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Israel: Activists urge EU to sanction official who approved 7,000 illegal settlement units

Natalia Averbuch is accused of overseeing 'gross violations of international law and war crimes'
A picture shows a general view of the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, on 3 February (AFP/File photo)
The Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah, on 3 February 2023 (AFP/File photo)

Israeli opposition organisations and activists have called on the European Union to apply sanctions on a senior Israeli politician in charge of approving illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Natalia Averbuch is in charge of Israel’s Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council in the West Bank, an authority which approved the building of 7,287 housing units in settlements in February.

In an open letter, more than 700 activists on Wednesday called on Josep Borrell, the EU representative on foreign affairs, to sanction Averbuch for “committing gross violations of international law and war crimes".

'It is time for the EU to move from condemnations to sanctions'

- Eitay Mack, lawyer

“The settlement causes severe damage to the Palestinian population living in its vicinity - beyond the plundering of private pastures and agricultural lands of the Palestinian communities, each settlement creates new security arrangements for the settlers, and new restrictions on the freedom of movement and work of the Palestinians,” the letter added.

The illegal settlements approved in 2023 already outpace what was approved in 2022 and 2021 - 4,427 and 3,645 respectively.

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The letter added that Averbuch violates most of the international convention that the EU has signed up to, as well as the body's own rules on state or non-state actors “involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide.

“After countless condemnations by the EU and its members on previous settlement expansions and approvals, it is time for the EU to move from condemnations to sanctions,” Eitay Mack, the lawyer who published the open letter, told Middle East Eye.

“The governments of Israel know in advance that the European Union, or at least some of its members, will publish the regular condemnations but not take any step further, so there is no real deterrence,” Mack added. 

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Appeals of this type by Israeli human rights activists and organisations are important because, Mack said, they can “legitimise similar international campaigns that are being dismissed or ignored by Israel and the European Union” because of false accusations that they are antisemitic and constitute persecution against Israelis. 

“Supporting the human rights of Palestinians and international law isn't antisemitism,” added Mack.

The letter also urged the EU to sanction Averbuch with a travel ban and asset freezes.

Earlier this month the same group of activists called on the US government to impose sanctions on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to stop the country from "sliding into a full dictatorship".

"His actions in recent years are a clear example of corruption’s ability to corrode democracy, and clearly justify imposing sanctions on him according to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, enacted in December 2016," the authors wrote at the time. 

Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, and the judicial reforms in Israel could enable him to evade conviction or see his case dismissed. Since being indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has publicly railed against the justice system, calling it biased against him.

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