Israeli security chiefs have deemed a string of settler attacks on Palestinian villages in the past week as “nationalist terrorism”, drawing ire from far-right cabinet ministers.
Israel’s military, police and domestic security service chiefs made a joint statement on Saturday following several attacks in the occupied West Bank, also stating they will step up countermeasures.
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The security chiefs pledged to beef up their military presence, while the Shin Bet domestic security service will ramp up arrests, including the use of “administrative detention”, where suspects can be held without charge.
That practice, denounced by rights groups, is largely used against Palestinians.
Violence has engulfed the West Bank this past week since Israeli forces stormed the Jenin refugee camp to arrest two suspects on Monday, drawing condemnation from international actors including the United States and the United Nations.
On Saturday, settlers torched at least two homes in the Palestinian village of Umm Safa near Ramallah, with one Israeli suspect arrested, the Israeli military said.
Earlier this week, hundreds of Israeli settlers stormed the village of Turmus Ayya and set fire to dozens of cars and homes.
Far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Sunday said the announcement by Israeli security forces amounts to “collective punishment” of Jewish settlers.
Ben-Gvir questioned why police had blocked the gates to the settlement of Ateret to screen those coming and going and “tased a person who was standing nearby”.
The security chief’s statement angered another far-right minister within Israel’s cabinet.
“The attempt to equate murderous Arab terrorism with civilian counter actions, as serious as they are, is immoral and dangerous,” said finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, also calling on settlers to refrain from “taking the law into their own hands.”
Also on Saturday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak encouraged demonstrators in their 25th straight week of protests against the government’s judicial reform plans to engage in civil disobedience.
Tensions are high in the region as Israel vows to go ahead with its judicial reform plans despite continuous protests, and as it expands its military raids in the occupied territory under its most right-wing government yet.
Palestinians have fought back against the raids, with a Palestinian teenager shot dead on Saturday in an attack at the Qalandia military checkpoint. On Tuesday, four Israeli settlers were killed at a petrol station between the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Nablus allegedly by Palestinian gunmen.
More than 700,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements not recognised by international law in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war.