Israel’s far-right minister is arguing with supermodel Bella Hadid over Palestinian rights

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday defended comments by his far-right national security minister that sparked a row with US supermodel Bella Hadid and had been condemned as racist by the Palestinians and Washington.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Itamar Ben-Gvir said that the right to life and safe travel of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank is more important than the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement.

Bella Hadid, whose father is Palestinian, responded a day later, telling her nearly 60 million followers on Instagram: “In no place and at no time, especially in the year 2023, should one life be more precious than another’s” — which in turn Ministers led to a rebuke from the US on Friday.

Palestinians have long railed against the restrictions, including checkpoints and travel permits, that Israel has imposed on them in the West Bank, where they exercise limited self-government and which they aspire to be part of a future state. The United Nations has documented 645 Israeli obstacles to movement across the West Bank through August, more than half of which it says have had a serious impact on Palestinians.

Ben-Gvir, who lives in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba near the West Bank city of Hebron, told N12 News on Wednesday: “My right, my wife’s right, my children’s right, on the roads of Judea and Samaria travel is more important.” than the right of free movement for Arabs,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical Hebrew name.

On Friday, he responded to Hadid’s post, calling her an “Israel hater” and saying she only shared part of the interview on her social media account to portray him as a racist.

Netanyahu said in a statement that Israel is allowing “maximum freedom of movement” for both Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank while implementing security measures to deter Palestinian attacks.

The Palestinian State Department on Thursday condemned Ben-Gvir’s comments on N12 News as “racist and hateful,” and the US State Department on Friday called his comments “seditious” and “racist.”

Violence in the West Bank has increased over the past 15 months, with frequent Israeli military attacks, Palestinian street attacks and attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villages.

At least 188 Palestinians and 35 Israelis and foreigners have been killed in hostilities since January.

On Monday, an Israeli woman was killed in a suspected Palestinian drive-by shooting near the settlement where Ben-Gvir lives. In another part of the West Bank, Israeli soldiers shot and critically wounded a Palestinian who appeared to be fleeing ahead of them to another wounded man.

As a member of Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition, Ben-Gvir has been convicted in the past of supporting terrorism and anti-Arab incitement. He says his views have become more dovish since he took office, without elaborating.

In the 1967 Middle East War, Israel conquered the West Bank. It has continued to expand dozens of settlements deemed illegal by the United Nations and most countries, a view Israel disputes.

(Reporting by Henriette Chacar; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Giles Elgood)

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