Biden issues order targeting Israeli settlers who attack West Bank Palestinians

Updated February 1, 2024 at 4:37 PM ET

President Biden issued an executive order on Thursday targeting Israeli settlers in the West Bank who have been attacking Palestinians in the occupied territory.

The order named four people and will lay the groundwork for financial sanctions against settlers who carry out violent assaults, which have increased since Hamas launched an attack on Israel three months ago, triggering a full-scale war in Gaza.

The order will not target U.S. citizens, who make up a significant number of the settler community. The Biden administration had issued an order late last year imposing travel bans on Israeli settlers who had attacked Palestinians.

While only four people are named, the order marks the first time that the U.S. has targeted Israeli settlers with the threat of frozen assets and bank accounts in an attempt to rein in settler attacks on Palestinians living in the West Bank, which Palestinians see as the central plank of a future Palestinian state.

“This violence poses a grave threat to peace, security, and stability in the West Bank, Israel, and the Middle East region, and threatens the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

There have been almost 500 attacks by settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank, which is largely under Israeli-military occupation, since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, according to the United Nations.

Some Palestinians have been killed in these attacks while settlers have also attacked property and torched cars, the Palestinian authorities and human right groups say.

Three of the four men named in Thursday’s executive order have been prosecuted by Israeli authorities, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Thursday.

One of the four men cited in the order, Shalom Zicherman, was indicted by Israeli police on assault and damage charges in 2022, after he was filmed attacking left-wing Israeli activists near Hebron, in the southern West Bank, as they traveled to join a demonstration in protest at Palestinians being evicted from their homes, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the announcement on Thursday, saying, “Israel acts against all those who break the law everywhere, and therefore there is no room for exceptional measures in this regard.”

But Dror Etkes, an Israeli expert in settler violence, welcomed the news. “The fact that these people are walking free and they are in the West Bank and can do what they want to do is an indication that the law enforcement system in Israel… prefers not to deal with this type of people,” he told NPR. “This is why we came to the point that the American administration is, you know, is sanctioning them,” he said, adding that all four had been “involved in severe violent attacks against Palestinians.”

Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who himself lives in a settlement in the West Bank, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “the ‘settler violence campaign is an anti-Semitic lie spread by Israel’s enemies with the aim of discrediting the pioneer settlers.”

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