White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the United States is “actively engaged” with Israel following an attack by Israeli settlers on a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank that is home to many Palestinian Americans.
At a press conference on Friday, Kirby said several US government officials met with victims of the attack in the village of Turmus Aya near Ramallah.
On Wednesday, residents said about 400 Israeli settlers attacked the village and set fire to cars, homes and large tracts of land before Israeli forces descended on the community.
At least one Palestinian, 27-year-old Omar Katin, a father of two who worked as an electrician for the local municipality, was killed and several others injured in the violence.
“We’ve certainly seen reports now of US citizens … being victims of some violence, and we’re actively engaging with the Israeli government about that,” Kirby told reporters Friday, without elaborating.
The attack in Turmus Ayya came amid similar settler attacks near Nablus, a city in the occupied West Bank, in an apparent response to the killing of four Israeli settlers by Palestinian gunmen near the settlement of Eli.
Palestinian and international human rights groups have long denounced Israel’s failure or refusal to stop attacks by settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories.
And in recent months, they have accused key members of the Israeli government — including far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — of condoning the violence.
On Thursday, Tom Neids, the US ambassador to Israel, issued an unusually strong call for Israel to take action to prevent attacks.
“We are not seeing the violence of standing and settlers,” Nides said during a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian youth in Tel Aviv, as reported by Israeli media.
“I have been very clear and very specific that we will not stand by, and we are pressing the Israelis to take the steps they need to take to stop these people,” he said. “At the same time, my heart breaks for the families who lost a loved one 48 hours ago. My heart breaks for all these families.”
Tone changes, but action is unlikely
Michael Omer-Man, director of Israel-Palestine research at the US-based advocacy group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said the statements represent a shift in tone from the Biden administration.
But meaningful action from the United States is unlikely, he said, although targeted travel bans on Israeli settlers accused of violence may remain on the table.
“I think the difference we see here is that this administration, which is particularly opposed to the conflict with Israel, has designated the violent, aggressive, unnecessary settler movement as a target between Ben Gavir, Smotrich and the Israeli government. They are willing to criticize openly,” Omar-Mann told Al Jazeera.
“But if they don’t hold the greater Israeli government accountable for it, I don’t know what it’s worth,” he said. “What level [the US] Willing to do, what they’re willing to do is very unlikely, it’s hard to hope for.”
Despite publicly opposing the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements that would eventually become the Palestinian state, the Biden administration remains a staunch defender of Israel.
The United States has long hailed its “ironclad” relationship with the country, which receives about $3.8 billion in unconditional aid from Washington annually.
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government had approved 1,000 new settler homes in Eli, calling the move a “reaction to terror.”
On Friday, Israeli National Security Minister Zvir called on the government to launch a massive military operation in the West Bank and expand illegal settlements, according to Israeli media, in a speech at a settler outpost in Mount Sabih.
It comes as UN human rights chief Volker Turk warned that violence in the West Bank “risks spiraling out of control” amid Israel’s use of heavy weapons.
After Israeli forces attacked the Jenin refugee camp on Monday, Israel used helicopter gunships to attack the camp in the occupied West Bank for the first time in 20 years.
At least seven Palestinians, including children, were killed and 91 injured.
Turki said on Friday that the operation was “a major intensification of the use of weapons normally associated with the conduct of armed hostilities rather than law enforcement situations”.
Israel carried out its first known targeted drone strike in the West Bank on Wednesday. The Israeli military said the drone fired at a checkpoint north of Jenin, killing three Palestinian gunmen.