Far-right Ministers Bezalel Smotrich (left) and Itamar Ben-Gvir
An innocent farmer lies murdered in cold blood. But here we are not talking now about a victim of the vicious Hamas attack of October 7. It’s about a Palestinian killed by extremist settlers in the West Bank.
Bilal Saleh had been picking olives in his grove in the village of al-Sawiya along with his family when he was attacked by settlers who shot him in the chest on Saturday October 28. Extremist settler harassment is nothing new. Illegal settlements have grown up around al-Sawiya and with it, settler vandalism. Violence has increased, however, since the advent to power of Israel’s extreme right wing government last year and has accelerated further since the Hamas attack of October 7 as attention has turned from the West Bank to Gaza.
A Program of Displacement
It is all part of a program of displacement, subjugation, and ultimately of expulsion advocated by Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s current Finance Minister. If the plan sounds a lot like Meir Kahane, it is no coincidence. Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party is in coalition with Otzma Yehudit (the “Jewish Power” party) descended from Meir Kahana’s movement. Smotrich and the leader of Otzma Yehudit, Itamar Ben-Gvir, work closely together. Ben-Gvir heads a new National Security Ministry overseeing Border Police activities in the West Bank.
It is not an accident that Saleh was targeted harvesting his olives. Economic strangulation is part of the Smotrich/Ben-Gvir displacement strategy; the olive harvest, vital for Palestinian farmers, is a particular target. It is just one aspect of a broader program to alienate Palestinian land owners from the use of their land.
The village of al-Sawiya is just south of Nablus. Nearby, along a main road, is the town of Huwara, the scene of settler rioting last February. Responding to criticism of Israeli soldiers who stood by and allowed the pogrom to occur, Smotrich declared that Huwara should be “erased.” Today, the town is split in two by an IDF barrier and much of Hawara is effectively in indefinite lockdown.
Near Huwara is the town of Qusra, where four residents were murdered in mid-October in another case of extremist settler shootings. The following day, two mourners, driving to the funeral of the four were also murdered. Still more settler shootings in Qusra have occurred in recent days. Rampaging shooters killed three and wounded a six year old girl. After the settlers left, soldiers shot and killed a 13 year old boy.
Violence is hardly confined to the southern outskirts of Nablus. The South Hebron Hills has long been a target in a policy of Palestinian displacement. Here, and also areas to the west of Hebron, a campaign of shooting and vandalism has emptied 15 Palestinian villages. The shooting of an unarmed Palestinian by a gun-toting settler, unimpeded by a nearby soldier, can be seen by clicking here.
A little farther north, near the settlement of Tekoa, a Palestinian engineer, Eisa Jibril, was shot and killed by a settler dressed in uniform. Acts of vandalism, supported by IDF segments, are not unusual and are conducted openly. An NBC News report records, in the three weeks running up to November 3, at least 132 West Bank Palestinians, including 41 children, killed by security forces and settlers.
This brutal violence is unconscionable. It is also intended to be a barrier to peace. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is traveling the globe trying to maintain a coalition against Hamas and to contain the violence in Gaza. The program of Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, and the extremist religious-chauvinist settler movement they promote, threaten to undermine those efforts and create a new front of war on the West Bank.
Extremists need and use each other. To secure a peaceful future, not just Hamas, but also Smotrich, Ben-Gvir and their Israeli allies must be removed from power.