President Joe Biden on Thursday issued an executive order declaring the increasing violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank an “extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” This means that as president he can issue sanctions independently of parliament, and these are already targeting four Israelis involved.
David Chai Chasdai (29) was one of the leaders of the major ‘pogrom’ against the Palestinian village of Hawara in February last year. About four hundred settlers then stormed Hawara for hours, setting fire to dozens of houses and cars, shooting dead a Palestinian civilian and wounding nearly a hundred, in revenge for the deaths of two Israelis in the West Bank earlier in the day. The Israeli army did not intervene.
According to Washington, Yinon Levi (31) attacked Palestinians near Hebron, “threatened violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields and destroyed their property.” Einan Tanjil (21) attacked “Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists with stones and clubs.” Videos show how Shalom Zicherman (32) mainly targeted Israeli peace activists. None of the four were ready for their test piece.
American financial sanctions are now in place against them, so that any bank accounts or assets in the US are frozen, although it is unclear whether the four have them. The importance of Biden’s decree is mainly seen in the fact that the four perpetrators of violence are mentioned by name. The American protest against settler violence is therefore no longer only theoretical. Washington can expand the list as it sees fit, including targeting organizations that support those targeted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response that “the vast majority of the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria (as Israel calls the occupied Palestinian West Bank, ed.) are law-abiding citizens.” Netanyahu called “exceptional measures” such as US sanctions “unnecessary” because “Israel takes action against anyone who breaks the law.”
The Israeli NGO Yesh Din calculated in December that complaints about settler violence are not investigated in 81 percent of cases. The few incidents in which this does happen are dismissed in more than 93 percent of the cases without any consequences. Of all charges investigated since 2005, only 3 percent led to a conviction.
In recent years, settler violence has increased to multiple incidents per day, with sharp increases in numbers after the far-right coalition around Netanyahu took office in December 2022, and even more so after the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7. Washington has been warning more openly against settler violence since the Hawara pogrom in February 2023. “It has to stop now,” President Biden said again at the end of October.
“Not the 51st star”
Yet the Israeli government hardly intervenes. “The campaign against so-called ‘settler violence’ is an anti-Semitic lie spread by Israel’s enemies,” said Bezalel Smotrich, Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionists, an outspoken settler party. “It is very unfortunate that the Biden administration is participating” in a campaign that “smears pioneers,” Smotrich said Friday.
“The heroic settlers in Judea and Samaria are the ones under attack,” said Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security and leader of the ruling Jewish Power party. “It is time for the US to reconsider its policies in Judea and Samaria.” Despite the Biden administration’s massive support for Israel in the Gaza war, Ben-Gvir previously said that “Israel is not the 51st star on the American flag.”
Washington fears that settler violence could also escalate the situation in the Palestinian West Bank – even the Israeli domestic security service Shin Bet has already warned the Netanyahu government about this. The US is also calling for a ‘reformed’ version of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to soon politically govern Gaza, which the Netanyahu government has so far rejected.