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Biden to sanction Israeli settlers in the West Bank

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President Joe Biden issued an executive order Thursday targeting Israeli settlers in the West Bank following the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old American citizen last month.

Biden’s order will target settlers who “directly perpetrated violence, and those who have engaged in repeated acts of intimidation property destruction, leading to the forced displacement of Palestinian communities,” according to a senior administration official. The sanctions are focused on visa restrictions for foreign nationals, some of whom have already been prosecuted in the Israeli justice system.

Sanctions do not address American citizens who may also perpetrate settler violence.

The decision was made following the death of American teenager, Tawfic Hafeth Abdel Jabbar, who was shot and killed last month during a visit to the West Bank to learn more about his Palestinian heritage. His family says he was the victim of settler violence.

A photo taken earlier this month shows Tawfic and a friend standing on the vehicle and in the location he would later be shot in.
Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, left, and a friend.Courtesy Abdel Jabbar family

Abdel Jabbar’s father said his son was out for a picnic with friends when witnesses told him that the 17-year-old was shot by an Israeli settler. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said at the time that he was unaware of the full context but that the White House was “seriously concerned” over the teen’s death.

Over 300 Palestinians have been killed by security forces and settlers across the occupied West Bank since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, separate from the thousands who have been killed in Gaza, according to data from the United Nations.

There have been 491 recorded settler attacks against Palestinians from Oct. 7 to Jan. 31, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The State Department said in December that would be imposing a travel ban on some settlers after a spate of attacks by settlers.

Spokesperson Matt Miller said the visa ban would be imposed on “dozens” of extremist Israeli settlers and their family members. It’s unclear how many people have been impacted by the ban.

“The United States has consistently opposed actions that undermine stability in the West Bank, including attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, and Palestinian attacks against Israelis,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement at the time.

“We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable,” he added.

As violence in the settlements continued, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated last month that Biden was concerned about “violence in the West Bank, and that being perpetrated largely by settlers with extreme views and how much he absolutely opposes that those that violence needs to stop.”

Benjamin Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister and chairman of the far-right Religious Zionist party, called settler violence an “anti-semitic lie” in a post on X on Thursday.

“It’s a shame that the Biden government cooperates with this in the days when the settlers are paying a dear blood price of the best of their sons in the war in Gaza,” Smotrich wrote, according to an NBC News translation.

He went on to say that he will continue to develop Jewish settlements and that “if the price is the imposition of American sanctions on me — so be it.”

Israeli settlers have called for the re-occupation of Gaza in recent days, gathering at a conference on Sunday where National Security Minister Ben Gvir said that Israel should encourage “voluntary migration” of Palestinians out of the region. Smotrich was also a keynote speaker at the event and has made public statements urging the resettlement of Gaza.

The Gaza Strip has been devoid of Israeli residents since 2005, when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Knesset agreed to withdraw all Israeli presence.

The White House and State Department have publicly condemned the calls for resettlement, firmly asserting the U.S. belief that Gaza should remain Palestinian land.

But settlements have continued to grow in the occupied West Bank bringing increased tensions with Palestinians, resulting in years of violent clashes. Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and the resulting war, settler violence has been nearly omnipresent in the West Bank.

In the three weeks following the outbreak of war, the United Nations recorded 132 Palestinians were killed by security forces and settlers. The number for the entire year in 2022 was 158 Palestinians, NBC News previously reported.

From the start of the war until Jan. 31, the vast majority of Palestinians killed in the settlement areas were by Israeli forces, but at least eight were killed by the settlers themselves. In contrast, six Israelis were killed in the West Bank, four of whom were Israeli forces members, in that time frame.

The United Nations reported on Monday that two international activists were injured by armed settlers in the Umm Nir area in Masafer Yatta, southern West Bank last week.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 26,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which left 1,200 dead.

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