Ministers Join Settlers Protesting Government Response to West Bank Attacks, Vow 'Action'

Habyit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett slams security services for 'preferring rights of Palestinians over security of settlers,' as 200 protesters demand legalization of West Bank housing

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a rally opposite the prime minister's office, Jerusalem, December 16, 2018.
Oren Ben Hakoon

Cabinet ministers showed up to demonstration held on Sunday opposite the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, calling for illegal housing in the settlement of Ofra be legalized and Palestinians' access to West Bank roads be limited in retribution of recent attacks.

Some 200 settlers, including heads of local and regional councils, took part in the demonstration.

The protest did not directly attack the Israeli government, and a few protesters who called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation were silenced by others.

>> Read more: Israel has weaponized the settlements ■ As Israel steps up West Bank response, Palestinian Authority takes a blow ■ As attacks rise, Abbas' weakness and Israeli elections talk may hurt war on terror

"I came here before the cabinet meeting to say very clearly – the time has come for action," said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. He put the blame on "artificial legal constraints being placed on us all the time," and called on fellow ministers to approve proposed legislation to legalize new settlements and expand construction.

Levin said it was time "to build extensively as a response to those despicable murderers," adding: "In a place where Jews are murdered only for being Jews – that is the place where new settlement should be established, young and strong, in Eilon Moreh, Nofei Nehemia and Har Bracha," naming West Bank settlements.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett gave a brief speech at the rally, saying: “The security establishment prefers the rights of Palestinians over the security of settlers, and so in the spirit of the High Court of Justice it was decided to crack open a window in the wall."

Settler protest opposite the prime minister's office, Jerusalem, December 16, 2018.
Oren Ben Hakoon

Bennett was referring to an opening in the separation barrier near the settlement of Beit El, through which a Palestinian came in and injured a 21-year-old soldier on Friday. However, it is unclear which High Court ruling Bennett was referring to.

Bennett also demanded the demolition of 106 houses of Palestinians charged with terror attacks. Ministers Ayelet Shaked, Zeev Elkin, Haim Katz and Uri Ariel also joined to the protest.

Katz said that the government "will win here, not like in the expulsion," referring to the 2005 Gaza disengagement and evacuation of settlers.

Meanwhile, several heads of settlement councils announced that they were suspending municipal services in protest of recent attacks in the West Bank. Mateh Binyamin council chief Yisrael Gantz called on the government to reinstate targeted killings, set up more checkpoints and limit Palestinians' access to main West Bank roads.

The head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Shlomo Ne’eman, said: “All Israeli ministers must understand that we expect them at this time to stand with the settlements, to care for our lives, simply, in terms of security: Fight the enemy with no mercy, disrupt their life, make attacks on Jews not worthwhile."

On Friday, dozens of settlers, including right-wing Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, entered the abandoned illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated two years ago, and placed two new structures there in protest of last week's terror attacks.

The outpost, built on private Palestinian land and never authorized by the Israeli authorities, was ordered evacuated by the High Court of Justice in 2014, but dates for the eviction were pushed back until a final date was set for February 2017. Following Amona's evacuation, a closed-military-zone decree prevented Palestinians from entering the area. Such decrees theoretically apply to Israelis as well, but they have been enforced only against Palestinians.