Israel has “almost doubled” the number of indictments against individuals suspected of nationalist crimes in the past year, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday.
A report by Army Radio on Monday stated that there’s been a wave of crime committed by Jewish settlers in the West Bank since the olive harvest season began in October with 67 incidents this year compared to 42 throughout the harvest last year, a 60% increase.
The crimes included uprooting and setting fire to olive trees, causing damage to property in Palestinian villages and more.
“Throwing stones, uprooting trees and using violence is something that we will not accept,” he said at Haaretz’s Israel Democracy Conference. “Clear instructions have been given to strive for contact with rioters, whoever they may be.”
He said that he will hold a number of meetings with relevant government bodies to discuss further actions to increase law enforcement and the better cooperation of the various agencies including the IDF.
“There will be no tolerance for terrorism and trouble, by either side,” Gantz said, adding that “we must remember, however, that the vast majority of settlers in Judea and Samaria are normal, value based individuals, just as most Palestinians are not terrorists. We will continue to strengthen them and protect them and their rights.”
According to Gantz, the strengthening of the Palestinian Authority and allowing for economic and civil measures on a level “that has not happened for years” is a policy that is in Israel’s interest.
“As defense minister, I work hard to enable a respectable life for the Palestinians, our neighbors. Therefore, I am pursuing a policy of strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and we are enabling economic and civic measures that have not happened here for years.
“We do this, first and foremost, because they are human beings, but we also do it out of our own interests – Israel has no desire for thousands of people to live in Judea and Samaria without identity cards, or to be deprived of a respectable livelihood. We are doing this alongside a fight against terrorism that the IDF and all security bodies are leading in a determined and valued manner.”
Gantz made the comments a day after a report from The Washington Post that the IDF has been increasing the surveillance of Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron with a massive facial recognition database. Another report by Haaretz said that the phones of six Palestinian human rights activists were hacked with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.
In October Israel officially legalized the status of 4,000 Palestinians, mostly in the West Bank, following a decade-long freeze where almost no such requests were authorized.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said that 1,200 undocumented Palestinians would receive identity cards and another 2,800 Palestinians registered as Gazans would receive a change of address allowing them to live in the West Bank.
The Defense Minister also touched on the subject of incitement in Israeli society, warning that the “toxic atmosphere in the country is unacceptable.”
“We all have to face the fact that tapping the keyboard can be half the way to pulling the trigger,” he warned, adding that on a personal level he’s had to change his phone every two months because of attacks by the Left, not the Right, since the formation of the coalition.
“Respect your opponent. Do not incite one person against the other for political or personal purposes,” he said. “The incitement is ostensibly aimed at political leaders but it is even more dangerous as it seeps into the civilian area.”
“Most right-wingers in Israel are not violent and do not incite, as are most left-wingers. But I, personally, can attest that weeds exist at all corners of Israeli society.”
Pointing his finger at opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz said that all leaders – including the opposition – have a responsibility to care for Israeli society.
“When I hear the uproar, and the delegitimization that comes from the top down, I am mainly afraid of the lives of citizens on the street, for members of the Knesset or heads of associations who do not have protection, or just people who belong to some sect that someone thinks is right to attack – just moments when someone does not understand that the line has been crossed towards a dangerous act. It must end.”