Far-Right Israeli Minister Threatens To Turn West Bank ‘Into Ruins’ Amid More Violence

Israel’s far-right finance minister threatened on Thursday to turn Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank “into ruins like the Gaza Strip” as soldiers and settlers escalate their raids against Palestinian civilians.In a video he recorded of himself outside, Bezalel Smotrich addressed his “neighbors beyond the fence” in the West Bank’s Palestinian areas of Tulkarem

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Israel’s far-right finance minister threatened on Thursday to turn Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank “into ruins like the Gaza Strip” as soldiers and settlers escalate their raids against Palestinian civilians.

In a video he recorded of himself outside, Bezalel Smotrich addressed his “neighbors beyond the fence” in the West Bank’s Palestinian areas of Tulkarem, Nur al-Shams, Shuweika and Qalqilya.

“We will turn you into ruins like in the Gaza Strip if the terror you are inflicting on the settlements continues. Terrorism against the citizens of Israel must stop,” the extremist minister and settler said in Hebrew, referring to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza that in eight months has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians and displaced most of Gaza’s population.

Smotrich’s comments come amid escalating violence in the occupied West Bank. Most of the attacks are from the Israeli military and from settlers who have carried out raids against Palestinian nearly every day since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants from Gaza attacked southern Israel and killed about 1,200 people and captured about 240 others, half of whom are still being held by Hamas.

Palestinians in the West Bank have been subjected to settler violence and forced evictions for years. But since Oct. 7, more than 500 Palestinians ― including at least 130 children ― in the occupied territory have been killed, and nearly 5,000 have been injured by settlers and the IDF, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. That death toll is as of May 26, due to casualty figures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem not being updated as regularly as in Gaza.

Though Smotrich’s threat is concerning, it is also unsurprising for someone who has historically been outspoken about his hatred of Palestinians. Last year, Smotrich said that he believes there is “no such thing” as Palestinian people, and earlier this year he admitted Gaza is a “ghetto” and said it should be resettled for Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich on Jan. 7 during a weekly cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich on Jan. 7 during a weekly cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

Ronen Zvulun/Pool via Associated Press

“Now, the difference, of course, is that this is coming at a moment where there is massive destruction in Gaza. And he is saying, ‘Well, we’re going to do this in the West Bank,’” Yousef Munayyer, head of the Palestine/Israel program and senior fellow at Arab Center Washington D.C. (ACW), a nonprofit research organization, told HuffPost on Thursday. “And that is threatening a level of violence that we have not seen in the West Bank yet.”

“I think many Palestinians in the West Bank fear that what Israel is doing in Gaza, the logical extension of it is to continue in the West Bank,” Munayyer said. “It is the wildest dreams of these right-wing extremists to be able to depopulate the West Bank, force those Palestinians out and further establish their control over the territory.”

Israel has justified its deadly military campaign in Gaza by claiming it is trying to dismantle Hamas. But the militant group does not have a presence in the West Bank, parts of which are governed by the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. Smotrich, who also oversees the Israeli military budget and approves land grabs in the West Bank, said last week that he would stop transferring tax revenue earmarked for the Palestinian Authority.

Early Thursday, Israeli forces opened fire during a raid on Ramallah in the West Bank, injuring at least five Palestinians and killing a 20-year-old who died of bullet wounds to the chest, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Soldiers also destroyed a major vegetable market in the city and used stun grenades and tear gas to engulf hundreds of shops in flames.

Since Wednesday night, Israeli forces have rounded up and detained at least 20 people across the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society, a Nablus-based nonprofit that keeps a daily record of arrests. Since Oct. 7, the Israeli military has arrested nearly 9,000 people in near daily raids in the occupied territory, according to the group.

Civil defense teams and firefighters continue extinguishing and cooling the areas where a fire broke out Thursday as a result of Israeli forces raiding the Al-Bireh area of Ramallah in occupied West Bank.
Civil defense teams and firefighters continue extinguishing and cooling the areas where a fire broke out Thursday as a result of Israeli forces raiding the Al-Bireh area of Ramallah in occupied West Bank.

Issam Rimawi/Anadolu via Getty Images

In his video, Smotrich warned of an unsafe future for Israelis should the international community establish a Palestinian state, saying that the attack on Oct. 7 “can happen here as well.”

“This will not come to be and will not happen. We will strike at the terror,” he said. “We will continue to rule Judea and Samaria [West Bank], because this is the security buffer for the settlements here in the seam zone, and for the major cities located west of here within the state of Israel.”

Smotrich’s fearmongering will likely have more of an effect on West Bank settlers than on Israelis living elsewhere due to the occupied territory housing both Palestinians and Israelis. By comparison, Gaza is a territory that is almost entirely Palestinian, and Israelis living nearby were believed to be safe until Hamas breached the wall between them.

“There is a military occupation that, demographically, is far more mixed. You have Israeli settlements right next to Palestinian villages throughout the entirety of the West Bank,” Munayyer said. “So the ability to gin up fear and pretext around security, I think, is even greater in the West Bank.”

“Now we haven’t seen the level of violence in the West Bank that we’ve seen from Gaza. But the fear there for Israeli settlers is certainly possible because they know they live in and around and among Palestinians,” he said. “And, of course, [settlers] are abusing these people on a regular basis. So at any moment, there can be a spark that leads to a huge uptick in violence.”

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