Fighting Jewish Terrorism: A Call For Rabbinic Reinforcements

"The Disengagement from Gaza is good for security." (Ynet)

Religious-Zionist society is in disarray. After years of political neglect, rampant corruption and state persecution, our sector has all but dissolved into competing cults and agendas, a sorry state for any community, but an increasingly dangerous one for a sector wielding so much power and influence within Israel’s security apparatus. Over the past few months, we’ve borne witness to escalating violence perpetrated by those identifying with us, and it appears that, at least for now, Israeli security cannot, or will not, intervene politically in order to mitigate the long-term damage of such actions. What’s driving this new wave of vigilantism, and how can we stop it?

A few weeks ago, I spent a Shabbos at old friends in an embattled settlement in the West Bank. During one of the meals, I broached the topic of the recent attack in nearby Turmus-Aya, an affluent village with many Palestinians who hold American citizenship. I was met with a despaired, fatalistic and irreverent attitude that surprised me and prompted me to delve further into the sociological and political aspects of what is now engulfing our communities. Upon asserting that vigilantism cannot be justified, my hosts responded with incredulity and disdain for my “innocent” view of the politics surrounding Palestinian terrorism. They claimed that violence is the only language that their enemies speak, and that only by attacking innocent villagers can the Jews create the “intimidation” required in order to safeguard their security interests. At once, they feel abandoned by the Israeli state while also increasingly empowered by their legitimized position in the Israeli public sphere thanks to Ben Gvir’s party and media outlets such as Channel 14. In a way, they’ve become distrusting of traditional authority and even paranoid of Israeli security and the “ulterior motives” that they ascribe to the leaders of Shinbet and the IDF.

In late June, days after the pogrom in Turmus-Aya, right-wing MK Orit Strook criticized the joint condemnation from the IDF Chief of Staff, Head of Shinbet, and Head of Police, of the violence, and perniciously called them the “Wagner Group,” alluding to the Russian paramilitary force responsible for the attempted coup against President Putin. She was immediately reprimanded and retracted her controversial statement, but not before reiterating her claim that the top security personnel had overstepped their authority and circumvented the government. In a sense, she exposed what many settlers feel towards Israeli security: a sense of mistrust, political indignation and strategic condescension.

Historically, the settlers have been let down by the “professional” actions undertaken by ranking members of the security establishment. From Rabin’s illicit diplomatic relations with Palestinian terrorists, to the infamous letter signed by top brass in support of the ill-fated Disengagement, settlers have come to fear the military and question their professional neutrality. More generally, as a result of the current internal political turmoil and the bifurcation of Israeli society into two warring camps, the intense politicization of the public sphere has led to widespread instability and suspicion of even the more banal professional decisions made by any government actor. The slow, gradual degradation of the settlers’ regard for Israeli security cannot be solely blamed on base political manipulations, however the internal political corruption of the settler establishment cannot be discounted.

One of the more worrisome trends in recent years is the gradual establishment of hilltop youth as a legitimate political force. Many parliamentary advisors, and even some MKs, are former hilltop youths themselves who maintain contact with violent agents and actively support their activities. Another, equally worrying trend is the increasing autonomy afforded to the regional authorities (or “councils”) by the weakened West Bank administrative framework (PA, COGAT and the Civil Authority). Recently, settler MK Smotrich has set his sights on the Civil Authority, demanding authority to override many of the administrative bureaucracy necessary for obtaining building permits which would effectively neutralize professional IDF input on sensitive issues such as zoning and settlement expansion.

This construction-anarchism complex, supported by corrupt, semi-private building contractors such as the monopolistic “Amnah,” headed by ex-terror convict Zeev Hever (“Zambish”), and the influential, Beit-El based media conglomerate “Arutz Sheva” (originally a pirate radio station broadcast from a ship in international waters), has restricted the freedom of local leaders and enforced a collectivist, ideological uniformity that threatens all who dare dissent. Mostly, such intimidation is accomplished through internal pressures and religious indoctrination, but the ever-present threat of violence cannot be overlooked when assessing the situation. Many of the thugs involved do not actually hail from settler communities but rather opportunistically participate in the barbarism and portray themselves as freelancers, patrolling in defense of “national” interests, usually private shepherds and delinquent squatters.

A few months ago, such thugs were called (on Shabbos) to reinforce a new “position” that had been haphazardly established, without the approval of the adjacent settlement, provoking the ire of their Palestinian neighbors and destabilizing the tense relationship the settlement had maintained over the years with the locals. After having committing vandalism in the Palestinian village, and upon sensing the imminent arrival of the IDF and Shinbet, they retreated inside the settlement, prompting the IDF to restrict access to and from the settlement until arrests were made. Such collective measures were then, of course, decried by settler politicians as “collective punishment,” but little mention was made of the discomfort many of the settlers felt towards the unwanted attention such activities brought to their doorstep.

Many activists claim that the pogroms perpetrated by the mobs of vindictive individuals cannot be stopped, and that they should be seen as an appropriate expression of authentic rage, an instinctive outpouring of emotion following the murder of loved ones. However, from my observations, the anarchy that once defined such activities has long since been supplanted by the coordinated operation of efficient, professional organizations defined by cold, calculating malice and orchestrated in collaboration with established political institutions. Additionally, I do not accept the purported strategic value of unleashing mayhem and burning Palestinian property. However, I also don’t see the current scope of the arsons that are being committed seriously altering the course of Israeli-Palestinian relations. It looks bad and the acts are evidently morally atrocious, but are they more destructive to the peace process than the irresponsible, cancerous growth of officially sanctioned settlements? When the Palestinians look at the big picture do they care about a few hundred cars, or the permanent seizure of ancestral lands?

The menace of an impending security crisis is palpable. Terror attacks are up. Settlers are starting to worry about quotidian travel, running errands and meeting with friends at local restaurants. Huwara has become synonymous with danger and anxiety, and for those who must persevere and face the terror, the memory of recent attacks takes a toll. I cannot judge individuals for their inherent distrust of the Israeli government leading to their lenient attitudes towards the criminal actions of members of their community, however I cannot dismiss the complicity of the current leadership, including religious leaders, in the deteriorating situation. Their moralistic platitudes, their blind support of systemic corruption, and their unwillingness to acknowledge the futility of settlement expansion in the face of a collapsing PA does not strike me as completely innocent or weak-minded. The misinformation rampant in settler media channels, including in official communiqués from political leaders, makes it clear that something more sinister is at play.

The IDF and Shinbet have made it clear on multiple occasions that they see the PA police as a critical ally in our war on terror, but settler leadership continues to target the PA, equating it to enemies such as Hamas. On June 23, just days before Israel’s extensive campaign in Jenin, it was reported by Kan 11 that the head of Shinbet had informed high-ranking officials at the U.N. of Israel’s intentions to intervene in Jenin, after having exhausted all other options through PA channels. On account of the PA’s inability to maneuver effectively, Israel would need to act independently. Throughout the operation, the IDF insisted that they were coordinating with the PA, and upon finishing the operation, the PA police was promptly reintroduced into Jenin and began to reassert their authority over their political rivals. Apparently, Yossi Dagan, Shomron regional council chief, didn’t get the memo and insisted in an interview that took place during the operation that the IDF should “destroy the terrorist infrastructure of the PA!” How can the IDF dismantle an infrastructure that doesn’t exist?!

What we need is a new leadership. New rabbis, new politicians and new activists. We desperately need to rethink how we identify ourselves and we need to engage in community-wide discourse in order to successfully extricate ourselves from the dreck of our current state of affairs. Without the injection of a new leadership, either from non-settler communities or from religious communities abroad, I fear that we will be unable to fight the ravages of the fascism that threaten to consume our communities. We must begin to see reality as it is and not how we want it to be, and return to our deeply-held, historical tenets.

“.עם ישראל, בארץ ישראל, על פי תורת ישראל”

About the Author
Originally from Westchester, NY, Aryeh made Aliyah 7 years ago.
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