Violent confrontation between troops and settlers sets off tensions in Netanyahu’s new government


(JTA) — Two far-right ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government lashed out after troops had a violent confrontation with Israeli settlers.

The troops were removing Israeli settlers who were protesting on West Bank land where settlers had planted trees years ago. Palestinians in the region claim ownership of the land. The Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration, which oversees civilian life in the West Bank, ordered the trees’ removal several years ago — a decision upheld in 2021 by the Supreme Court, which the government is seeking to disempower.

Border Police troops who arrived Wednesday to carry out the uprooting were met by settler protesters, some of whom tied themselves to the trees. One video shows a protester resisting arrest; the border policemen kick and punch him while he is down. The Times of Israel reported that four border policemen were suspended after the action.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, and Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, expressed outrage at the confrontation. Smotrich demanded that Netanyahu give him control over civilian matters in the West Bank — something agreed to when their parties formed a governing coalition late last year. Smotrich, believing he already had such powers, had planned to keep the orchard in place.

“Not in our government!” Smotrich wrote on Twitter. “This can’t continue,” Ben-Gvir said in a video he posted to social media.

At a press conference, Ben-Gvir signaled that he was growing frustrated by working with Netanyahu, who suspended the uprooting after the complaints. “We joined the government on the basis of a commitment that it would be a completely right-wing government, and this policy cannot continue,” he said.

Two lawmakers in the far-right Religious Zionism bloc, led by Smotrich, were on the scene and attempted to intervene. Video shows four policemen surrounding one of them, Limor Son Har-Melech, and not allowing her to advance, but taking care not to touch her. She later accused them of sexual assault. The Border Police denied the claim.

The violence comes the same week that another soldier was sentenced to 10 days detention for kicking a Palestinian journalist, an incident that also was caught on video.

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