Middle East

West Bank Settlers Must Face Justice

Yehuda Fuchs, the Israeli major-general in charge of the army’s Central Command, was absolutely correct to brand the murderous rampage by Jewish settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26 as a “pogrom.”

“What happened in Huwara was a pogrom carried out by law-breakers,” he said after hundreds of vigilante settlers killed a Palestinian man, set fire to dozens of homes and cars, and slaughtered sheep there on that infamous night.

Yehuda Fuchs

Appropriately enough, Israeli President Isaac Herzog condemned the rioting, branding it “cruel and violent.”  And the chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces, General Herzi Halevi, vowed to “thoroughly investigate” it.

Herzi Halevi, on the left

The rioters went ballistic just hours after two brothers, Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, were fatally shot as they drove through Huwara, a small town near Nablus. Shortly afterward, a dual Israeli-American, Elan Ganeles, was killed while driving near the West Bank town of Jericho.

Their deaths brought to 15 the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists since the beginning of 2023.

Elan Ganeles, killed in the West Bank on February 27

In all likelihood, they were the victims of Palestinian retaliatory attacks to avenge the deaths of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army in recent anti-terrorist raids in the West Bank.

While Fuchs and Herzog reacted decently to the sickening violence in Huwara, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — a keen supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank — poured oil on the fire.

Incredibly enough, he “liked” a tweet by Davidi Ben-Zion, a leader of the settler movement in the West Bank, urging the government to “wipe out” Huwara.

In comments on March 1, Smotrich condemned the rampage and said “we shouldn’t be dragged into anarchy in which civilians take the law into their own hands.” But he also said that Huwara needs “to be wiped out” by the Israeli government.

Bezalel Smotrich

Smotrich’s incendiary comments were denounced by U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price as “irresponsible, repugnant and disgusting.” And he added, “Just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence.”

Price urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli officials to publicly reject and disavow Smotrich’s remarks.

Instead, astonishingly enough, Netanyahu likened demonstrators in Tel Aviv who have criticized his planned judicial reforms to settlers who ran amok in Huwara.

Netanyahu, who has assembled the most right-wing government in Israeli history, should have issued a full-throated condemnation of the attacks in Huwara, whose residents do not and should not bear collective responsibility for the murder of the Yaniv brothers.

Netanyahu said there is “no place for anarchy” and declared that only Israeli security forces, rather than vigilantes, can avenge the deaths of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists. But in a telling omission, he did not even mention Huwara or the settlers.

He should have denounced the settlers in no uncertain terms, but chose not to because his political allies on the far right are closely connected to and sympathize with them.

Nor did Netanyahu address the central issues — Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and his refusal to grant the Palestinians statehood within the framework of a peace agreement.

Netanyahu’s ally, Zvika Fogel, a member of the extreme Jewish Power Party and the head of the Knesset’s National Security Committee, voiced support for the rioters as well. As he said, “A closed, burnt Huwara — that’s what I want to see.”

Israel should not rest until the perpetrators are caught and prosecuted. Eight suspects were detained on the night of the rioting, but they were let go. Police arrested six suspects on March 1, but one suspect already has been released.

While Israel’s ally, the United States, condemned the terrorist shootings, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs called for “full accountability and legal prosecution of those responsible for these heinous attacks and compensation for those who lost property or were otherwise affected.”

In addition, the State Department issued a damning report that accuses Israel of failing to stop attacks by settlers in the West Bank. As the report plainly stated, “Israeli security personnel often did not prevent settler attacks and rarely detained or charged perpetrators of settler violence.”

Citing United Nations, the report noted there were 496 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians last year.

There is no doubt that Israel should have been ready for settler violence after the murder of the Yaniv brothers. Lamentably, Israel was shockingly ill-prepared, as Fuchs admitted. “We were not prepared for a pogrom,” he said. “We were not prepared for that many people, how they came, the scale, the force of the violence they used, and the planning they had carried out.”

Fuchs should have known better, given the documented record of violence that settlers have compiled since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967.

As the occupying power in the West Bank, Israel has a moral and a legal obligation to protect its inhabitants, the vast majority of whom are Palestinian Arabs.

Judging by the events in Huwara, Israel has failed miserably to carry out this sacred duty.