US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met in Jerusalem Jan. 18 with President Isaac Herzog, signaling continued US support for Israel’s new far-right government—despite the Biden administration’s supposed opposition to its policies such as settlement expansion and annexation of the West Bank. The trip coincided with Israel’s eviction of a wildcat settler outpost in what Israeli authorities call the “Samaria” region of the West Bank.
In this move, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant apparently overrode the authority of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds the post in the Defense Ministry with oversight of Israel’s West Bank “civil administration.” (ToI, JP) Smotrich, one of the most hardline figures in the new Israeli government, has been an open advocate of “transfer” of the Palestinian population from the West Bank to Jordan.
The outpost, dubbed Or Chaim, was evicted by Israei troops a second time two days later after settlers began to rebuild it. (ToI) It was widely assumed that removal of the outpost was undertaken as a demonstration to appease Sullivan on his visit.
Simultaneously, the Israeli government announced that it is preparing to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, home to at least 180 people. Dozens of Palestinians protested near the village on Jan. 23 after the announcement by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who also said that he would visit the site with Smotrich and other cabinet ministers.
In making the announcement, Ben-Gvir explicitly invoked the eviction of Or Chaim, saying the government “will not hold Jews to one legal standard and Arabs to another.” Israeli’s Supreme Court approved removal of Khan al-Ahmar in September 2018, leaving it open to being demolished at any time. The Israeli government maintains the village was built without a permit, but authorities make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain building permits in East Jerusalem and in the Israeli-administrated Area C, which covers more than 60% of the West Bank. Khan al-Ahmar lies within a key corridor stretching to the Jordan Valley, where Israel aims to expand settlements and link them with new highways, effectively cutting the West Bank into two.
Khan al-Ahmar residents say they will resist their removal. “Our fate is to remain in this area,” village spokesperson Eid Jahalin told Al Jazeera.
For years Israel has refused to connect Khan al-Ahmar to the electric grid and roads, and has repeatedly demolsithed structures at the site. Now, Israel is planning to demolish every single structure in the community and expel the residents. The demolitions are set to include the local school, which serves the children of nearby Palestinian communities similarly slated for removal. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem remarked after the 2018 Supreme Court decision: “Demolition and transfer are a war crime for which Israel’s government and military leadership will bear primary criminal liability, along with the judges who authorized it.”
While Israel has long pursued a de facto annexation policy on the West Bank, this is made explicit in the platform of the new ruling coalition, which states: “The nation of Israel has a natural right to the Land of Israel… In light of the belief in that aforementioned right, the prime minister will formulate and promote policies within whose framework sovereignty will be applied to Judea and Samaria.” (JP)
Palestinians cut security ties with Israel over deadly raid
The Palestinian Authority announced Jan. 27 that it will halt the security cooperation with Israel, following an IDF raid on Jenin refugee camp that killed nine Palestinians, including a 61-year-old woman. The raid apparently targeted militants of the Jenin Battalion, part of the Lion’s Den network. (AP, BBC News)
Gaza air-strikes, Jerusalem massacre
Israel carried out air-strikes on Gaza in response to rocket fire from the Strip Jan. 27. There were no reports of injuries on either side. Militants had warned of a response after nine Palestinians were killed in the previous day’s Jenin raid, which Israel said was to thwart “imminent terrorist attacks.” (BBC News)
Hours later, seven people were shot dead at a synagogue in te Neve Yaakov neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Police described the attacker as a “terrorist” and said he had been “neutralized.” (BBC News)
Air-strikes on Gaza, ‘price tag’ attacks on West Bank
Israeli warplanes carried out strikes on the Gaza Strip early Feb. 2 in response to a rocket attack on southern Israel, with alarms sounded in Sderot and nearby towns. (ToI) Meanwhile there ave been some hundred cases of “price tag” attacks by Israeli settlers on the West Bank since the Jerusalem synagogue attack, with Palestinian vehicles and properties attacked and vandalized. (+972)
Israeli-Palestinian escalation, amid judicial reform protests
Hamas has claimed responsibility for a March 9 attack in Tel Aviv that injured three people—an incident that came at the end of a day of mass demonstrations against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-right government to overhaul Israel’s judicial system. A group of elite Israeli fighter pilots said they would not show up to training in a show of protest against the reforms (although they later agreed to attend), and other key reservists have said they will refuse to perform some duties. Earlier in the day, the Israeli military killed three fighters from the Islamic Jihad group in a raid in the occupied West Bank. Such raids are increasingly deadly and near-daily; earlier in the week, the army killed six Palestinians in Jenin. Among the dead was said to be a man who killed two Israeli brothers late last month as they were driving through the West Bank town of Huwara. After those killings, Israeli settlers rampaged through Huwara, setting houses and cars on fire. (TNH)
Smotrich: Palestinians ‘don’t exist’
Far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich said Marc 19 that the Palestinian people are “an invention.” Speaking in Paris at a private memorial service for prominent Likud activist and Jewish Agency board member Jacques Kupfer, who died in 2021, Smotrich said there is “no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people”—a comment that was met with applause and cheers from attendees, as seen in a video from the event posted online.
“Do you know who are the Palestinians?” asked the head of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party and Israel’s finance minister. “I’m Palestinian,” he said, also mentioning his grandmother who was born in the northern Israeli town of Metula 100 years ago, and his grandfather, a 13th-generation Jerusalemite, as the “real Palestinians.”
He asserted that Arab immigration to “the land of Israel” began in response to Jewish immigration, in a strategy to “invent a fictitious people in the land of Israel and claim fictitious rights in the land of Israel just to fight the Zionist movement.”
Smotrich was speaking from a podium that featured a map of “Greater Israel” that included the territory of modern-day Jordan, in accordance with hardline aspirations by some early Zionist groups. (ToI, Al-Monitor)