US sanctions on Israeli settlers are 'not enough' and merely 'symbolic', says expert

US sanctions on Israeli settlers are 'not enough' and merely 'symbolic', says expert
US sanctions on 4 Israeli settlers could impact an Israeli company and a settler municipal body. Experts think it is 'not remotely enough'.
4 min read
West Bank
15 February, 2024
Israeli settler violent attacks on Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank has spiked since 7 October. [Qassam Muaddi/TNA]

An Israeli construction firm and an Israeli settlement local government body are facing potential US sanctions after it signed a contract with one of four Israeli settlers sanctioned by the US for violence against Palestinians.

In early February, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order sanctioning four Israeli settlers for their role in violent attacks against Palestinian rural communities in the West Bank.

The executive order states that sanctions are not limited to the four individuals but include "the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of" them.

One of the four settlers is Yinon Levi, who established a farm on Palestinian public land in the Mount Hebron area in the southern occupied West Bank. Levi is accused of leading settler attacks against Palestinian communities in the area.

According to Israeli media, Levi signed a contract with the Israeli "Har Hebron Development Company" to build the farm on Palestinian land as an outpost extension of the "Har Hebron" settlement. The settlement's regional council almost entirely owns the company, the local government body for the settlement.

The location of the farm is outside the settlement's master plan. Under international law, all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and their regional councils are illegal. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own civilians to settle an occupied territory.

However, the company and the regional council's exposure to US sanctioning is due to the sanctioning of Levi himself for his role in violence against Palestinians and not to the illegality of Israeli settlements.

"Levi came to the area in 2020 and established his farm about 300 metres away from our village, Zenouta, and began to harass us away from pasturing fields, where he began to herd his goats with the excuse that they are public land", Fayez Tal, the head of the village council of the now-nonexistent Palestinian village of Zenouta in Mount Hebron, told The New Arab.

Zenouta's 250 inhabitants were forced to leave their homes by Israeli settlers in late October, three weeks after the 7 October events.

"Later, the harassment increased, and they became direct threats, until last October when a group of armed settlers led by Levi came to the village and began to destroy property and beat inhabitants while threatening to kill us if we didn't leave", said Tal.

"Many families left immediately, and the rest followed gradually until Zenouta was no more. Now, the families relocated to other villages near the town of Dahereyah but continue to be harassed by other settlers", he added.

"Regional councils are officially recognised by the Israeli state, and they often invest directly in the creation of outposts, which are sources of attacks against Palestinians", Khalil Tafakji, an expert on Israeli settlements and former director of the maps' unit at Jerusalem's Orient House, told TNA.

"Regional councils are all part of an umbrella organisation called the 'Yeshaa Council', which is the extension of a previous body known as 'Gush Emunim'," explained Tafakji. "Both organisations are the embodiment of the Israeli extreme-right-wing religious settlers' movement".

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"This extremist current in Israeli politics is the one holding power today through Netanyahu and his allies, which means that the settler's violent movement, the settlements' official regional councils, and the Israeli political class are all parts of the same phenomenon", he noted.

"This is why US sanctions on a limited number of violent settlers are mostly symbolic and not even remotely enough, even if they affect a regional council or a company because the entire government and settlements movement are involved in violence against Palestinians and the theft of Palestinian land", he added.

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Israel began to build settlements in the occupied West Bank shortly after its occupation in 1967. Today, human rights groups estimate that some 750,000 Israelis settle in the occupied West Bank.

Since 7 October, settler violence against Palestinian communities has seen a dramatic spike, expelling some 25 Palestinian rural communities and 1500 Palestinians, according to the official Palestinian National Bureau for Defence of Land.

A recent Israeli report shows that illegal settlements grew by 3% throughout 2023.