Bank Leumi, one of the largest banks in Israel, has frozen the account of Yinon Levi, a West Bank settler who was sanctioned by the US last week for his alleged involvement in acts of violence against Palestinians. The bank informed Levi on Friday that his personal and business accounts were suspended, in accordance with the US sanctions that prohibit access to American financial systems or software by the sanctioned individuals.
Levi is one of the four Israeli settlers who were targeted by the US State Department on Thursday, in an unprecedented move that marked the first time the US has imposed sanctions on Israeli citizens for human rights violations. The US accused Levi of leading groups of settlers from the Meitarim Farm outpost who assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, threatened them with more violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields, and destroyed their property.
Levi denied the allegations and claimed that he was a victim of a “plot” by the “anarchist, anti-Zionist, Jew-hating left” and the US President Joe Biden. He said that he had never harmed anyone and that he was only defending his land and his people.
Bank Hapoalim also indicates it will follow the US sanctions
Another major Israeli bank, Bank Hapoalim, also indicated that it will follow the US sanctions and take action against the two sanctioned settlers who have accounts with the bank. The bank said that it respects international sanctions and will implement any legal order, but did not specify what steps it will take.
The other two settlers who were sanctioned by the US are Yehoshua Mor Yosef and Yehuda Wald, both residents of the Yitzhar settlement. The US accused them of being members of a violent extremist group known as “The Hilltop Youth”, which has been involved in numerous attacks against Palestinians, Israeli security forces, and non-governmental organizations. The US said that Mor Yosef and Wald participated in the arson of a mosque in the Palestinian village of Yasuf in 2009, and the firebombing of a Palestinian taxi in 2012.
Mor Yosef and Wald also rejected the US sanctions and said that they were proud of their actions. They said that they were not afraid of the US and that they would continue to fight for the land of Israel.
Finance minister seeks to prevent Israeli banks from complying with the US sanctions
The US sanctions have sparked controversy and criticism in Israel, especially among the right-wing parties and the settler movement. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party, said that he will try to prevent Israeli banks from complying with the US sanctions. He said that he contacted the Bank of Israel and asked the supervisor of the banks to issue a clarification that Israeli law does not oblige banks to freeze the accounts of the sanctioned individuals.
Smotrich said that it was “unthinkable” that an Israeli bank should take action against an Israeli citizen over a US decision. He said that he will do whatever he can as the finance minister to stop this, and that he will even propose legislation on the matter if necessary.
Smotrich’s party colleague, MK Zvi Sukkot, visited Levi on Sunday and expressed his solidarity with him. He called the US sanctions “one of the most ridiculous things that could happen” and accused the US of interfering in Israel’s internal affairs. He also blamed the Israeli left for collaborating with the US and spreading “lies” about the settlers.
The US sanctions reflect a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The US sanctions reflect a new approach by the Biden administration to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which differs from the previous administration of Donald Trump, which was seen as more supportive of Israel and the settlements. The US said that the sanctions were part of its efforts to promote human rights and accountability, and to prevent further violence and escalation in the region.
The US also said that the sanctions were not intended to target the Israeli government or the Israeli people, but rather specific individuals who committed serious human rights abuses. The US said that it respects Israel’s sovereignty and security, and that it remains committed to the two-state solution as the best way to achieve peace and stability.
The US sanctions have also drawn attention to the role and status of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank, who are estimated to number around 450,000. The settlers are considered illegal by most of the international community, which views the West Bank as occupied Palestinian territory. However, the settlers claim that they have a historical and religious right to the land, and that they contribute to Israel’s security and economy.
The US sanctions have raised questions about the legal and moral implications of the Israeli banks’ involvement in the settlements, and their compliance with the international sanctions. The sanctions have also highlighted the challenges and dilemmas that the Israeli government and society face regarding the future of the settlements and the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.