Biden imposes sanctions over 'intolerable' Israeli settler violence as Arab Americans angry over Gaza war stance

Biden imposes sanctions over 'intolerable' Israeli settler violence as Arab Americans angry over Gaza war stance
Washington's sanctioning of four Israel settlers comes as President Joe Biden visited Michigan, a state home to a significant Arab-American community.
3 min read
02 February, 2024
Israeli settlers in the West Bank regularly carry out violent acts against Palestinians [Getty/file photo]

The US on Thursday imposed sanctions on four Israeli settlers connected to violence in the occupied West Bank as President Joe Biden said attacks on Palestinian civilians there had reached "intolerable levels".

The sanctions marked a rare US move against Israel, which has been conducting a brutal onslaught on the Gaza Strip for almost four months.

The move comes as Biden travelled to Michigan, where the sizeable Arab-American community have voiced anger over his support for Israel and lack of action on Tel Aviv's deadly war in Gaza in which more than 27,000 people have been killed.

"The situation in the West Bank - in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction - has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security, and stability," Biden said in an executive order laying the groundwork for US actions.

The State Department later announced sanctions against four settlers. Any assets the settlers hold in the United States will be blocked, with Americans forbidden from making financial transactions with them.

The four include David Chai Chasdai, who is accused of leading a rampage in the flashpoint town of Hawara in which Palestinian homes were torched and a Palestinian civilian killed.

Other targets included Yinon Levi, who is accused of leading a group of settlers from the illegal outpost of Meitarim Farm who have assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, burned their fields, and destroyed their property.

"Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians in the West Bank and hold accountable those responsible for it," said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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He warned against actions that might jeopardise the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, an idea that is strongly opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government which includes settler advocates such as Bezalel Smotrich.

Israel slammed the sanctions by its close ally, claiming that the "overwhelming majority" of its citizens in the West Bank were law-abiding – despite the settlements they reside in being illegal under international law.

"Israel acts against all Israelis who break the law, everywhere; therefore, exceptional measures are unnecessary," read a statement by Netanyahu's office.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that Israel had prosecuted three of the four settlers but that more action was needed.

"We will not hesitate to take additional actions as necessary," he said.

'Most violent' year on record

The action marks the first financial sanctions against settlers although the Biden administration earlier announced that it would refuse visas for extremists involved in violence.

Biden has resisted calls to seek a ceasefire, instead saying that Israel has a right to self-defence.

But he has also voiced exasperation with Netanyahu and the high toll on civilians as Israel pounds the Gaza Strip.

Arab Americans largely backed Biden when he ran against Trump for the presidency in 2020.

Though they make up only a small part of the national population, Arab Americans could swing the election in Michigan, which is critical for the Democratic president's success in an expected rematch against Trump in November.

The mayor of one Detroit suburb is refusing to see Biden on his trip due to his refusal to press Israel to end the brutal military campaign.

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.

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More than 300 Palestinians were killed overall in the West Bank throughout 2023, mostly by Israeli forces.

About 490,000 settlers live among approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank, in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

Biden has largely returned to historic US opposition to the settlements after Trump switched gears and declined to criticise the outposts, with his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, visiting a settlement late in his term.