Countries sanction Israeli settlers in West Bank for violence against Palestinians

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While much of the international focus has been on Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip, several countries have expressed increased concern over the rising violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The United States, France, the UK and Canada have all announced sanctions against Israeli settlers – a rare move against Israelis as the war in Gaza rages.

The sanctions against the settlers range from travel bans to financial restrictions prohibiting trade and blocking assets.

United States

President Joe Biden on February 1 imposed sanctions on Jewish settlers in the West Bank along with an executive order laying out the groundwork for actions over attacks and “acts of terrorism” in the region, where settlers have repeatedly targeted Palestinians.

The US sanctioned four individuals, blocking their assets in America and forbidding any financial transactions with Americans.

Meanwhile The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli financial institutions had frozen the bank accounts of the four men or were in the process of doing so. It also reported that there could be broader implications of the sanctions if they made international institutions suspicious that dealings with Israel could inadvertently involve them in sanctions evasion.

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The act marked first financial transactions against settlers by the US; However, the Biden administration had earlier announced that it would refuse visas for extremists involved in violence.

Israeli banks said they will heed the sanctions despite calls by the finance minister and another far-right cabinet member not to comply.

“We are not a banana republic of the United States in this regard and we won’t allow for the harming of our citizens,” Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Smotrich described the allegations against the settlers as “utterly specious.”

United Kingdom

Following a similar move by the US, the UK on Monday, announced sanctions against four “extremist Israeli settlers” accused of committing human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Cameroon, announced the sanctions saying that “Israel must also take stronger action to put a stop to settler violence.”

“Too often, we see commitments made and undertakings given, but not followed through,” he said.

Two of the individuals sanctioned - Moshe Sharvit and Yinon Levy - have in recent months used physical aggression, threatened families at gunpoint, and destroyed property, Cameron’s foreign ministry said.

Their actions are “part of a targeted and calculated effort to displace Palestinian communities,” it added.

The UK also sanctioned Zvi Bar Yosef, who it said had set up an illegal outpost in the West Bank in 2018 which has been described by local Palestinian residents as a “source of systematic intimidation and violence,” according to AFP reports.

A fourth person they sanctioned, Ely Federman, had been involved in multiple incidents against Palestinian shepherds in the South Hebron Hills, according to the UK foreign ministry.

Levi was the only one of the four people to also be targeted by the US, when it unveiled sanctions against four Israeli settlers on February 1.

France

The French foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that the country will bar entry for 28 Israeli settlers, accusing them of attacking Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

“These measures come as violence perpetrated by settlers against the Palestinian population has increased in recent months. France reaffirms its firm condemnation of this unacceptable violence,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry did not name the individuals.

The French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said in early February that Israeli “settler violence must stop” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Under no circumstances can there be forced displacement of Palestinians, neither out of Gaza nor out of the West Bank,” Sejourne said during a Middle East tour aimed at securing a truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The French minister denounced anti-Palestinian rhetoric and “even calls to commit war crimes” by Israeli officials, after some Netanyahu allies appeared to have endorsed Jewish re-settlement of the Gaza Strip after the war.

Canada

Canada said it will impose sanctions on Israeli settlers who incite violence in the West Bank and introduce new sanctions on Hamas leaders, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on February 4.

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, Joly said some settlers “will be sanctioned” and “we will also bring new sanctions on Hamas leaders.”

“We’re working actively on it,” Joly said, speaking from Ukraine. “I’m making sure that while I’m in Ukraine, the work is being done in Ottawa and I look forward to doing an announcement soon.”

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said in late January that he was considering imposing sanctions on “extremist” settlers in the West Bank.

European Union

While the European Union has not officially announced any sanctions against Israeli settlers yet, EU’s foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said in December that he would propose sanctions against violent Israeli settlers.

France has backed the initiative with officials saying that once France’s measures were in place, it could speed up the European process.

A joint statement issued by the French, Polish and German foreign ministers on Monday said settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank was unacceptable and “shall be sanctioned.”

EU efforts have stalled so far due to objections from Hungary and the Czech Republic, diplomats say, according to reports from Reuters.

But they say a compromise may be found later to let the measures proceed, possibly after more EU sanctions on Hamas.

Palestinians gain little from sanctions

Western countries’ sanctions against some Jewish settlers accused of political violence have brought little solace to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank who say such attacks persist – oftentimes with Israeli security forces standing by or joining in.

A group of 20 to 30 settlers attacked a hilltop village in the West Bank on Monday, according to a Reuters report.

The Israeli army described the incident in Asira al-Qibiliya as a “riot” by Palestinians and settlers, during which troops shot rock-throwers. Two Palestinians suffered gun-shot wounds, the news agency reported, adding that there was no word of casualties or arrests among the settlers, though the army acknowledged some of the latter had set fires.

“We thought that the army would push them (settlers) away but we were surprised to see them coming in droves,” a villager Abdul Basiti Abdul Rahman was quoted as saying. “It lasted two hours.”

A Palestinian man inspects a car damaged during a reported attack by Israeli settlers in the village of Asira al-Qibliyah, south of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank on February 13, 2024. (AFP)
A Palestinian man inspects a car damaged during a reported attack by Israeli settlers in the village of Asira al-Qibliyah, south of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank on February 13, 2024. (AFP)

Israeli settlers killed at least 10 Palestinians and torched dozens of homes in the occupied West Bank in 2023, making it the “most violent” year on record for settler attacks, according to the human rights group Yesh Din.

Israel says that it acts against unlawful land use, but Palestinians decry discrimination in such measures, saying that Israeli settlements are often expanded without government license.

Israel in 2005 withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza, but in the West Bank there are around 490,000 Israelis living among approximately three million Palestinians in settlements that are considered illegal by most world powers.

In the 18 months before Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, the West Bank had already seen its highest levels of unrest in decades. Confrontations there have risen sharply since Israeli forces launched their retaliatory offensive on Gaza.

With Agencies

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