I saw settlers attack Palestinian shepherds with dogs, destroy their crops, and steal their homes – all under the aegis of rightwing Israeli leaders


2023 was the worst year on record for settler violence. Settlers attacked Palestinians and their property in more than 1,200 separate incidents. They killed at least 10 Palestinian people. They torched dozens of houses. And this was all before the Hamas attacks of 7 October. In the aftermath of the deadly violence, which left 1,200 Israelis dead and hundreds held hostage, Ben-Gvir explicitly ordered Israeli law-enforcement officers not to enforce the law in cases of Jewish nationalist violence. The Israeli military drafted and armedthousands of settlers, issuing them guns, uniforms and the protection of the state.

These policies have enabled settlers and Israeli armed forces to forcibly remove at least 198 Palestinian households (1,208 people, among them 586 children) from more than a dozen villages in the two months of November and December. As Yesh Din succinctly put it: “Settler violence is the policy of the Israeli government.”

It isn’t just this current government that’s the problem. During my months in the West Bank in 2022, the “government of change” led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid was in power, and it presided over what was, at the time, a record-setting year for settler violence. Since 1967, when Israel initially occupied the West Bank, every single Israeli government has made a choice to maintain Israel’s military presence there and enable the settlement enterprise.

Settler violence is not a glitch in the system. It is a feature. While the state pursues a slow and steady strategy of dispossession by issuing demolition orders, night raids of villages and onerous checkpoints, settlers like Levi and Federman use vigilante violence and illegal construction to more quickly and directly achieve the same goals.

The US, UK and France imposing sanctions on these individuals sends a strong message to the Israeli government, and settlers across the West Bank, that the international community will no longer tolerate this level of violence. But, truthfully, it is not enough. The leader of Zanuta, Fayez al-Tal, said in an interview after the sanctions were made public, that he hopes that Biden’s executive order will extend to officials such as Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. Human rights leaders around the world agree that this would be a helpful next step, one that the administration is reportedly considering.

But targeting individuals, even powerful ones, fails on a basic level: it leaves intact the structures which allow Jewish Israelis to militarily, economically and legally dominate Palestinians in the West Bank. For the sake of both nations who live in the land between the river and the sea, we must uproot that system of Jewish supremacy in order to sow the seeds of a shared future for all Palestinians and Israelis.

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