By Pablo Duer
Efrat, West Bank, Nov 18 (EFE).- The far-right’s historic triumph in Israel was buoyed by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, where the Religious Zionist Party won voters with a promise of territorial expansion and a harshline against Palestinians.
Itamar Ben-Gvir’s face is ubiquitous in Efrat, a Jewish settlement to the south of Bethlehem, where campaign posters adorn the streets, on the side of bus stops and private vehicles.
The lawyer and politician was the second-in-charge and most visible face of the Religious Zionist Party, a coalition of Israel’s most radical right-wing, openly racist and homophobic parties that after years of life on the fringe burst into the Knesset as the parliament’s third force in the general elections this month.
It holds the key to the next government.
The radical platform took 48% of the votes in Efrat, doubling its share from the previous election last year and comfortably beating the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which failed to reach 20% in the settlement.
This tendency was repeated across Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law. Isreali settlers number over 500,000, according to estimates, and make up a considerable share of Religious Zionist Party politicians.
“We know very well that he (Ben-Gvir) is like us,” Nisim Haynam, who repairs cell phones, tells Efe. “He lives in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, us in Efrat. We believe in what he says and does, unlike other politicians that we have had until now.”
“I think they are people who are going to take care of us,” he adds in reference to the settler movement’s aims to build more communities and infrastructure as well as to shore up security amid the threat of attacks carried out by Palestinians.
The Religious Zionist Party agreed this week with Netanyahu that it would support him in the formation of a government in exchange, among other things, for the regularization of dozens of settlements considered illegal even by Israeli law and the expansion of Route 60, the main highway that crosses the West Bank from north to south.
And while nothing has been put on paper yet, Bezalel Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, the Religious Zionist Party’s number one and two, have requested the roles of defense and security minister respectively in a new government, which is also set to include the Ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.
A BULLET TO THE HEAD
“The main problems here are the Arabs and their violence,” Yaakov Ben Shoshan, a 21-year-old soldier, tells Efe. Like 90% of Efrat’s population, he is a practicing Jew.
“A bullet to the head of every violent Arab,” he adds.
The soldier supports the hardline policies advocated by the Religious Zionist Party and believes them necessary to restore calm to a region that is witnessing its bloodiest period of violence since 2006.
So far this year, 146 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed in the unrest.
While some residents of Efrat insist they do not support all of the far-right party’s manifesto, deeming their policies too radical in places, many felt there were no alternatives in the elections.
In the general elections of March 2021, the most voted party in Efrat was the far-right Yamina, which also has roots in the Jewish settler movement. But its leader Naftali Bennet, struck up a surprising alliance with left-wing and Arab parties. He was prime minister for barely a year.
Many residents in Efrat tell Efe that Naftali’s decision amounted to treason. EFE