Israel’s far-right finance minister’s call for a Palestinian town “to be erased” was harshly condemned by US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday, who described the comments as “repugnant” and “irresponsible.”
Bezalel Smotrich, who also leads the far-right Religious Zionism party, said earlier on Wednesday that the Palestinian town of Huwara “needs to be erased.”
The incendiary comment was in reference to the town in the occupied West Bank where two Israeli brothers were shot and killed on Sunday, prompting a rampage through the area by Israeli Jewish settlers that left at least one Palestinian man dead, others injured, and homes and cars burned.
Smotrich was asked Wednesday why he had liked a post on Twitter after the brothers were shot, but before the settler rampage, saying that Huwara should be erased.
“I think the village of Huwara needs to be erased,” he told a reporter at a conference run the Israeli business magazine The Marker. “I think the State of Israel needs to do this, and not – God forbid – private citizens.”
Price issued a strong condemnation from the US State Department podium Wednesday, saying, “I want to be very clear about this. These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting.”
“And just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence,” he said at a State Department briefing.
Price also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “and other senior Israeli officials to publicly and clearly reject and disavow these comments.”
“We condemn, as we have consistently, terrorism and extremism in all of its forms, and we continue to urge that there be equal measures of accountability for extremist actions, regardless of the backgrounds of the perpetrators or the victims,” he said.
Asked by CNN if he would condemn Smotrich’s comments following Price’s call for “senior Israeli officials to publicly and clearly reject and disavow these comments,” Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog said, “Notwithstanding the fact that Israel has been subjected to a recent wave of horrific terror attacks against its civilians, it is absolutely not Israeli policy and it’s against our values to respond by wiping out civilian villages.”
Smotrich is expected to visit Washington and New York City in March, but has no meetings planned with Biden administration officials, a source told CNN.
The top Israeli general in the West Bank, Yehuda Fuchs, Tuesday night referred to the Israeli settlers’ actions as a “pogrom.”
Maj. Gen. Fuchs said Tuesday night that the Israel Defense Forces had not been sufficiently prepared for the revenge attacks that followed the killing of the Yaniv brothers in the town on Sunday.
“We did not prepare for a pogrom on the scale of dozens of people who come with incendiary devices… they go and set fire to random Palestinian houses, vehicles, etc. – simply indiscriminate terror,” Fuchs said, in unusually blunt remarks by an Israeli military official criticizing Israeli settlers.
“This event in Huwara is a pogrom that was done by outlaws,” he said, using a word originally meaning organized riots against Jews in imperial Russia.
Palestinians have accused the IDF of attacking Palestinians or standing aside and allowing settlers to run riot.
But Fuchs said the Israel Defense Forces had intervened in Huwara to defend Palestinians from settlers, who clashed not only with Palestinians but with Israeli troops and police.
“Soldiers of the Golani Reconnaissance Unit opened fire on Israelis, outlaws that almost killed Palestinians,” he said.
The IDF has sent four additional battalions to the area since Sunday in an effort to “de-escalate” the situation and keep Israeli settlers and Palestinians apart, they announced.
Six additional people were arrested on Tuesday night in connection with the Huwara riots, Israel Police said Wednesday – four adults and two minors.
“These suspects were arrested on suspicion of their involvement in violent disturbances, arson, assault, and causing damage in Huwara,” a police statement said, specifying that they are suspected of “setting fire to vehicles and buildings, attacking Palestinians and causing damage.”
“The investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected,” the statement said.
Eight people were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the riots earlier in the week, of whom at least two are now under house arrest, Israel Police said earlier.