France imposed sanctions on dozens of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, accusing them of committing acts of violence against Palestinians. It was one of the largest rounds of penalties levied against Israelis in the West Bank to date and follows Britain and U.S. restrictions imposed on four settlers this month.
France’s foreign ministry said it had banned 28 settlers from entering France or any of its territories, calling on Israel’s government to pursue legal action against them.
The French government said that the West Bank settlements were illegal under international law and incompatible with the creation of a Palestinian state, a position held by many nations but that Israel disputes. Israel’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to the French government’s statement, which did not name the individuals being placed under sanctions.
Since Oct. 7, when Hamas-led attacks on Israel ignited the war in Gaza, Jewish settlers have raised the tempo of unauthorized moves to expand their footprint on the West Bank, according to a report last month by Peace Now, an Israeli advocacy group.
Settlers have been fencing off open areas in the part of the West Bank that is under complete Israeli control in order to impede Palestinian herders, the report said, adding that several of the settlers outposts and roads are on privately owned Palestinian land in violation of Israeli law.
The settlers’ encroachments have heightened tensions in the West Bank, where violence and Israeli military raids were on the rise even before the war broke out. Palestinian militias have carried out shooting attacks against Israelis. Extremist Israeli settlers have rampaged through Palestinian villages, setting fire to property. The Israeli military has mounted frequent raids that have often turned deadly, arresting thousands.
Britain on Monday imposed sanctions involving financial and travel restrictions on four Israeli settlers in the West Bank in what it said was a “bid to tackle continued settler violence which threatens West Bank stability.”
On Feb. 1, the United States had imposed financial sanctions on four men it said were connected with “escalating violence against civilians in the West Bank.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli financial institutions had frozen the bank accounts of the four men placed or were in the process of doing so, and that there could be broader implications of the sanctions if they made international institutions leery that dealings with Israel could inadvertently involve them in sanctions evasion.
Canada has also said it would impose sanctions on Israeli settlers who incite violence in the West Bank.
The governing coalition that took power under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December 2022 is the most right-wing and religiously conservative government in the country’s history. It supports settlement expansion and includes extremist settlers who want to annex some or all of the West Bank. Israel has in the past retroactively authorized settlements it had previously seen as illegal.
Most countries view all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be a violation of international law. Israel captured the West Bank, as well as East Jerusalem and Gaza, from Jordan in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Palestinians see that land as part of a future independent state, made steadily less viable by settler expansion.
The settler population grew by 3 percent last year to stand at around 517,000, and it has grown by over 15 percent in the past five years, according to a report based on Israeli government figures issued by a pro-settler group, West Bank Population Stats.com. By comparison, there are roughly three million Palestinians living in the West Bank, which comprises Samaria and Judea.