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How Ben Gvir's 'private militia' threatens Palestinians and Israel's security

National security minister likely to use national guard to further crack down on opponents and Palestinians, critics say
Far right-wing Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir near Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem, 10 June 2021. (Reuters)

A recent plan to create an Israeli national guard under the command of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has given rise to fears about the risk to Palestinians and the future of security in the country.

The plan was part of a deal between Benjamin Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir, who had threatened to resign after the prime minister paused a controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary following weeks of mass protests that brought the country to a stand-still on Monday.

Ben-Gvir agreed to the delay in return for allowing the creation of a national guard loyal to his ministry. 

"Clearly, Netanyahu’s political standing is extremely weak," said Yonatan Touval, an analyst at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (Mitvim), following the decision on the national guard.

"His polling numbers are at historic lows, and his own party is extremely resentful of him," added Touval speaking to Middle East Eye.

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A survey published on Tuesday found that if elections were to be held today in Israel, Netanyahu and his coalition would likely lose. His Likud party, Religious Zionism, Shas and United Torah Judaism would fall short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Critics fear that a decision to create a national guard under the direct control of the already powerful Ben-Gvir could undermine security in the country.

Following the decision, former Israeli police chief Moshe Karadi said Ben-Gvir "has formed a private militia for his political needs. He’s dismantling Israeli democracy."

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In June 2021, Israel's previous government approved a plan to create a national guard composed of active-duty and reserve officers and volunteers trained by the Border Police.

The plan was formed following riots between Jews and Palestinians within Israel in May that year, but was never implemented.

Ben-Gvir has long supported the creation of a national guard and wants to "have a paramilitary force directly under his command that he can deploy in mixed Arab-Israeli towns inside Israel," said Touval. 

"It goes without saying that the force would focus on enforcing law and order on Arab residents whenever tensions and violence erupt," added Touval.

Ben-Gvir has already told police to crack down harder on anti-government protests that have rocked the country since January. 

'Anti-Palestinian agenda'

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has said: "We already saw what happened when Ben-Gvir wanted to suppress the protests; now one can only imagine what will happen when he has his own militias."

Palestinian citizens of Israel and those living in the occupied territories are also likely to fear the move, since it could likely be used against them.

"Giving a private militia to Kahanist minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a convicted criminal, is likely to occasion a new low for Palestinian human security across the occupied Palestinian Territories," said Robert Andrews, the public relations officer at the human rights NGO the EuroPal Forum.

'The decision to award the fascistic Ben-Gvir with a private militia will undoubtedly serve to embolden his clear anti-Palestinian agenda'

- Robert Andrews, EuroPal Forum

Rabbi Meir Kahane was an Israeli-American who led a far-right group that gave rise to Kahanism, an extremist religious Zionist worldview premised on Jewish supremacy.

Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party has in the past espoused Kahanist ideology and is an important coalition member in Netanyahu's ruling coalition.

"The decision to award the fascistic Ben-Gvir with a private militia will undoubtedly serve to embolden his clear anti-Palestinian agenda," Andrews told MEE.

In the last few months, Ben-Gvir has already introduced a series of draconian measures against Palestinians.

In February, Israel's parliament passed the first stage of a bill, introduced by the Jewish Power Party, to stop funding non-essential medical treatment for Palestinians in Israeli prisons. 

Since joining Netanyahu's government late last year, the security minister has vowed to crack down on the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, whom he claims are being treated too well.

Ben-Gvir has also ordered the closure of Palestinian prisoner-run bakeries in Israeli prisons and that detainees only be given four minutes to shower.

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"With a private militia now under his absolute control, it is already clear - as per his statements thus far - that Ben-Gvir will use the group to further legitimise settler violence against Palestinian communities under the guise of ‘protecting law and order'," said Andrews. 

"The Hilltop Youth, [an extremist religious-nationalist settler group], already routinely terrorise and attack Palestinian civilians and property with impunity," he added. "One can expect Ben-Gvir’s militia to continue the acts of violence and terrorism against Palestinians, albeit while wearing uniforms and officially part of the state’s apparatus."

Despite such fears, Touval said that the decision to form the national guard is likely to be fought in the courts and Ben-Gvir’s control over it is still far from assured.  

"The establishment of such a force is likely to meet legal challenges, especially if, as the latest plan states, the national guard is to be separate and independent of the police and subject directly to the Ministry of National Security and its minister, Ben-Gvir himself," said Touval.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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