In what Palestine defenders and even one mainstream U.S. Jewish group called a perilous provocation, leaders of Israel's far-right government accompanied thousands of settlers shielded by a heavy military presence on a Monday march to an illegal colony in the occupied West Bank.
Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right Cabinet—including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich—and numerous right-wing lawmakers joined a crowd of as many as 20,000 pro-apartheid demonstrators who marched to Evyatar in a bid to legitimize the outpost,The Times of Israel reports.
According to Haaretz, 22 Palestinians including residents of the nearby town of Beita were wounded when Israeli occupation forces fired on them with less-lethal weapons including rubber-tipped steel bullets during and after the march. More than 100 people including journalists also suffered from inhaling gas used by Israeli forces to disperse counter-demonstrators. At least two journalists were hospitalized as a result of their injuries.
Meanwhile, marchers brought inflatable bouncy houses and other amusements to entertain children during the demonstration.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the march as "a dangerous escalation and provocation of the Palestinian people and an extension of the incitement calls of the Israeli right and the fascist right to deepen settlement at the expense of land."
Yumna Patel, Palestine news director at Mondoweiss, said on Twitter: "The cognitive dissonance is truly astounding. Israeli settlers march on stolen land, in a settler colony that's given them the land to steal and colonize, alongside an army whose singular goal is to protect them. And yet, somehow, they are the victims in their own narrative."
The liberal U.S. Jewish group J Street also condemned the march, tweeting that "this is an incendiary and deeply dangerous act by some of the most senior ministers in the Israeli government."
"Their vision is clear: annexation, endless conflict, and chaos," the group added.
However, Ben-Gvir—who is a settler—asserted that "we are here, and we are marching toward the future... I hope the entire state of Israel understands this."
Smotrich told Haaretz while marching that "God willing, we'll bring here another half-million Jews on top the half-million that are already here."
United Nations experts say the true number of Israeli settlers colonizing the West Bank and East Jerusalem is closer to 700,000.
Evyatar, an exclusively Jewish community first established in 2013, is built on stolen Palestinian land on Mount Sabih in Beita, south of Nablus. The settlement is illegal under both international and Israeli law and has been repeatedly destroyed by Israeli authorities.
Since 1967, at least 77 Beita residents have been killed by Israeli forces, many of them during protests, according to Patel.
The last mass eviction of Evyatar took place in June 2021. However, while the Israeli military says the outpost is "flagrantly illegal," scores of homes have been built there with soldiers' help and the government has provided the community with electricity, water, and roads.
On February 27—the day after settlers' deadly rampage through the Palestinian town of Huwara—Ben-Gvir, who leads the Jewish Power party, defiantly organized a rally in Evyatar, where he called for the assassination of "terrorists" who resist Israeli expansion.
Netanyahu's government is seeking to "legalize" Evyatar as it did for nine other settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem earlier this year.
When asked by Haaretz why Evyatar has not yet been legalized, Zvi Sukkot, an Israeli lawmaker representing the Religious Zionism party, said that "legalizing such an outpost takes time."
"We're not afraid of America," he added. The Biden administration says it opposes settlement expansion, even while lavishing Israel with billions of dollars in annual military aid and diplomatic cover.
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams and was authored by Brett Wilkins.