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US holds up rifle shipment to Israel over ‘settler violence’

Settlement leaders say the White House's decision comes from a misguided attempt to appear balanced.

Members of the emergency security squad of Safed take part in a drill at a school, Dec. 6, 2023. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.
Members of the emergency security squad of Safed take part in a drill at a school, Dec. 6, 2023. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.

The Biden administration is blocking a shipment of more than 27,000 U.S.-made rifles for the Israel Police out of fear they could make their way into the hands of “extremist Israeli settlers,” U.S. officials said.

Three cases of firearms, including M-16 and M-4 rifles, have been waiting for the State Department’s required approval and notification to Congress for more than a month, according to The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The Biden administration told the Israeli government this month that it won’t transfer the rifles until they’ve received sufficient assurances from Israel that the guns will only be used by police, the officials said.

Many Israeli towns and villages, particularly in Judea and Samaria, have armed volunteer defense forces, or security squads, called “kitot konenut.” Armed and trained by the state, and comprising mostly civilian military or law-enforcement veterans, their purpose is to act as a first-response force in cases of terrorist infiltration.

Security squads proved their value during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack as those communities which put up an immediate and active defense were spared the worst of the slaughter.

However, U.S. officials have spoken of a rise in “settler violence,” and have blamed Israeli government statements supporting the annexation of Judea and Samaria for encouraging the alleged spike in violence against Palestinians.

Settlement leaders and pro-settlement activists have criticized the very notion of a surge in settler violence, calling it a self-fulfilling false narrative, in which news reports repeat the same manipulated numbers until they’re accepted as fact, noting in particular that numbers of “Palestinians killed” include terrorists eliminated by the Israeli military, which are then packaged as “Jewish violence.”

They also note the numbers come from extremely biased sources, such as far-left, anti-settlement organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, or the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The number of acts committed by Jewish extremists in Judea and Samaria is minuscule, Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat in Judea, told JNS last week.

According to Israeli Police figures made public in November, in the period from the war’s start on Oct. 7 through Nov. 7, there were 97 incidents of illegal activities attributed to Jews in Judea and Samaria, down from 184 offenses in the same period in 2022.

Members of the emergency squad of Moshav Elifelet seen during a drill against Infiltration of a terrorists in northern Israel, Nov. 29, 2023. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.

Pro-settlement activists point out that the U.S. administration has not had much to say about Palestinian Arab violence, which is enormous in comparison.

In the first six months of 2023, Rescuers Without Borders (Hatzalah Judea and Samaria) recorded 3,640 acts of Palestinian and Arab terror in Judea and Samaria, including 2,118 cases of rock-throwing, 799 fire-bombings, 18 attempted stabbings and six vehicular assaults.

Settlement leaders say the U.S. adminstration’s behavior is driven by a desire to present itself as an “honest broker.” Criticizing Israel for a “surge” in Jewish violence is a way to showcase to the Arab side that the United States is not only in Israel’s camp, they say.

“While the State of Israel is in the midst of a war of survival, a war of light vs. darkness, the United States is trying to show that it is balanced by focusing on isolated cases of criminals taking the law into their own hands,” said Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman.

“They’re trying to be politically correct. They’re saying, ‘We don’t just condemn Hamas,’” Ne’eman told JNS.

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