(Beita) Several thousand Israelis demonstrated Monday under military protection in the northern West Bank to demand an expansion of Jewish settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.

In the crowd with blue and white flags stamped with the Star of David are several far-right ministers, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and his National Security colleague Itamar Ben Gvir.

“The answer to terrorism is to build” settlements, Ben Gvir tells protesters as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been dragged into a new spiral of deadly violence since the start of the year.

Hundreds of Jewish settlements of varying sizes have sprung up in the West Bank since Israel conquered the territory in 1967.

In February, the government announced that it would legalize nine such settlements in the West Bank in response to deadly Palestinian bombings in East Jerusalem.

Not enough in the eyes of some settlers and the Israeli far right, which is lobbying within the executive branch itself for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government to legalize many more outposts.

For them, the Palestinians who lived in the West Bank for centuries until the 1967 conquest have no right to this land of the ancient kingdom of Israel, and promised by God to his people, according to the Bible.

In the marching crowd, under the gaze of soldiers stationed in olive groves along the road, there are many families and many armed men.

The objective is the top of a rocky hill, the site of the settlement of Eviatar, where around fifty families lived until their evacuation in 2021 following a compromise with the previous government.

“If we want to develop a new settlement, then we will walk” to Eviatar, 74-year-old Rivka Katzir, a resident of the Elkana settlement, told AFP, for whom “settling here” is “the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“With God’s help, we will legalize dozens more” outposts, promises Mr. Ben-Gvir, himself a settler.

On Monday, villagers waved Palestinian flags and threw stones at the soldiers, who responded by firing tear gas at the protesters.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, 22 people were injured by rubber bullets and nearly 200 people were treated for inhaling tear gas.

At the same time, on the hill, hundreds of men recite Jewish prayers while children play on bouncy castles. Ice cream, cotton candy and balloons are offered to families who picnic.

For Rina Cohen, who came from Jerusalem with her husband, the event was “very successful”.

“We want to support people because […] their homes have been destroyed,” the 22-year-old told AFP, as a group of young people near her lifted a sheet of roofing and put it back in place. place on one of the prefabricated houses abandoned at the time of the evacuation.

Some 490,000 Israelis reside in settlements in the West Bank, where an estimated 2.9 million Palestinians live.

These figures include, on the Palestinian side, combatants and civilians, including minors, and on the Israeli side, mostly civilians, including minors, and three members of the Arab minority.

“Terrorism will not scare us,” said Ezri Tobe, 52, a resident of Yitzhar settlement.

“What carries us are thousands of years of history,” he says, and this protest is to tell the government “we are here to stay.”