Observing the ugly saga of mob rule unfold in Hebron, I experienced disgust, shame and rage. Let me say at the outset that it was wrong to expel the residents of Bet Shalom before the courts had made a final ruling on its ownership. On the surface, the property seems to have been legitimately purchased, and any suggestion that Jews should be prohibited from owning property in the city of our Patriarchs is unacceptable. But even if Defence Minister Ehud Barak was wrong and the Supreme Court erred by not overruling the police order to evacuate the house, the resort to mob violence on the part of young hoodlums is an affront to the rule of law and cannot be tolerated.
The masked Jewish youngsters, who assaulted defenceless Arabs, attacked fellow Jews and defied the laws of the state, succeeded superbly in undermining the legitimacy of the settlement movement as a whole and strengthened public support for the forced evacuation of the disputed building. Their behaviour was a hilul Hashem [desecration of God’s name], inflicting shame and humiliation on the Jewish state. Global TV gleefully broadcasted the scenes of mayhem. These thugs must be brought to trial and punished with the full severity of the law.
Settlers are among the most devoted and patriotic citizens of the Jewish state, and their children command IDF fighting units out of proportion to their numbers. Unlike their most vocal detractors, many of whom regard the land as inconsequential plots of real estate, the settler community not only sees the land as sacred – as indeed it is – but inculcates its children with a profound commitment to the Jewish people.
This ugliness may have been partially avoided had the YESHA council, representing the overwhelming majority of decent law-abiding settlers, been more categorical in its condemnation of the lawbreakers. Regrettably, it failed to appreciate that standing aside while evil flourishes is perceived as complicity. And nobody should understand this better than we Jews.
In 1991, three years before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, I published a booklet entitled “Jewish Religious Extremism – A Threat to the Future of the Jewish People” which predicted that religious Zionist leaders would one day reap a bitter harvest unless they took drastic action to purge extremists from their ranks and began to concentrate on “the soul of the nation,” meaning an intensive education campaign towards enhancing the Jewish values of young people, rather than concentrating their energies, almost exclusively, to land settlement over the Green Line.
That was the period when the so called religious “underground” emerged and before the appearance of the demented assassin Yigal Amir. These fanatics were mesmerized by a handful of unscrupulous zealot rabbis and other religious extremists into believing that they were the Almighty’s representatives on earth and as such entitled to break the laws of the land in order to carry out His will.
I am also reminded of a discussion concerning settlements with the late Dr. Yosef Burg, the wise head of the National Religious Party. He confided to me that he was deeply concerned about the long-term psychological impact on young people living in isolated settlements surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Arabs who radiated such intense hatred against them that he feared it would ultimately impact on their own personalities. Alas, recent events demonstrate that Burg’s fears are now being realized with a very small but growing number of youngsters being transformed into violent delinquents. Again, it must be stressed that of the quarter of a million law abiding settlers, only a few hundred at the most are involved in these acts of thuggery and many of them do not even originate from settler families but represent the dregs of Israeli society.
I also accuse the “enlightened intelligentsia” who over the years have orchestrated demonization campaigns against the settlers, backed by most of the media and gleefully taken up by opportunistic politicians seeking to promote their own agenda. The Gaza disengagement and the shameful manner in which the settlers were uprooted from their homes will remain one of the ugliest stains on Israeli society. Many former Gush Katif farmers have been transformed into refugees in their own land and to this day, have yet to be settled and provided with a livelihood. Their anger and frustration was intensified when it was subsequently demonstrated that their sacrifice only served to strengthen the extremists in our midst in addition to empowering the terrorists who pose new threats to communities inside the Green Line.
But irrespective of the justice of the cause of the settlers, the provocations and occasional acts of police brutality they endured, nothing can remotely justify the shameful behavior of those behaving like barbarians. Many like Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir are infected by xenophobic nationalism rather than religion and serve as a magnet attracting drop-outs and louts from all over the country.
Alas, with the council of settlements only now beginning to aggressively dissociate itself from this scum, the extremists have de facto become the dominant voice of the settlers. We hear more from the small hard core of extremist rabbis – such as xenophobic Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe who agrees with Neturei Karte that Israel represents the “kingdom of evil” – than from mainstream religious Zionist rabbis who should have been at the forefront of calls to expel the law breakers from their midst.
When Daniella Weiss speaks to the media purportedly on behalf of settlers and says “we won’t control our youth” and justifies law breaking, violence and thuggery, she is undermining the entire settler movement, which will not survive if it alienates the entire nation. She provides ammunition for hate-mongering post-Zionists like Gideon Levy and Amira Haas of Haaretz, who both shamefully write columns extolling the virtues of “hating” settlers.
It is now high time for settlment leaders to stop muttering and speak out loud and clear that the laws of the land must be respected. They must embark on a campaign in concert with Zionist rabbis and lay leaders to dissociate themselves from the lawbreakers and co-operate with law enforcement forces to take whatever action is needed to neutralize the vigilante hoodlums. For the sake of the settler movement, their leaders must exorcise the rot from within their midst.
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