TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s far-right national security minister lashed out at supermodel Bella Hadid on Friday for criticizing his recent fiery televised remarks about Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
In an interview earlier this week with Israel’s Channel 12 following two deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the occupied territory, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir argued that his right to freedom of movement as a Jewish settler outweighs the same right for Palestinians.
“My right, the right of my wife and my children, to move around Judea and Samaria is more important than freedom of movement for the Arabs,” Ben-Gvir said Wednesday, using the biblical name for the West Bank. "The right to life comes before freedom of movement.”
Addressing Mohammad Magadli, a well-known Israeli-Arab television host who was in the studio, Ben-Gvir added: “Sorry, Mohammad. But that’s the reality.”
Hadid, a supermodel and social media influencer whose father is Palestinian, shared an excerpt from Ben-Gvir’s interview with her 59.5 million followers on Instagram on Thursday, writing: “In no place, no time, especially in 2023 should one life be more valuable than another’s. Especially simply because of their ethnicity, culture or pure hatred.”
She also posted a video from leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem showing Israeli soldiers in the southern West Bank city of Hebron telling a resident that Palestinians are not permitted to walk on a certain street because it is reserved for Jews. “Does this remind anyone of anything?” she wrote.
Ben-Gvir responded angrily Friday to Hadid’s post.
“I invite you to Kiryat Arba, to see how we live here, how every day, Jews who have done nothing wrong to anyone in their lives are murdered here,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Ben-Gvir lives in the settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron, the largest Palestinian city.
His statement on television has drawn widespread criticism as commentators seized on it as proof of allegations that Israel is turning into an apartheid system that seeks to maintain Jewish hegemony from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Protesters thronged outside Ben-Gvir’s home in a West Bank settlement Friday to condemn his remarks. The catchphrase “Sorry, Mohammad” became meme fodder for social media as critics posted it alongside videos of Israeli violence against Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later defended Ben-Gvir's comments in a statement, saying that Israel “allows maximum freedom of movement” in the West Bank.
Palestinian militants, Netanyahu said, “take advantage of this freedom of movement to murder Israeli women, children, and families by ambushing them at certain points on different routes.”
“This is what Minister Ben-Gvir meant when he said 'the right to life precedes freedom of movement,” Netanyahu added.
There are at least 645 checkpoints and roadblocks restricting Palestinian movement in the West Bank, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which closely tracks movement and access in the West Bank and Gaza, said Friday.
Over half the barriers severely hamper Palestinians in their efforts to go about their daily lives, the agency said.
Earlier this week, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli car near Hebron, killing an Israeli woman and seriously wounding the driver. That attack came just days after a Palestinian shooting attack killed an Israeli father and son in the northern Palestinian town of Hawara.
Some 30 people have been killed by Palestinian attacks on Israelis since the start of this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Nearly 180 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank during that time, most of whom Israel says were militants.
Ben-Gvir acknowledged the backlash against his comments but doubled down on his original statement.
“So yes, the right of me and my fellow Jews to travel and return home safely on the roads of Judea and Samaria outweighs the right of terrorists who throw stones at us and kill us," he wrote.
Ben-Gvir has been convicted in the past of inciting racism and of supporting a terrorist organization. He was known as an admirer of rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from Parliament and whose Kach party was branded a terrorist group by the United States before he was assassinated in New York in 1990. Kach wanted to strip Arab Israelis of their citizenship, segregate Israeli public spaces, and ban marriages between Jews and non-Jews.
Before joining politics, Ben-Gvir hung a portrait in his living room of a Jewish man who fatally shot 29 Palestinians in the West Bank in 1994.
A once-marginal far-right activist, Ben-Gvir now wields significant power as the national security minister overseeing the Israeli police force in Netanyahu's government.
Isabel Debre, The Associated Press