Retired Israeli general says West Bank occupation is 'apartheid'

Amiram Levin led the Israeli army's Northern Command in the Lebanon and Syria border region

Palestinian youths run amid clashes that erupted after Israeli soldiers demolished a house at the Asker camp for Palestinian refugees east of Nablus city in the occupied West Bank. AFP
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The former head of the Israeli army’s northern front has condemned “absolute apartheid” in the Israeli occupied West Bank, singling out far right politicians allied to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for continuing rights abuses in the area.

Amiram Levin, who also served as the deputy head of Mossad, was speaking to radio Kan Reshet Bet radio on Sunday. Israel’s Northern Command is part of the armed forces responsible for the Lebanon and Syria border region.

General Levin is known for making a series of inflammatory remarks about Palestinians in the past but turned his anger at the Israeli government in Sunday’s radio interview, saying the Israeli army was “standing by and watching the rampant settlers and is beginning to be complicit in war crimes”.

Extremist settler violence has risen in the occupied West Bank this year, spurred on by members of Mr Netanyahu’s far right government, including national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir - who has been linked to a terrorist organisation - and finance minister Belazel Smotrich, who last week attempted to pass a decree withholding government funds for Arab Israelis and some Palestinian areas under Israeli occupation.

In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers have been blamed for taking little to no action against the settlers, during a series of attacks including a rampage in Turmus Ayya in June, a Palestinian town north of Ramallah, which left one dead, many injured and at least 30 homes burned. down.

Settler violence, including another rampage in the town of Huwara near Nablus in February, has left at least 200 Palestinians injured and six dead this year.

In some cases, security forces have been accused of complicity, for example, shooting dead a Palestinian man during the Turmus Ayya attack.

'Criminals and draft dodgers'

“I am not pitying the Palestinians, I am pitying us. We are killing ourselves from within. Bibi (Mr Netanyahu) failed here. He placed criminals and draft dodgers in key positions who, in a civilised country would be sitting behind bars.”

Gen Levin was likely referring to Mr Smotrich and Mr Ben Gvir. In 2019, Yitzhak Ilan, the former deputy head of Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet, said Mr Smotrich had been held in connection with a planned “terrorist attack,” to disrupt Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Mr Ben-Gvir has been linked to US and Israeli-designated terrorist organisation and was charged by an Israeli court in 2008 with inciting violence and supporting terrorism.

Gen Levin’s remarks follow a growing chorus of political statements by former senior members of Israel’s army and intelligence services directed at Mr Netanyahu’s government, although the majority of them have focused on the prime minister’s controversial judicial overhaul plans.

Protests have rocked Israel for eight months over his plans, which critics call an attempted coup.

Thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday, rejecting an offer of compromise from the PM, which they dismiss as an insincere distraction.

While protests have rocked many cities including Jerusalem, the epicentre has been the commercial hub of Tel Aviv, where protesters have rallied every Saturday against Mr Netanyahu's government.

"Democracy, democracy," protesters chanted as they marched on Saturday. "We won't give up until it gets better."

"Despite months of protests, things are not going the way we wanted as one important part of the judiciary overhaul has been passed a few weeks ago," protester Ben Peleg, 47, told AFP.

"But if we continue to apply pressure on the streets, there is a possibility that we can still stop these changes."

Last month, the Israeli parliament voted to limit the so-called "reasonableness" law.

The new legislation curbs judicial review by Israel's top court of some government decisions, and critics fear it could pave the way to more authoritarian government. It has led not only to strikes and mass protests, but also a growing number of Israel’s vital military reserve force withholding their service in anger.

At least 10,000 soldiers, pilots and intelligence operatives have threatened inaction if called upon in the event of a security crisis.

Israel's traditional bedrock ally Washington has described parliament's vote as "unfortunate" and repeatedly raised concern about the political turmoil.

Mr Netanyahu's coalition government, which includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, argues the reforms are necessary to rebalance the relationship between elected officials and the judiciary.

Updated: August 13, 2023, 10:00 AM