.

It is also not the first time Smotrich has used Twitter to endorse violence against Palestinians. In April, shortly after the sentencing of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi to eight months in prison for having slapped an Israeli soldier who trespassed on her family’s land, Smotrich tweeted that “in [his] opinion, she [Ahed] should have gotten a bullet, at least in the kneecap. That would have put her under house arrest for the rest of her life”. In response, Twitter temporarily suspended the MK’s account, saying it had “determined that the post was abusive and could incite people to harass, terrorize or silence an individual”.

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