Israeli politicians and leaders of the settler movement are calling for annexation of the occupied West Bank after the body of an off-duty Israeli soldier was found on the side of the road early Thursday morning in the southern West Bank.
Dvir Sorek, 19, from the settlement of Ofra, was reportedly stabbed to death by Palestinian attackers affiliated with the Hamas movement outside of Migdal Oz where he attended a pre-military seminary, Israeli media reported. Sorek was not in uniform at the time of his killing an had not undergone any military training.
Israeli forces have embarked on a manhunt for the alleged Palestinian attackers, raiding villages nearby where the soldier was found, and setting up roadblocks and flying checkpoints across the southern West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the situation during a corner-laying ceremony for 650 new housing units in the Ramallah-area Beit El settlement, saying “today another one of our sons fell,” adding that the soldier was “from a family that has already made a heavy sacrifice for the Land of Israel,” referring to the fact that Sorek’s grandfather was killed in a shooting near Nablus during the Second Intifada.
Netanyahu continued, calling the Palestinians suspected of killing the soldier “vicious terrorists.”
“They come to uproot; we come to plant. They come to destroy; we come to build. Our hands will reach out and we will deepen our roots in our homeland – in all parts of it,” he said, referring to the continued expansion of settlement construction under his premiership.
“We promised to build hundreds of housing units. Today we are doing it, both because we promised and because our mission is to establish the nation of Israel in our country, [and] to secure our sovereignty over our historic homeland,” he said.
Several right-wing politicians and leaders echoed Netanyahu’s statements, calling on the premiere to follow through on his campaign promises to annex large swaths of West Bank land.
“Our response to the murder has to be apply sovereignty on the settlements, starting with [those in] Gush Etzion,” MK Yuli Edelstein of Netanyahu’s Likud party said, according to the Jerusalem post.
Israel Ganz, head of the Binyamin Regional Council which governs the Ofra settlement, reportedly said that Netanyahu “must stop just speaking of applying sovereignty to Judea and Samaria and act on those words,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
The news website also quoted Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the ultra-nationalist “New Right” party, as saying on Army Radio Thursday morning: “We have to apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. Gush Etzion is in consensus and there is no reason not to apply sovereignty there.”
Just a few days earlier, Shaked sat down for an interview with the Jerusalem Post advocating for annexation of Area C of the West Bank, saying “we have no intention of annexing two million Palestinians, but we do want to apply Israeli law on territory where the decisive majority of its residents are Israeli citizens.”
Floating around the idea of annexation or increased Israeli control of the occupied territory in response to such attacks is a typical occurrence in the West Bank.
Thursday’s comments from Israeli leaders, however, come on the heels of several plans to advance thousands of settlement homes in the West Bank, and just one month before the country heads back into another general election on September 17.
Netanyahu’s main opponent and biggest threat to his premiership, ex-military chief Benny Gantz, released a statement on Thursday saying “the (military) and Israeli security forces will know how to get their hands on these loathsome terrorists, dead or alive.”
While it is widely seen as being in Netanyahu’s best interest to avoid a flare up in the West Bank and Gaza, similar tensions earlier this year gave Netanyahu the chance to capitalize off the violence by asserting his hardline, pro-settler stance on the occupied territories ahead of the April elections.
Palestinians have expressed concerns that Israeli leaders will use the soldier’s killing as a reason to enforce punitive measures and widespread restrictions on movement in the West Bank, just ahead of the Eid al-Adha holidays this weekend.
While the alleged attackers and their motivations remained unclear, the Hamas movement released a statement in response, saying the attack was a “natural response to Israeli crimes.”
The group also highlighted last month’s mass demolition of Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher, naming it as one of the reasons for the attack, along with Israel’s increasing talk of annexation and extended sovereignty in the West Bank.
Updated August 12, 10:15 a.m.