Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir claimed there is “apartheid” against Jews in Kiryat Arba, the West Bank settlement abutting the southern West Bank city of Hebron, and that “Jews can’t enter 97% of the territory.”
“Arabs can go anywhere, wherever they want and however much they want,” Ben Gvir, a resident of Kiryat Arba, said Monday evening during an Instagram live chat.
This is untrue, as Palestinians cannot enter Kiryat Arba or the Jewish enclave within Hebron without permission. The Jewish presence in a neighborhood in Hebron is under considerable protection by Israeli security forces, and Palestinians are heavily restricted in their access to nearby roads. They are also barred from entering Al-Shuhada Street within Palestinian territory, which leads to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and which was once home to a thriving market, with Israel citing security issues.
As with other areas of the West Bank under the full civil and military control of the Palestinian Authority — which make up 18% of the territory — Israeli citizens are legally barred from entering the remaining 80% of Hebron, known as H1, though many flout this ban to take advantage of cheaper prices across the Green Line.
Ben Gvir made the assertion while further defending his comments last week that Jews’ right to travel and live safely in the West Bank is more important than Arabs’ freedom of movement, which prompted considerable denunciations abroad.
Among his critics, whom Ben Gvir called “hypocrites,” was model Bella Hadid, who shared a clip of his remarks with her nearly 60 million Instagram followers that was captioned: “At no place, at no time, especially in 2023 should one life be more valuable than another’s especially simply because of their ethnicity, culture, or pure hatred.”
She also posted a video from leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem showing Israeli soldiers in Hebron telling a resident that Palestinians are not permitted to walk on a certain street because it is reserved for Jews. “Does this remind anyone of anything?” she wrote.
Hadid and her sister Gigi, who were born in the United States to a Palestinian father, are famous supermodels and Instagram influencers, and have been sharply critical of Israel in the past.
Ben Gvir hit back at Hadid, saying she shared the video with “the whole world to try and portray me as racist and backward.” He invited her to visit Kiryat Arba.
Despite that response, Ben Gvir claimed during Monday’s question-and-answer session on Instagram that he did not know who Bella Hadid was when he decided to address her posts.
“I thought she was a 70- or 80-year-old who writes all sorts of things in the comments section but it ultimately turned out she is a model,” he said. “It does not change the fact that she hates Israel and that she does not know the reality, or maybe she does know and is being deceptive.”
Ben Gvir’s comments on Palestinians’ freedom of movement were also denounced by the Biden administration and American Jewish groups, with the US State Department in a rare move calling him out by name. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later countered Ben Gvir’s comments, declaring that Israel strives to allow the greatest possible freedom of movement for both the Israeli and the Palestinian populations in the West Bank.
On Friday, a senior diplomatic official told the Ynet news site that Ben Gvir’s comments were “a mega-attack on Israel’s public diplomacy that reveals the true face of the government.”
“The damage is immense,” the unnamed source said, adding that Ben Gvir’s comments had provided Israel’s critics with “golden evidence” to support their claims that Israel is a racist and an apartheid state.
They also noted that neither Netanyahu — at the time the comments were made — nor other senior government ministers, had refuted Ben Gvir’s comments, making it hard to argue that this was not official government policy.
Ben Gvir has long faced accusations of racism due to a history of inflammatory comments toward Arabs and Palestinians and his identification as a disciple of Meir Kahane.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.