The UK has imposed sanctions against four Israeli nationals, saying they were “extremist settlers” who had violently attacked Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The measures impose strict financial and travel restrictions on the four individuals, who Britain said were involved in “egregious abuses of human rights”.
“Extremist Israeli settlers are threatening Palestinians, often at gunpoint, and forcing them off land that is rightfully theirs,” the UK foreign secretary, David Cameron, said.
“This behaviour is illegal and unacceptable. Israel must also take stronger action and put a stop to settler violence. Too often, we see commitments made and undertakings given, but not followed through.”
The Foreign Office said there had been unprecedented levels of violence by settlers in the West Bank over the past year.
Announcing the restrictions, the Foreign Office said Israel’s “failure to act” had led to “an environment of near total impunity for settler extremists”, with violence in the West Bank reaching record levels in 2023.
The US also imposed sanctions earlier this month on four Israeli men it accused of being involved in settler violence in the West Bank.
A Foreign Office statement said: “Two of the individuals designated today – Moshe Sharvit and Yinon Levy – have in recent months used physical aggression, threatened families at gunpoint, and destroyed property as part of a targeted and calculated effort to displace Palestinian communities.”
One illegal outpost, set up by the settler Zvi Bar Yosef, has been described by local Palestinian residents as a “source of systematic intimidation and violence”.
Sharvit has long been a source of complaints from Palestinians and human rights organisations.
The founder of an authorised outpost in the Jordan valley – known to locals as “Moshe’s Farm” – he has been accused of harassing Palestinian communities in the northern Jordan valley for years.
In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s surprise attack on southern Israel last October, Sharvit was accused of giving residents of the village of Ein Shibli an ultimatum to leave – a claim he denied to the Israeli daily Haaretz.
In previous incidents Sharvit has been accused of arriving at locations – sometimes armed – and attacking Palestinians and accompanying human rights activists, incidents documented on video.
For his part Yinon Levy, who established an outpost known as Meitarim farm in 2021, has been accused of playing a key role in the harassment of Palestinians in a number of communities in the south Hebron hills.
The four individuals have been the subject of complaints from a group of Israeli human rights organisations who have contacted various foreign governments and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, pushing for sanctions against the settlers.
The complaint to Borrell against Sharvit, seen by the Guardian, alleges: “Although we have filed countless letters and complaints to the Israeli military and police, Sharvit’s outpost has not been evacuated, and he violently expels, by himself or with the help of his accomplices, the Palestinian shepherd and farmers from lands where they have grazed and cultivated for generations.”
The sanctions come in the midst of what has been described as an unprecedented land grab by radical Jewish settlers.
Over the last year alone, 110,000 dunams – or 110 sq km (42 sq miles) – was effectively annexed by settlers on herding outposts using the kind of tactics the sanctioned settlers are accused of using.
In September, the UN warned about rising settler violence targeting Palestinian herders and driving them from their homes and land.
“A total of 1,105 people from 28 communities – about 12% of their population – have been displaced from their places of residence since 2022, citing settler violence and the prevention of access to grazing land by settlers as the primary reason,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) .
Commenting on the sanctions, the head of the settlers’ Yesha Council, Shlomo Naman, said: “Britain’s sanctions on four more residents, including a bereaved brother, and another resident who fought valiantly in Gaza at this time are insults that illustrate [what we are] waking up to.
“We call on [the Israeli prime minister] … to work with the United States and the United Kingdom to cancel these illusory sanctions.”
The sanctions were announced as Lord Cameron said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah in the south of Gaza.
The town was hit by airstrikes overnight, with Israel signalling its intention to carry out a ground offensive in the area.
Cameron said many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and said it is “impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people, there is nowhere for them to go”.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.
Speaking to reporters in East Kilbride, Scotland, Cameron said: “We are very concerned about what is happening in Rafah because, let’s be clear, the people there, many of whom have moved four, five, six times before getting there.
“It really, we think, is impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people, there is nowhere for them to go.
“They can’t go south into Egypt, they can’t go north and back to their homes because many have been destroyed.
“So we are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think seriously before it takes any further action.
“But above all, what we want is an immediate pause in the fighting. We want that pause to lead to a ceasefire, a sustainable ceasefire without a return to further fighting. That is what should happen now.”