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Inside right-wing Israeli attacks on Gaza aid convoys, who's behind them, and who's suffering from them

Far-right Israeli settlers block aid trucks
Far-right Israeli settlers block Gaza aid trucks 06:13

Jerusalem — For months, images of Jewish settlers and right-wing extremists attacking aid convoys destined for Gaza have drawn global outrage. Widely circulated on social media, photos and videos have shown far-right Israeli activists blocking aid trucks from entering crossings into the war-torn Palestinian territory, looting the vans and throwing aid to the ground.

The attacks have drawn the ire of the White House, with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan telling reporters last month it was "a total outrage that there are people who are attacking and looting these convoys coming from Jordan and going to Gaza to deliver humanitarian assistance." 

"We are looking at the tools that we have to respond to this," Sullivan said. "We are also raising our concerns at the highest level of the Israeli government and it's something that we make no bones about — this is completely and utterly unacceptable behavior."

It's not just the aid that's been attacked. There's also been physical violence.

In video shared with CBS News, Palestinian truck driver Mohsen Shaheen can be seen lying bloodied on the ground next to his vehicle. He says he was beaten by a group of settlers who had wrongly assumed he was hauling aid to Gaza.

"The window to my truck was open and a settler came and sprayed me with pepper spray," Shaheen told CBS News. "Then there was a rock or iron bar smashing the other window. It hit me in the face. Blood was everywhere… I thought I was going to die."  

U.S. sanctions Israeli settlers for attacks on Palestinians 05:39

Shaheen said Israeli soldiers at the scene did little to assist him.

Last month, Sapir Sluzker Amran, an Israeli peace activist who witnessed an attack by right-wing activists on an aid truck in the occupied West Bank, told CBS News a similar story.

Amran said one member of the far-right group slapped her as she tried to stop the attack on the aid trucks, and that Israel Defense Forces personnel at the scene refused to help her.

Amran also said the right-wing extremists were often tipped off about humanitarian aid convoys by Israeli military and police officials.

"They know, so they have information beforehand about when the trucks are coming, and they publish it on social media and they publish it on their groups, WhatsApp groups, and asking people to join and block or damage the aid," she said.

Right-wing Israeli protesters ambushed trucks carrying food supplies that were headed into Gaza on Monday in the latest disruption to humanitarian relief for the war-torn Palestinian territory.  Adv. Sapir Sluzker Amran, Co- director of Breaking Walls movment

CBS News gained access to a WhatsApp group used by one such group called "we won't forget."

It cataloged in detail how many trucks would be in a convoy, what routes they would travel on, and the crossings they moved through on any given day.

In one message, a member of the chat appeared to explain where the information was coming from. "Methods for Blocking Acts: We get preliminary info from border crossing workers, police and soldiers," the WhatsApp message read.

CBS News reached out to Israel's security forces for comment on the allegations that some members have tipped off far-right groups who've blocked aid, or not intervened when convoys were attacked. The Israeli military referred CBS News to Israeli police authorities, who said in a statement that, "to the best of its knowledge," the claims were "baseless" and "unfounded rumors."

Another message made reference to Bezalel Smotrich, Israel's ultranationalist Finance Minister.

"For those who ask, the following information came from Minister Smotrich who wrote to the Prime Minister and asked him how come he approved aid to Gaza," the text read.

Israel's Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting at the parliament, known as the Knesset, in Jerusalem, March 20, 2023. GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP/Getty

Smotrich, an influential figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, used his position to block a U.S.-funded flour shipment to Gaza in February, after making an unfounded claim that the flour, which was being transferred to the United Nations, would go to Hamas.

CBS News sought comment from Smotrich on the claims that he has assisted the extremist groups. The query was met with a firm denial by the finance minister's office. 

Withholding humanitarian aid from Gaza is not an entirely fringe view in Israel. A March poll from Shiluv I2R, a leading Israeli survey and research firm, found 44% of Israelis believe the country "should make aid conditional on a hostage release deal."

22% said no aid should be provided until the war was over.

Yosef de Bresser is among those who don't want aid to get into Gaza. A key organizer behind the blockade movement, he told CBS News he'd been detained 12 times for obstructing supplies to Gaza but, so far, had yet to be charged.

"In every war there is someone who loses and someone who wins," he said when asked why he thought it was right to block humanitarian assistance for Gazans. "Either the people in Gaza will die, either the people in Israel will die... It's black and white." 

Hamas responds to cease-fire proposal 01:45

After nearly nine months of devastating violence and destruction, aid agencies say the amount of aid reaching desperate Palestinians in Gaza is still woefully insufficient.

While the settlers and activist groups' attempts to block those supplies only have a limited impact, aid agencies say the real obstruction comes from the Israeli government.

Multiple agencies say Israel routinely and arbitrarily prevents legitimate humanitarian goods from entering Gaza through a highly complicated inspection and approval process and without clear or consistent instructions.

The U.N. says 1.1 million people — nearly half the population in Gaza — now face catastrophic levels of hunger, and that the territory is on the brink of famine.

Shaheen Mohsen says he hasn't been able to work since he was attacked, and he doesn't believe he'll receive any justice.

"I don't expect justice. The whole world sees that there is no justice," he said. 

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