As an Israeli citizen, I am profoundly ashamed of the “price tag” crimes committed by Jewish hooligans and bigots primarily against Arabs over the green line.
I am also shocked by our collective failure to bring an end to these ongoing outrages. Despite our sophisticated anti-terror and intelligence capabilities, there have been virtually no arrests or convictions.
These acts can be sourced to 2005 when settlers resorted to violence in response to their pain and desperation when forcibly displaced from their homes in the course of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza.
What has since developed is horrifying: From vigilante reprisals for Arab acts of terror or vandalism, it has extended into retaliation for government demolitions and evacuation of illegal structures or unauthorized outposts. The perpetrators and their supporters now also direct their ire against the IDF, and soldiers and police have been injured and military installations damaged in confrontations.
The indiscriminate acts of violence and desecration are outright hate crimes. The violence is directed principally at Moslems but also extended to Christians. It includes thuggish violence against individuals, burning and desecration of mosques and churches, stone throwing, uprooting and burning trees and fields, and incursions into Palestinian villages.
Such abhorrent crimes are not the acts of Jewish nationalists. The thugs who commit these offences have more in common with the Cossacks at the time of the pogroms than with patriotic Israelis. The masks they frequently wear are reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. They are not even conscious that they are behaving like anti-Semites who launched pogroms against their Diaspora forefathers. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon describes their acts as “terrorism”.
Such acts are a boon to Arab propagandists looking for newsworthy stories to exaggerate and publicize. Frequently, Arabs in conjunction with anti-Israeli “human rights” bodies delight in concocting fantasies or gross embellishments of such acts. There have been documented cases of Palestinians cutting down trees and fabricating attacks against themselves in order to accuse settlers of criminal activity.
Fortunately, to date, there have been no fatalities. But if the scoundrels continue on their course, we will undoubtedly face greater disasters in the future. Last month’s confrontation between settlers of the Eish Kodesh outpost and Palestinians from the neighboring village of Kusra was a wake-up call. In the wake of a government decision to demolish olive trees planted in the outpost without authorization, Palestinians claimed that settlers intended to commit a “price tag” act against them. The settlers were ambushed and severely beaten. A bloody lynch was only narrowly averted due to IDF and police intervention who rejected the settlers’ claim that they were innocently hiking in the area.
Let there be no misunderstanding: the overwhelming majority of settlers are law-abiding citizens. They are fully aware that these thugs discredit them and undermine their standing in the broader Israeli community.
Moreover, even allowing for the fact that only a very tiny number of settlers, a fringe group, are actually engaged in this shocking behavior, the settlement movement must assume collective responsibility for spawning such youngsters devoid of humanity and decency.
The reality is that whilst their leaders, rabbis and spokesmen condemn these crimes, many do so without emotional intensity or outrage. More importantly, there are numerous settlers who are aware of these crimes, and yet unwilling to intervene to prevent them or report them to the authorities.
The settlement movement leadership must urgently overcome any vestiges of ambivalence towards these hate-crimes and campaign to expunge these deviants from their midst. If such hateful activity continues to flourish unchecked, the numbers engaged will multiply.
That such thuggish behavior is allegedly perpetrated primarily by religious nationalist radicals in isolated settlements or outposts, represents additional cause for concern. It must be recognized that some nationalist rabbis – including many opposed to lawlessness – have failed to create the environment which would neutralize xenophobic trends.
On the contrary, sadly, many rabbis lacking worldliness fail to appreciate the impact of remarks which bracket all Arabs with Amalek or accuse government leaders of breaching Halacha by opposing settlement growth or dismantling unauthorized outposts. Such attitudes encourage impressionable youngsters to believe that the Torah approves their right to fight for what they consider to be the will of the Almighty and grants them license to suspend the law of the land and engage in violence.
It is insufficient for rabbis to merely condemn such behavior. They must impress upon their students that the Torah enjoins us to accept the laws of the land and that vigilante justice and violence is no less a breach of Halacha than failure to observe Shabbat or Kashrut. They should educate them about the humanitarian elements of the Torah providing for minorities and respecting all human beings.
Families living in isolated settlements surrounded by animosity need to take especial care to ensure that their children are not poisoned by the hatred surrounding them. The late Dr. Yosef Burg, one of the great leaders of the religious Zionist movement, once shared with me his gnawing concern about youngsters living in settlements, surrounded by Arab masses radiating hatred. He prophetically predicted that this virulent hatred could have a catastrophic impact on those living in such an environment.
These are trying times. A determined move must be made to use every social and physical sanction against these “price tag” deviants until they understand that aside from facing major criminal sanctions from law enforcement authorities, their communities will shun and effectively excommunicate them unless they cease these activities.
Finally, the “price tag” crimes must be understood in the context of the extremist fringes that plague this land. Ultimately, the seeds of fanaticism and extremism originate from the visceral anger directed by Jews against one another.
For example, the religious MK purporting to read the Almighty’s mind, proclaiming that Sharon’s eight-year coma was divine punishment for displacing settlements. Or worse, the head of the Hebron community – a known extremist – on the eve of Sharon’s death, referring to him as a “monster”, said “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry. Laugh because he’s leaving us or cry because his ‘this world’ suffering is coming to an end.” He then warned Prime Minister Netanyahu that if he becomes “contaminated” by Secretary of State Kerry, “Sharon’s miserable fate will almost look good to you.”
His article was published by Arutz Sheva which caters for settlers, the New York Jewish Press an Orthodox weekly and, to my regret, as a blog in the Jerusalem Post. That such an inflammatory article was published in any Jewish media is a damning reflection on our declining standards of morality and propriety. But even worse, there was hardly a murmur in response, aside from the left joyfully depicting such vile outbursts as symptomatic of settler fanaticism.
The idealistic religious Zionist pioneers who built the early settlements and kibbutzim would never have visualized any of their descendants becoming transformed into such anti-intellectual, vicious amoral brutes. And if “religious” youngsters can behave in this manner, what should we expect from the next generation?
There is much at stake far beyond the settlements. This ongoing vigilante violence could widen the chasm between religious and non-religious Israelis and shake the very moral foundation of the nation.
At this difficult time, we should remind ourselves of Menahem Begin’s memorable words during the withdrawal from Yamit: “Messianism is what brought about the destruction of Jerusalem from within more than by the Romans from without.”
The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom