Saturday, May 18, 2024

EU and US sanction extremist Israeli settlers

The European Union and the United States have imposed tough new sanctions against key figures said to be behind extremist violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The sanctions – announced within hours of each other by the EU and by the US Treasury – targeted a number of prominent individuals and organisations, most prominently Bentzi Gopstein, the leader of the Levaha group, who reports in the Israeli media suggest has acted as an adviser to the far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir.

While the EU placed sanctions on Lehava, a far-right group that campaigns against relationships between Jews and non-Jews, the US did so specifically against Gopstein, who was convicted of an Israeli court earlier this year for racist statements.

Also hit by EU sanctions were Meir Ettinger and Elisha Yered, two leading figures in the extremist Hilltop Youth, which was described by the EU as “a radical group consisting of members known for violent acts against Palestinians and their villages in the West Bank”.

The new round of sanctions against far-right figures in Israel marks the latest ramping up of the international campaign against settler and extremist violence which has exploded on the occupied West Bank in the six months since Hamas’s attack on Israel from Gaza on 7 October last year.

As well as Gopstein, the US imposed sanctions on two entities that it said helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for two violent extremists in the West Bank who had already been targeted with US sanctions, underlining its intention to pursue those it sees as attempting to bypass sanctions.

The US Treasury department said one entity, Mount Hebron Fund, had launched an online fundraising campaign that raised $140,000 (£113,000) for the settler Yinon Levi, after he was hit with sanctions on 1 February for allegedly leading a group of settlers that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, burned their fields and destroyed their property. EU sanctions also apply to Levi, 32, who is accused of “multiple violent acts”.

The Treasury announced the second entity, Shlom Asiraich, raised $31,000 on a crowdfunding website for David Chai Chasdai, who the US says led a riot that included setting vehicles and buildings on fire and causing damage to property in Huwara, resulting in the death of a Palestinian civilian.

“Such acts by these organisations undermine the peace, security, and stability of the West Bank. We will continue to use our tools to hold those responsible accountable,” the deputy secretary of the Treasury, Wally Adeyemo, said in the statement.

The EU sanctions will include an asset freeze, a prohibition on provision of funds or economic resources to them or for their benefit and a travel ban to the EU for the individuals named.

Restrictive measures were agreed by the European Council of leaders in March in an official communique when they strongly condemned extremist settler violence, stating that perpetrators must be held to account.

According to the official journal, one of the four named individuals, Neria Ben Pazi, 31, “established four of the most violent outposts in the West Bank in 2019”.

He was “one of the main perpetrators of the forced displacement of a Bedouin community of Wadi as-Seeq near Ramalah. His actions “have been likened to torture”, according to the EU’s official journal.

It cited a vicious attack on 12 October in which Palestinians were “severely beaten, handcuffed and photographed in their underwear” as well as being “urinated on” and having cigarettes stubbed out on their bodies.

Ettinger, 33, is listed because he is considered a leading figure of the Hilltop Youth. According to the official journal “he was involved in a deadly arson attack in 2015” on a Palestinian West Bank home “that killed two parents and their 18-month-old baby”.

He is “responsible for serious human rights violations or abuses, including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as well as violations or abuses of the right to property and the right to private and family life of Palestinians in the West Bank and for supporting and encouraging such acts”, the journal says.

These alleged abuses are of “serious concern” with regard to EU foreign policy as set out in article 21 of the treaty of the European Union, the EU added.

Another member of the group now under EU sanctions is Elisha Yered, born in 2001, who was reported to have engaged in settler violence through “price tag attacks” including “physical and psychosocial harassment, beatings, murder and demolition of property, against Palestinians … of a systematic nature”.

The journal adds he was “part of a group of armed settlers” involved in an attack last year near Ramallah which led to the death of the 19-year-old Palestinian Qusai Jammal Mi’tan and wounded several other Palestinians.

The West Bank is the largest Palestinian territory in the Middle East but was captured in the 1967 war and the area has been under military occupation since, while Israeli settlements have consistently expanded. Palestinians envisage the West Bank as part of a future independent state also including Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Lehava is described as a “radical rightwing Jewist supremacist group” that “uses violence and incites violence against Palestinians, Christians and Messianic Jews”.

According to the journal, Lehava “organises violent protests against Jewish Muslim weddings and the LGBQTi community”.

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