Palestinians see Israel's new 'national guard' as 'legalising settler crime'

Palestinians see Israel's new 'national guard' as 'legalising settler crime'
"What happened in Hawara a few weeks ago was just an example of what can happen on a larger scale with a regular force of extremist settlers," said one Palestinian activist.
5 min read
West Bank
30 March, 2023
Palestinians warned that Israel's 'national guard' will be used to organise settler violence against them in the occupied West Bank. [Getty]

The soon-to-be-formed Israeli 'national guard' is a "new tool for settlers' violence" Palestinian observers said in reaction to the deal struck between Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Israel's security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, that will allow the formation of the new force.

According to the deal, Ben-Gvir will withdraw his opposition to Netanyahu's judicial reforms which provoked widespread protests in Israel. In exchange, Netanyahu's government will approve the formation of the 'national guard' force under the control of the security ministry, thus under the personal control of Ben-Gvir.

Ben-Gvir had previously complained about the lack of responsiveness to his directives by Israeli security forces in repressing Palestinian protests in the West Bank and Jerusalem, arguing for the need for a special force under the security ministry's control.

Although the 'national guard' is officially aimed mainly at the Palestinian population in Israel, Palestinian civil activists against Israel settlements in the occupied West Bank expressed their fears to The New Arab that the 'national guard' would be employed also against Palestinians in the occupied territories.

"This is a blueprint of the reorganization of different Zionist militias into one army during the 1948 Nakba," Jamal Jumaa, coordinator of the Palestinian grassroots "Stop The Wall", an anti-settlements campaign, said to TNA.

"Ben-Gvir is himself a settler, and his main support comes from settlers in the West Bank, who are determined to take over the entire West Bank and annex it to Israel," said Jumaa. 

"What happened in Hawara a few weeks ago was just an example of what can happen on a larger scale with a regular force of extremist settlers, supported by the state," he added. "The Jordan Valley, east Jerusalem and Masafer Yatta would be the most affected areas, as Palestinians face settler aggressions there on a daily basis already." 

In late February, around 400 Israeli settlers attacked the Palestinian town of Hawara, south of Nablus, killing one Palestinian, wounding and injuring dozens and burning 30 houses and 90 cars.

Settler attacks on Hawara and other villages in the south of Nablus and north of Ramallah continued in the following weeks, including the settlers' burning of a house in the village of Sinjil, north of Ramallah. The family, including both parents and three children, escaped the fire within a few minutes.

"This means that we, Palestinians need to build a national strategy to face this threat, but it also means that the international community has to look at this new force for what it is, expose it, denounce it, and treat it as a terrorist organization," Jumaa noted.

On the ground, the mayor of Hawara, Muin Dmeidi, told TNA that "the so-called Israeli national guard will be a license for settlers to kill Palestinians legally."

"This new force will be a legalization of the gangs who have been attacking Hawara and other Palestinian towns in total impunity for weeks," Dmeidi said.

"Hawara has been under Israeli closure for over a week now, during which Israeli settlers continue to harass residents and gather at the town’s entrance to attack cars," described the mayor.

Similar reactions to the formation of the new Israeli force came also from PA's officials. On Tuesday, Moayad Shaaban, head of the Palestinian commission for Israeli settlements' affairs, told TNA that "the 'national guard' is an old-new idea that has been around even before Ben-Gvir championed it."

"It began to be discussed during the May 2021 uprising, when Palestinians in Israel challenged Israeli security, but it now has the overwhelming support of West Bank settlers, which is why we think it will be directed against Palestinians in the West Bank," Shaaban said.

"Settlers are already empowered by the Israeli state and government, and this new force will be a new tool for them to support the state in committing new crimes against Palestinian communities and controlling more land," he remarked.

"The international community already can see what settlers are doing with the help and protection of the Israeli far-right government," Shaaban added. "Now that this government is going as far as arming settlers into a new force, it must be boycotted and shown by people all over the world that its actions are not tolerated."

On Tuesday, Israeli media reported that Ben-Gvir prepares a detailed plan to create the ‘national guard’ force, which is expected to include about 2,000 officers with a budget of one billion shekels (US$ 280,000).

According to Israeli reports, sources close to Ben-Gvir claimed that the 'national guard' will be used to 'fight crime' and that it will be subordinate to the security ministry, not to Ben-Gvir personally.