Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the religious far-right Religious Zionism party, said on Wednesday that Israel should “wipe out” the West Bank Palestinian town of Huwara.
The town, inhabited by nearly 7,000 Palestinians, was attacked on Sunday by Israeli settlers, who burnt 35 homes to the ground. The attack came after two Israeli brothers were killed by a Palestinian assailant while driving through Huwara over the weekend.
Smotrich, who is the finance minister and also a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank, advocated publicly that the town be wiped out. Speaking at an economic conference, Smotrich was asked why he “liked” a tweet by Samaria Regional Council deputy mayor Davidi Ben Zion that called to "wipe out" Huwara. The prominent far-right politician said it was because he agreed with it.
“Because I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it,” Smotrich replied.
BREAKING: Israeli minister of finance Bezalel Smotrich: “The Palestinian village of Hawara should be wiped out of the earth. The Israeli government needs to do it and not private citizens” https://t.co/0yvEl6Q2We— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) March 1, 2023
"I travel there a lot. Not a day goes by that stones and Molotov cocktails are not thrown there. It is a hostile village. I would close all the shops for a month. If every time a stone was thrown in Huwara all the shops would be closed for a month, not a single stone would be thrown there," he added.
Smotrich is due to visit Washington in two weeks, his first trip to the US since joining the Netanyahu government.
The day after the Huwara riots, Zvika Fogel, a lawmaker for the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, made inciting remarks about the violence. He said in a radio interview, "Yesterday a terrorist came from Huwara — Huwara is closed and burned. That is what I want to see. Only thus can we obtain deterrence."
After his comment, Labor leader Merav Michaeli requested Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara open an investigation into Fogel, noting that it was illegal to incite, support and praise violence. Following her request and other public statements, Fogel was questioned by the police on suspicion of incitement, but claimed he had not called to burn any Palestinian village. Fogel said he had never supported illegal actions, saying he wanted Huwara to be closed by the IDF as a deterrence.
Israel's former prime minister and opposition leader Yair Lapid called Smotrich's comment an “incitement to war crimes.”
“Jews don’t carry out pogroms and Jews don’t wipe out villages,” Lapid tweeted on Wednesday.
The international community has largely condemned the settlers’ rampage at Huwara, with some reports suggesting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had lost control over his extreme-right coalition partners.