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Journalist Says Line Between Settlers and Israeli Army Has Virtually Disappeared

Shane Bauer explains how settlers recently sanctioned by the US are supported by the state of Israel directly.

Building on an unprecedented wave of settler violence in 2023, Israeli attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have intensified since October 7, with over 400 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and settlers over the past five months. Last week, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on three Israeli settlers and two Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank for assaulting, harassing and threatening Palestinians, and violently expelling many from their land. Investigative journalist Shane Bauer traveled to the territory to map out the violence against Palestinians that has escalated since October 7, and visited the illegal outposts of “two very dangerous men” targeted by the sanctions: Neria Ben-Pazi and Moshe Sharvit. “The elephant in the room here is that [Moshe Sharvit], along with Neria Ben-Pazi, is supported by the state of Israel directly,” says Bauer. “According to the language of the sanctions, that would mean that the State of Israel itself and all the various organizations that are supporting him should themselves be sanctioned, but of course they haven’t been.” Bauer describes how “the line between settlers and the army virtually disappeared after October 7,” as far-right Israeli cabinet members push for “a formalization of apartheid,” in the West Bank.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.

The Biden administration imposed sanctions last week on three Israeli settlers and two Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank over their involvement with assaulting, harassing and threatening Palestinians, violently expelling many from their land. The U.S. State Department’s sanctions target Moshe Sharvit, the owner of Moshe’s Farm outposts; Zvi Bar Yosef, founder of Zvi’s Farm; and Neria Ben-Pazi.

Over the past five months, Israeli settler violence has intensified across the West Bank, with human rights groups accusing the Israeli government of encouraging attacks against Palestinians. According to health officials, well over 400 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces and settlers since October 7th.

Investigative journalist Shane Bauer recently wrote a piece for The New Yorker magazine which features two of the Israeli settlers sanctioned by the Biden administration: Neria Ben-Pazi and Moshe Sharvit, whom Bauer described as “two very dangerous men.” Shane Bauer traveled to their illegal outposts in the West Bank and spoke to several other settlers, mapping out the violence against Palestinians that’s escalated since October 7th. His piece for The New Yorker was published in February. It’s titled “The Israeli Settlers Attacking Their Palestinian Neighbors.” The print edition calls it “The Dispossessed.”

I recently interviewed Shane Bauer and began by asking him about his journey to the West Bank and how he came to meet the settlers who were eventually sanctioned by the Biden administration.

SHANE BAUER: October 7th came sort of in the middle of an unprecedented wave of settler violence in the West Bank, starting around the beginning of 2023. This sort of uptick in violence came after the new government came to power in Israel, which included some very powerful settlers, like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. Before October 7th, the U.N. was recording about three settler attacks a day. Of course, October 7th comes, and the violence increased exponentially.

I was seeing, just days after October 7th, reports from Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups about attacks and some villages that were being depopulated. So I traveled to the West Bank. While I was there, I met two of the settlers who were just sanctioned, Moshe Sharvit and Neria Ben-Pazi. These are guys who run farms. They’re shepherding farms. And this is a fairly new type of tactic used to seize land by settlers in the West Bank. Essentially, they’re settlers that are setting up outposts. These are, you know, illegal under Israeli law, not only international law, which considers all settlements illegal, but even Israel considers these outposts illegal. However, Israel has — as Moshe’s wife Moriah told me, Israel was supporting them in setting up the outposts. They consulted with many branches of government. They got support from the army.

This outpost that I went to was sort of a small farm where they have a bunch of sheep. And the idea of these kinds of shepherding outposts is that the settlers, with a relatively small number of people, can control a large area of land. What they do is they go out and graze their sheep and forcibly push out any Palestinians that are in that territory. So, they’re kind of part of a strategy which is to sort of clear the part of the West Bank known as Area C — this is the 60% of the West Bank that is essentially under Israeli control — to keep it clear of Palestinians in the hopes of an eventual annexation to Israel. These are —

AMY GOODMAN: I want to interrupt for a second, Shane, because when you talk about Area C, I don’t think most people —

SHANE BAUER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — understand the divisions, Area A —

SHANE BAUER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — Area B and Area C. If you can explain?

SHANE BAUER: Right. Sure. So, in the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, the West Bank was basically divided into three zones. Area A would be under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. That included the major cities, like Ramallah, Nablus. And Area B was mostly the Palestinian villages. And there, Israel would have security control, and the Palestinian Authority would have administrative control. The rest of the territory is Area C, where Israel would have full military security control and administrative control. So, what you have, if you look at the map of these areas, you essentially have hundreds of islands of Area A and B that are sort of in a sea of Area C.

And so, if you imagine the annexation of Area C, what it would look like is the creation of many small enclaves, Palestinian enclaves, sort of like creating numerous Gaza Strips within the West Bank, or Bantustans in the, you know, South African apartheid model. These areas would have, you know, Palestinians living in them, but, according to the plan of Bezalel Smotrich, who is in charge, essentially, of the West Bank, Palestinians living there would not have voting rights. So, there’s sort of been an ongoing campaign by settlers to sort of claim Area C for Israel. It’s over — since the ’90s, it’s been treated more and more by Israel as sort of a part of Israel. But there’s a push to make it, you know, more official. And Smotrich has come out with a plan, years ago, which essentially says that, you know, he wants to annex the West Bank. Palestinians who don’t like this can either leave or stay as nonvoting citizens, which, you know, essentially is a formalization of apartheid.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip that I’d like you to set up. This, you yourself filmed while you were reporting on the West Bank. If you can — it is an image of — that you’re talking to Israeli soldiers, who are speaking in English to you. Explain where you are, what the circumstances were, why you ended up talking to them.

SHANE BAUER: So, when I got to the West Bank, I first started to try to meet people who had been attacked previously, so I went to the village of Qusra, which had, just days after October 7th, been very violently attacked by settlers in a neighboring outpost. A number of people were killed. And then, the following day, there was a funeral. And in the funeral procession, when the bodies were being taken from the hospital to the village, the procession was interrupted by a blockade of settlers and soldiers, and the settlers shot and killed two more people.

So, I was interviewing the brother of a man who was killed, and he happened to be busy working in his — picking olives just outside the village. So I went there to interview him while he was working. And while we were speaking, we saw soldiers start to approach from the distant outpost.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is the clip that Shane recorded.

SHANE BAUER: These guys are just literally just harvesting olives, and the army is coming in.

SOLDIER: There are terrorists in all these villages, OK? It’s not just in Gaza, OK? We arrest Hamas — OK? — Hamas in all these villages.

SHANE BAUER: But they’re just harvesting olives. They don’t have any weapons. There’s no weapons. It’s clear. Right?

SOLDIER: I don’t — I don’t fight with weapons, yes?

SHANE BAUER: No, no, but they don’t have weapons.

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SOLDIER: I’m also with no weapons.

SHANE BAUER: Well, you have…

AMY GOODMAN: The soldier is putting up his hands, saying, “We don’t have weapons.” But, of course, he’s moving the automatic weapon on his — that is slung over his shoulder. And he’s saying there are terrorists in all of these villages, there’s Hamas in all of these villages. Shane?

SHANE BAUER: Right. So, one thing that was happening while I was there was it was the olive harvesting season. You know, many Palestinians in the West Bank supplement their income through harvesting olives from orchards that have generally been in their families for generations. And I was on various social media groups by settlers. I was talking to settlers. And they were sort of pushing a narrative that olive harvesters were undercover Hamas agents who were trying to attack their settlements. So they were using this as a precedent or as an excuse to sort of forcibly push people out of their groves and prevent the harvest. Of course, this is impacting their livelihood and is, you know, an attempt to sort of encourage people to leave.

And there was one village where they actually put flyers on the cars of people who were out at the harvest, threatening a new Nakba. You know, the Nakba is sort of the Palestinian word for the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. And people have been killed. I reported about a man, Bilal Saleh, who was killed by settlers in his olive grove. So, you know, I saw this over and over again, this sort of claim that regular civilian Palestinians were, in fact, Hamas agents, and that in order to protect the settlements, they had to sort of, you know, push them out.

AMY GOODMAN: And the effect of Smotrich — you know, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, Israeli settlers, as well as now powerful members of the Israeli government, Cabinet members — the effect of the National Security Minister Ben-Gvir announcing that his department was in the process of purchasing 10,000 rifles to equip civilian so-called security teams based around Israel’s borders and the illegal settlements in the West Bank, giving out these guns?

SHANE BAUER: Mm-hmm, yeah, and that’s in addition to 7,000 rifles that were handed to settlers by the army after October 7th. I mean, it’s very apparent. You know, Palestinians told me that settlers who had been harassing them before now had M16s. So, when I went to settlements, you know, I would go to a — just walk into a supermarket, and there’s people walking around with Uzis and M16s. It’s very, very prevalent.

And, you know, a part of this, too, is not just the handing out of weapons to civilians, but after October 7th, the army recruited thousands of settlers into the army, who then served locally. So, someone like Moshe Sharvit, who was just sanctioned by the Biden administration, he had had his outpost since — for several years and had been documented, you know, dispersing the flocks of local Palestinians, pressuring the Palestinians around his outpost to move away. Then, after October 7th, he becomes a soldier. And, you know, then he is showing up at houses of some of these people, threatening to kill them if they don’t leave. So 12 families left. And I heard this over and over again from Palestinians, that they — you know, especially people who had been directly under pressure from settlers before October 7th, they then, just days after October 7th, start seeing the same people in military uniform. So, you know, the line between settlers and the army virtually disappeared after October 7th.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a second clip that you recorded, Shane, in an interview with an older Palestinian man, who said he’d been beaten by Moshe Sharvit, one of the Israeli settlers that the Biden administration has now sanctioned, had been beaten by Moshe and his brother, who showed up to his house, he said, with M16s in the West Bank. Do you want to set it up a little more, who this man was?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, this man, his name is Nabil Shtayyeh, and he was one of the people who I met who lived right next to Moshe Sharvit’s outpost, Moshe’s Farm, which is now under sanctions. And he and others kind of described to me what happened after October 7th. You know, again, these people had been harassed for years by Moshe before October 7th, but then he describes in this clip what happens.

NABIL SHTAYYEH: [translated] When they came, I was alone. They told me to leave. Then they started beating me. He had four men with him. I spent the night in a hospital in Tobas. I spent two days in the hospital. I was injured on my hand, my head and my back.

SHANE BAUER: [translated] They beat you with a staff?

NABIL SHTAYYEH: [translated] They beat me with a staff and kicked me.

SHANE BAUER: [translated] In your house?

NABIL SHTAYYEH: [translated] In the house. I was shouting. I thought they were going to kill me. I managed to get away. I thought they were going to kill me in my house. My neighbors called for an ambulance. They destroyed my water tank. Come this way.

SHANE BAUER: [translated] They did this the day they drove you out?

NABIL SHTAYYEH: [translated] Yes, that day they beat me.

SHANE BAUER: There’s the outpost, Moshe’s outpost.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re looking out into the horizon at Moshe’s outpost. Again, Moshe is one of those that have been sanctioned by the Biden administration. Tell us more about Nabil Shtayyeh, Shane Bauer.

SHANE BAUER: Well, one thing that was not in that clip is that what Nabil told me is that that day, soldiers arrived at his house first and said that Moshe had claimed that he was hiding terrorists in his house. So they searched his house, left, and as soon as they left, Moshe and some other guys showed up and beat him up.

And, you know, something I want to emphasize is that Moshe — you know, I spoke extensively to his wife Moriah, and she described to me the different types of support that they are getting from the government for their outpost, again, that is considered even by Israel to be illegal. When they set up the outpost, they were — she said they had “a gazillion meetings” with various branches of the government. The army gave them M16s. They set up — the army set up surveillance cameras in the area surrounding the outpost, which the army controls itself. You know, Moriah said that they were the eyes for the army. And, you know, again, Moshe himself is now a soldier.

So, when we talk about the sanctions that the Biden administration has implemented, you know, the sanctions target Moshe as an individual, they freeze any assets he might have in the United States, but the executive order that authorizes sanctions authorizes sanctions also against individuals or officials in government entities who financially or materially support these individuals. So, you know, the elephant in the room here is that this man, including along with Neria Ben-Pazi, is supported by the state of Israel directly. So, you know, according to the language of the sanctions, that would mean that the state of Israel itself and all the various organizations that are supporting him should themselves be sanctioned. But, of course, they haven’t been.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, you wrote on X, “Israel allocated land to Ben-Pazi for an illegal outpost within the area targeted for annexation and paid for guards who violently expelled Palestinians from the surrounding land. Senior IDF officers, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, regularly visited his outpost.” Tell us more.

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, Ben-Pazi is interesting himself because he, back in 2015, was — you know, he established an outpost that was considered by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security branch, to be sort of a center of Jewish terrorism. People who lived there had later been convicted for hate crimes, arson-related hate crimes, including the burning to death of a child, a Palestinian child. Ben-Pazi had been arrested and released.

And then later, time passed, and Netanyahu, you might remember, had called for the annexation of a large part of the West Bank. This is during the Trump administration. And at that time, Ben-Pazi’s relationship with the government started to change. The Civil Administration, which is the Israeli occupation’s sort of bureaucratic arm in the West Bank, allocated land to Ben-Pazi for his illegal outpost. The Ministry of Agriculture gave him money for these volunteers from an organization called Hashomer Yosh, which is notorious for violently attacking Palestinians. This is an organization that essentially takes delinquent Israeli youth and puts them on these shepherd farms, where they, you know, range the sheep and attack Palestinians who enter their turf.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about who was willing to speak to you and who wasn’t? For example, Moriah, the wife of Moshe, though he wasn’t willing to speak to you. Explain who she was, born in New Jersey, now a settler in the occupied West Bank.

SHANE BAUER: Yeah. I mean, I will say that, you know, getting interviews with settlers is not easy. Many refuse to speak to me as a journalist. Moriah, I actually reached out to her, because their settlement was — I found it on Google Maps, and it was designated as a tourist site. And it had a website where they offer sort of a B&B experience on the website, where people can stay in air-conditioned Bedouin tents. You know, ironically, they’re displacing these Bedouin from around the area and, you know, having people sort of stay in these glorified versions of it. So I reached out, and I, you know, told her I was journalist, and she invited me to come. She herself is from New Jersey. She moved to Israel when she was young, and grew up in settlements, like Moshe did.

You know, some of these settlers were — they tended to be very hesitant. And I found that once I, you know, started speaking to them, I was surprised at how open they were, you know, once we sat down and talked. I mean, numerous settlers compared what is happening now to 1948. You know, the head of a regional council, David Elhayani, this is one of the more — these are the governing bodies, sort of, of settlers in the West Bank. He told me that today — the battle today is like the battle of 1948. It’s a fight over land. And he likened these shepherding outposts, Moshe’s, in particular, to the sort of early settlements, pre-’48 settlements, of Jewish settlers that were sort of setting up settlements in areas, you know, that were sort of largely Arab areas, to expand the borders for a future state. He was saying that, you know, what these shepherding outposts are doing is essentially the same thing: They’re expanding the territory and taking land.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us more about Moriah and what she told you.

SHANE BAUER: Moriah, you know, was very frank about her views about Palestinians. She told me that Palestinians — she did not consider Palestinians to be regular people. She thought that they should leave, you know, to Jordan, to Syria. And, you know, she told me sort of about their — you know, the work of their outposts. And the way that she described it is the way a lot of settlers describe it, which is protecting Israel’s state land, protecting Area C. Again, you know, this is somebody who believes that the West Bank belongs to her. She believes that the West Bank was given to her by God, you know, which is important, because, again, we have these sort of religious fundamentalists allied with the secular state of Israel. So she would use these religious arguments, but also these kind of legalistic arguments that Area C was Israel’s and that they were defending it. You know, she described what they’re doing as preventing land theft, that Palestinians, by merely living in the West Bank, were stealing land from Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: You write on X, “The Sharvits had ‘a gazillion meetings’ with government bodies to set up the illegal outpost, Moriah said. The farm acted as ‘eyes’ for the army, she said. The army gave them M16s and set up surveillance cameras on the surrounding land, which it controlled from a command center. Through Sharvit and Ben-Pazi, Israel seizes land while avoiding the legal hurdles of starting official settlements. Avi Naim of the Settlement Ministry said ‘You take people who believe in that goal as a pioneering mission, and let them spearhead the work to keep control of land.’” If you could further elaborate on this very close relationship between the Israeli government and these settlers?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah. I mean, something to note — like, you know, you read this quote by Avi Naim — is, you know, this is out in the open. You know, this is not a secret. You hear Israeli politicians talking about this type of land seizure that these settlers are doing.

And, you know, the connection is very direct. Neria Ben-Pazi, for example, who has been sanctioned, he — after October 7th, on October 12th, he coordinated the expulsion of the community of Wadi Siq. It was a small Palestinian community. And that expulsion happened with dozens of settlers and soldiers together. You know, they came in. They threatened that if people didn’t leave, they would be killed. And settlers and soldiers then tortured a number of Palestinians who were there. Soldiers attacked some Israeli activists who were there in a protective capacity, accusing them, you know, saying, “Why aren’t you in Gaza? Why are you protecting terrorists?” Neria Ben-Pazi’s lawyer had written in legal documents that he had extensive ties with the security establishment. You know, so this is well established.

And, you know, the sort of — I mean, even in the U.N., when I mentioned before the 600 or so attacks that have happened since October 7th, the U.N. said that in at least half of those attacks soldiers are present. You know, it’s not a coincidence. And it’s not merely just soldiers not stopping these settlers. There is an active and ongoing collaboration between many of them.

AMY GOODMAN: And you say these sanctions do not address this.

SHANE BAUER: Right, yeah. I mean, they’re targeting these individuals, you know, a handful of individuals, out of hundreds who are attacking Palestinians, and sort of, you know, targeting them as individuals, but not the sort of state that is supporting them and encouraging them to continue to take land.

AMY GOODMAN: Journalist Shane Bauer’s piece for The New Yorker is headlined “The Israeli Settlers Attacking Their Palestinian Neighbors.”

And this breaking news: The Irish prime minister has just resigned.

I’m Amy Goodman.

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