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Who is Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s rising star extremist?

Jerusalem24 Hala Zuhairi – Born in West Jerusalem in 1976 to an Iraqi Jewish mother and father, Member of the Knesset Itamar Ben-Gvir lives in the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank.

At the age of 18, he was exempted from serving in the Israeli army due to his “extremism”. Ha’aretz quoted him as saying: “It’s the Israeli army’s loss.”

Ben-Gvir’s name has cropped up in association with all of Israel’s extreme-right parties, starting with Molidat, which called for the “displacement of Arab citizens from Israel”, passing through the Kach party, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, and ending with the Religious Zionist Party, which he introduced into the Knesset in April 2021 after several failed attempts.

Israel banned the Kach movement after the 1994 massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank, during which Kach member Baruch Goldstein shot and killed 29 Palestinians and injured dozens more.

Ben-Gvir first attracted public attention in a television interview conducted at the age of 19, weeks before the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on 4 November 1995, when he displayed the license plate of a Cadillac car he had snatched from the Prime Minister’s vehicle and stated: “We got to his car; we’ll get to him too.”

He was vocally opposed to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993.

Ben-Gvir is also considered one of the greatest admirers of the openly racist, American-born rabbi Meir Kahana, who called for the deportation of Arabs from Palestine. In his teenage years, Ben-Gvir was an activist in the Kach movement and was convicted of incitement to racism in 2007 for sporting a sign during a demonstration that read “Drive out the Arab enemy”.

Ben-Gvir has accumulated over 50 charges for incitement on his record, and has been acquitted of 46. He has also been convicted of incitement to racism, interfering with a police officer performing his duty, and support for a terrorist organization.

A lawyer in the defense of settlers

In 2012, Ben-Gvir passed the Israeli Bar Association exams and began practicing the profession, years after graduating from law school, and after several failed attempts due to his criminal record and his involvement in extreme-right demonstrations and activities.

He has since stood out as a defender of extremist settlers accused of committing hate crimes or terrorist attacks against Palestinians, including members of the extremist Lehava group.

Haaretz revealed in 2018 that Ben-Gvir was defending two Israeli teenagers who were allegedly involved in a 2015 arson attack in the village of Duma in the West Bank, which resulted in the death of three members of the Dawabsheh family, including an 18-month-old toddler, and severe burns to 4-year-old Ahmad Dawabsheh, the only surviving member of his family.

Calls to violence

On 13 October, Ben-Gvir led a group of settlers in storming the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. In video footage widely distributed on social media, he calls on Israeli forces and armed settlers to shoot any Palestinians who throw stones, while brandishing a weapon himself.

The following day, he shared on Twitter a picture of his children, writing: “After the riots in Shimon Hatzadik, I took the children to play to teach them what to do with terrorists. Happy holidays and Shabbat Shalom!”

Latest Israeli opinion polls show that Ben-Gvir’s party is expected to secure between 10 and 13 seats, meaning he is likely to be appointed as a minister in the next Israeli government.

Translated from Arabic. This article originally appeared on 24FM, Jerusalem24’s sister station.

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