The notion of a price to be paid for Jewish blood has deep roots in Jewish underground movements. It can be traced to, among other milestones, March 1946, when two Irgun fighters, who had been captured in a raid on a British base in Palestine, were sentenced to death. Menachem Begin, as depicted in Daniel Gordis’s biography of the late prime minister, told the British: “Do not hang the captured soldiers. If you do, we shall answer gallows with gallows.”
With five British officers seized and in Irgun custody, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
The Jewish terror cells in the West Bank have tried to depict themselves similarly — as the vigilante executors of true justice in the untamed territory. Amiram Ben-Uliel, whose name was finally released with his indictment Sunday, allegedly told the Shin Bet that he was driven to randomly kill innocent Palestinians out of a sense of revenge; that he saw the murders in the village of Duma as just retribution for the killing of Malachy Rosenfeld four weeks prior.
This is nonsense. The murder of Rosenfeld may have been a trigger, but, as the investigation clearly shows, the brutal logic of murder and arson and the defiling of non-Jewish holy places is, rather, part of a larger goal: to drive Arabs and other non-Jews from the Land of Israel and establish a halachic Jewish kingdom.
The Shin Bet, which, in a disturbingly lenient reading of the ticking-bomb defense, reportedly used methods in its investigation that amass to torture — [as outlined by the High Court of Justice in 1999], detailed its findings in a ten-page memo sent out to reporters. Under the subhead “The Ideology of the Revolt,” the internal security agency stated that, beginning in 2013 “a new, anti-Zionist ideology” rose to prominence among the hilltop settlers. Their goals: to anoint a king; to “immediately burn” all traces of idolatry from the land; and, among other things, to drive all gentiles from the land.
Some of the several dozen suspects detained by the Shin Bet allegedly told their interrogators that, in the future monarchy of Judea, all gentiles, “men, women, and children,” who do not comply with the expulsion order, will have, as in the book of Joshua, “placed their blood on their heads” and forfeited their lives.
This is apparently their ideology, and outrageous though it may sound, they are committed to it. Ben-Uliel’s willingness, after his accomplice failed to show up, to allegedly enter a Palestinian village alone at night, presumably unarmed beyond the primitive instruments of murder, is evidence of his willingness to risk his life for his ideology.
Of late, it has become fashionable to say that this ideology was born on the hilltops, among the youth, around the fire. That those who still believe that a group of extreme rabbis play a large role are missing the point – namely, that these bands of youth are wild precisely because they have shirked all rabbinic oversight.
This may be true at the periphery. One imagines there are not many far-right rabbis discussing the ins and outs of anointing a new king or toppling the Zionist government of Israel. But the notion of expulsion of Arabs from the Land of Israel, a central step on the path to the imagined kingdom, is part of a certain rabbinic discourse.
Interestingly, as with the Shmita commandment to let the land lay fallow in Israel on the sabbatical year, these religious laws were not tempered by circumstance. They were not adjusted to modernity because, unlike matters of divorce and polygamy, they were not relevant during 2,000 years of Jewish life outside Israel and without Jewish sovereignty in Israel.
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the head of the Har Bracha hesder yeshiva, who was quoted in 2008 in B’sheva magazine [Hebrew] saying that “the policy of ‘price tag’ is most efficient,” is ideologically on the far right of the state-supporting camp. His institute of Torah study was ousted from the army’s hesder program in 2009 and reinstated in 2013. He wrote, shortly thereafter, that when the state was founded, the foremost rabbis of the time “discussed the status of the Arabs and the question of whether we are commanded to actively work towards their expulsion from our Land.”
His ruling, as is often the case, undulates. The bottom line is that the commandment applies only under certain conditions, including the ability to do so. When the nations are stronger than the Jews, either through military power or the power of international pressure, the obligation is partially lifted, he wrote. “Possibly today, in the wake of antagonistic world pressure against us, we fall under this category. Nevertheless,” he continued, “we are not exempt from trying to find ways to fulfill the commandments of God. And even when we are not able to expel our enemies, we are obligated to encourage their emigration through universally accepted methods.”
The suspected cells on the hilltops have taken this halachic stance and stripped it of those “universally accepted methods”. They have a horrifying ideology and an anarchic methodology. And the state and the rabbis ought not to mistake it as a form of vigilante justice or do-it-yourself deterrence. It is, as Education Minister Naftali Bennett noted recently on Army Radio, an ideology “whose goal is not even murder, but rather the undermining of the foundations of the state.”