When one man’s terrorist is another man’s criminal

The cruel murder in Duma of an eighteen-month-old infant, Ali Dawabshe, was the type of act that shake one’s soul, at least mine it did. As reprehensible as the act was, perhaps the most unnerving was that Jews, perhaps even neighbors (in a broader definition of the term) were responsible for the murder of an infant, and the attempted murder of the rest of the family. “Do not murder”, part of the Ten Commandments, is as short and blunt as it gets in the Torah and there are no qualifiers.  Jews are not supposed to murder.

Arabs, call it bigotry, are somehow judged by a different standard. The list of Jewish children murdered by Arabs in the last twenty years, deliberately and intentionally, could fill a several pages. Cases where petrol bombs have been thrown, by Arabs, at cars or houses, with the intent of killing Jews, are also, unfortunately, all too common. In July alone, there were about a hundred such incidents, down from about 130 in May. Just last night a car in  North Jerusalem was hit by a petrol bomb, seriously injuring a young  woman, Inbar Azrak.

When “Palestinians”   throw petrol bombs it is called, at least in Israel, “terrorism. Is the murder of Ali Dawabshe, also “terrorism”?  Till now I have refrained from calling the various “price tag” attacks “terrorism but rather have preferred the terms “arson”, or “vandalism” which seem more appropriate terms for car torchings and the dabbing of silly slogans on walls. Acts of individuals, criminals, to be clear, without organization or public backing, they barely merit the status of being called “terrorists”.  The latest murder challenges my definitions yet I still resist. They are still, in my mind, criminals: arsons, vandals and now, to my horror, murderers too.

I understand that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu calls them terrorists and Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon  does too.  It seems proper, even politically correct, to denounce violence done by Jews against Arabs in the same terms that we denounce violence by Arabs against Jews. Obviously many agree and not just in Israel. The US State Department had no hesitation in calling the Duma murder an act of terrorism and the headline in the Guardian had no problem in using the word “terror” (as in “Jewish terror”) despite long-held beliefs that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Evidently there is “nationalistic violence”, “resistance” and even occasionally even “terror” according to the mainline press. So why do I hold out?

Whether an act of violence is terrorism or not is more than a matter of semantics. Rather it is a call to use draconian measures, some established by the British from the pre-State period,  to suppress freedom of speech, forbid freedom of association and to detain without trial with little or no judicial review. To use such measures against the Arabs of Judea and Shomron is evil, an evil  that Israel commits to protect her citizens from immediate bodily harm (as in a “ticking bomb”) and barely justified. To use such measures against Israeli citizens opens a Pandora Box of evil that can only deepen resentment and may not even be effective.

And what about President Reuven Rivlin’s assertion that  “Israel hasn’t done enough to combat Jewish terrorism”? I am not certain that it is all that accurate. There is a special section of the Israel Security Agency, or the Shabak that deals solely with Jewish suspects engaged in acts of  violence against Arabs and others, there are special stricter guidelines by the Attorney General for Israeli residents of Judea and Shomron and the army, through the Central Command have not been shy in using administrative measures to expel Jewish residents from their homes to other areas.  According to the existing directives the police in Judea and Shomron  have much leeway in instigating investigations against Jewish residents and have even acted as provocateurs in order to entrap “settlers” in the act of “crimes”, posing as Arabs and entering disputed areas near the Jewish communities.

Yet despite the all the existing resources, the police and the ISA have been rather ineffective in catching perpetrators of price tag attacks. They claim that the settlers are a closed group making it difficult to infiltrate extremist groups with informers or that the extremists are trained to resist available interrogation tools available.  One explanation might be that the police are just incompetent in police investigation techniques, but if they barely manage with the “saws and hammers” of detective work why give them “power tools” of administrative detention and mild torture to extract confessions? The other explanation is that there have pre-conceived notions of who is responsible and therefore never get to the real suspects. Many of the “price-tag” events have been far from Judea and Shomron and the perpetrators, while sometimes associated with various “outposts” actually come from within the “green line”.

In short, the police see the “settlers” as some sort of enemy to be beaten and abused at their privilege. Children have been detained without trial, others beaten in police stations in Ariel or Shaar Binyamin. Orit Struk and  Yesha Human Rights detail most of the issues in their report from 2008 (אכיפת החוק ביהודה ושומרון מידע מוצק – עובדות ולא סיסמאות ). Recently a policeman was reprimanded from beating child demonstrators sitting on a floor of an apartment with his nightstick and causing them physical injury. His punishment? Six months public service and a promotion. No wonder that the settlers do not trust the police. A good part of the police’s failure stems from the lack of trust between the parties. And without trust, there can be little cooperation.

What is needed are not harsher measures, but rather a new approach that coopts the Jewish residents own desire to combat extremist and criminal elements within our (wider) communities. The wide spaces of Judea and Shomron have acted as a magnet to all sorts of marginal characters (on both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum) and those elements neither listen to Rabbis nor respect the law. For their part, the Civil Administration and the Police must stop viewing the Jewish residents as their enemies, dismiss  violent policemen and forge ties of respect with us.  Respect does not mean treating Jewish residents as being above the law, but rather equal to fellow Israelis and, believe it or not, to the Arab residents of Judea and Shomron.

Calling the criminals responsible for the murder of Ali Dawabshe terrorists solves little. Enlisting the Jewish residents to fight with the police, the ISA and the Army to uncover and uproot the extremists might have a better chance.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.