Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has come to the defence of Jewish settlers, calling attacks by settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians an “insignificant phenomenon”.
His comments came after public security minister Omer Bar Lev, from the left-wing Labour party, angered settlers and right-wing politicians when he said he had spoken about settler violence with US undersecretary of state for political affairs Victoria Nuland.
Mr Bennett reprimanded Mr Bar Lev, saying it was wrong to generalise about an entire sector of the population in an insulting manner.
“Settlers in Judea and Samaria have suffered daily from violence and terrorism for decades,” Mr Bennett tweeted, using the Biblical terminology for the West Bank. “They serve as a protective wall for all of us and we must protect them in word and in deed.”
Interior minister Ayelet Shaked from Mr Bennett's right-wing Yamina party was also critical of Mr Bar Lev. "You're confused," she said. "The settlers are the salt of the earth. What should shock us are the daily incidents in which stones and Molotov cocktails are thrown at Jews – just because they are Jews – with the assistance of the Palestinian Authority. "
More than 600,000 Jews live in 145 settlements built since Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Despite the wave of criticism from right-wing politicians and settlers Mr Bar Lev refused to take back his remarks.
“I understand that it really is hard for some of you when someone holds a mirror to your face about the fact that violence committed by settler extremists is a subject that the entire world and foreign governments are taking interest in,” he said. “I’d advise anyone who has a hard time with that to take a drink of water.”
The Palestinian foreign ministry welcomed Mr Bar Lev’s remarks as a “first step in the right direction to end the violence by settler gangs”.
The United Nations general assembly last week approved by a 146-7 vote a resolution that condemned "acts of terror by several extremist Israeli settlers".
According to government figures, there have been 135 stone-throwing incidents targeting Palestinians this year, up from 90 in 2019, and 250 other violent incidents, up from 100 in 2019.
Left-wing NGOs noted that many Palestinian victims fail to report attacks due to the low number of indictments.
Violence by settlers against the Israeli security services also rose, from 50 incidents in 2019 to 60 this year.
However, settler representatives argued that the number of attacks by Palestinians against settlers is considerably higher.
According to Israeli army statistics, about 1,500 acts of violence were committed by Palestinians in the West Bank in 2020.