Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has declared that the West Bank town of Huwara should be “wiped out” by the State of Israel. Smotrich’s comments, which came days after Jewish settlers mobbed the town in revenge for a Palestinian attack, have been called “incitement to war crimes.”
Speaking at a business conference on Wednesday, Smotrich was asked why he ‘liked’ a tweet on Sunday evening by a regional councilor calling for the destruction of the village.
The minister said that he liked the tweet “because I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it.”
A Palestinian resident of Huwara was shot dead as Jewish settlers rampaged through the village for several hours on Sunday. The Palestinian Red Crescent said that two others were shot and wounded, while dozens more suffered other injuries. The settlers set cars and homes alight in the Palestinian village, before Israeli police quelled the violence.
The riots broke out hours after two Israeli brothers were shot dead by Palestinian gunmen in the settlement of Har Bracha, five kilometers from Huwara. The settlement is one of hundreds in the West Bank, all of which are considered illegal under international law.
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Settlement construction was halted by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, but outposts began going up again under current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2012. To date, the Israeli government has legally sanctioned 132 of these settlements, while another 147 remain illegal under Israeli law, according to figures from Israeli peace activists.
Netanyahu granted Smotrich control over civilian issues in the West Bank on Thursday, giving the hardline Zionist minister authority over planning, construction, and land allocation. Smotrich’s first act in this role was to authorize plans for more than 7,000 new homes, some of which are located in outposts that have not been formally legalized.
Former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Yair Lapid described Smotrich’s words as “incitement to war crimes.” Lapid told reporters on Wednesday that “Jews don’t carry out pogroms and Jews don’t wipe out villages. The government has gone off the rails.”
Smotrich later attempted to walk back his words, claiming that he “did not mean that the town of Huwara should be wiped out,” but that Israel should “act in a targeted manner against terrorists and supporters of terrorism.”