Israeli settler sanctioned by Biden speaks out

"When we first found out about it, we thought it was a joke."

February 8, 2024, 6:21 AM

WEST BANK -- President Joe Biden handed down financial sanctions against four Israeli nationals last week who were allegedly connected to violence against civilians in the West Bank amid the Israel-Hamas war. One of those sanctioned by the Biden administration spoke with ABC News about the claims and rejected the allegations against them.

Yinon Levi spoke alongside his wife, Sapir Levi, on Tuesday in their outpost in the occupied West Bank. They told ABC News they don't understand why he was sanctioned in Biden's executive order.

Levi was accused of inciting violence against Palestinians and burning farmland. He said he has never been involved in an attack and they have not seen any evidence.

"When we first found out about it, we thought it was a joke. Why would Biden care about us?" Yinon Levi told ABC News.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a Feb. 1 statement, said Yinon Levi allegedly led a group of settlers "who engaged in actions creating an atmosphere of fear in the West Bank" and "repeatedly attacked multiple communities within the West Bank."

"He regularly led groups of settlers from the Meitarim Farm outpost that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields, and destroyed their property," the statement said.

Activists and residents say videos show Levi

Local residents and activists told ABC News they believe Yinon Levi is shown on video operating a bulldozer to allegedly block roads in Susya in the West Bank on Oct. 16, 2023. Satellite imagery from Oct. 17, 2023, appears to show dirt disturbed over a road in Susya.

Basel Adra, who lives in a village near Susya, said Yinon Levi also destroyed water wells and agricultural fields for crops like olives and grapes.

Although ABC News could not independently verify claims of property destruction, Levi was described in the sanctions order as destroying property.

ABC News also obtained videos, from April 2022 and March 2023, of Yinon Levi with his dog discouraging Arabs from herding sheep in the area and harassing activists.

In response to the videos, Yinon Levi said "Anarchists come to our territory and do provocations. They disturb the soldiers, they attack us, the dog and the sheep on purpose and document it for provocation."

Yinon and Sapir Levi said they are breaking no laws.

PHOTO: An Israeli military outpost in Hebron, in the West Bank on Nov. 22, 2023. (Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times)
Cement barriers and fencing erected by Israeli settlers border a cafe in central Hebron, in the West Bank on Nov. 22, 2023. Palestinians in the West Bank, who were already living under years of Israeli occupation, have been subject to even more restrictions and an increased military presence since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. (Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times)
Daniel Berehulak/DANIEL BEREHULAK/The New York Ti

"Every time there is a problem in the area with Arabs, we call the army and they come and they do what they do. We have the full backup of the army," Sapir Levi said. "If Biden has a complaint to us, he can talk to the army."

Biden said the sanctions will benefit both sides of the conflict.

"Today's actions seek to promote peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike," Biden said in a statement last week.

The sanctions, the Levis said, are hitting them hard.

"We thought it's not going to affect us because we don't have American citizenship, but then the bank called," Sapir Levi said. "We have a joint bank account and we have savings for the children. We need to pay for school, to buy clothes for the children and we can't do anything right now, it's all frozen. It's my account, too."

Sanctions, he said, have affected his business, chiefly the Israeli bank closing down his account. They need money to manage their household, and it's made paying people on their small farm difficult, he said.

But it is not going to stop them living here, they said.

They said despite the sanctions, they don't intend to shut down the farm. "We will just work harder," Yinon Levi said.

"Biden thinks we will be scared, but these sanctions do the opposite. They reaffirm our commitment. We are making Israel safer by living here," he said.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Pearson Community Center in Las Vegas, Feb. 4, 2024.
President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Pearson Community Center in Las Vegas, Feb. 4, 2024.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Levis reject the notion that settlers are the cause of the problem.

Sapir showed ABC News their farm, where they have a herd of sheep they send out to graze on the hills around their settlement "in order to claim this territory," she said.

When asked if they could see why some Palestinians feel vulnerable after telling ABC News in their houses about violence against them, Sapir Levi said, "No. There will only be peace when they stop attacking us."

The Levis said they don't see a power imbalance in the region following Hamas' surprise terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel's swift military response in Gaza.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 27,350 people have been killed, and 66,600 others have been wounded by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, according to Gaza's Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health.

In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed and 6,900 others have been injured by Hamas and other Palestinian militants since Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials.

Since Oct. 7, more than 380 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The U.N. has documented 500 violent incidents.

The Levis said these are terrorists being killed by security forces.

When told about the story of 17-year-old Louisiana native Tawfic Abdel Jawwad, who was killed driving his dad's truck last month, Yinon Levi struck a different tone. What would he do if this had been his family member?

"I'm not saying what happened because I don't know this story, but it's clear that if I were in his place, I would be angry. I can't tell you what I would do, but obviously there is anger at such a thing. But that is not the reality here," Yinon Levi said.

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