Beliefs Culture Politics

Israel’s enemy within: Young militant settlers

An Israeli soldier walks past a house that had been torched in a suspected attack by Jewish extremists killing an 18-month-old Palestinian child, injuring a four-year-old brother and both their parents at Kafr Duma village near the West Bank city of Nablus July 31, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-JEWISH-EXTREMISTS, originally transmitted on August 24, 2015.
An Israeli soldier walks past a house that had been torched in a suspected attack by Jewish extremists killing an 18-month-old Palestinian child, injuring a four-year-old brother and both their parents at Kafr Duma village near the West Bank city of Nablus July 31, 2015.  Photo courtesy REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini

An Israeli soldier walks past a house that had been torched in a suspected attack by Jewish extremists killing an 18-month-old Palestinian child, injuring a four-year-old brother and both their parents at Kafr Duma village near the West Bank city of Nablus July 31, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-JEWISH-EXTREMISTS, originally transmitted on August 24, 2015.

AHIYA, West Bank — Elhanan Shmidov views this illegal Jewish outpost, within earshot of the drumming ceremonies of nearby Palestinian villages, as the epitome of “self-sacrifice,” where “good Jews” like him carry out the holy mission of populating this contested land.

Shmidov, like many of his neighbors, said residents must defend their place in communities like his throughout “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical name referring to land that was once the domain of the ancient Jewish kingdom. He takes no responsibility for the Jewish extremists — whom he calls “wild weeds” within the pro-settler community — who carry out violence against Palestinians.

The increasingly radical Jewish militants who target Palestinians are the latest front in Israel’s struggle against terrorism. Israeli security authorities estimate hundreds belong to the extremist groups, but only about 100 have been involved in the violent attacks.


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A July 31 arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists in the Palestinian village of Duma left a toddler and his father dead and sparked nationwide soul-searching. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the act of “Jewish terrorism” and launched a crackdown that included the arrest of a number of high-profile, ultra-nationalist activists.

Many of the extremists are associated with the so-called “price tag” movement, which vows to exact a “price” by attacking Palestinian properties or people whenever Israel attempts to curb Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The origins for the movement date back 10 years, when large-scale Israeli evacuations of settlements from Gaza were perceived as a violation of both Jewish law and the peoples’ prospects for redemption.

Palestinians and the Israeli settlers have disputed the ownership of the West Bank for four decades. Some settlers, so avid in their claims to the land, have defied the Israeli government’s wishes by living in the contested zones.

Leaders among the settlers dismiss claims of terrorism by Jewish extremists as either unsubstantiated or overblown by what they call the “leftist” Israeli press. Instead, they fume about the government’s failure to keep them safe from Palestinian attacks.

“In Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, in all of Israel’s cities, there are tons of Arabs, walking around normally … We’re the ones who are afraid!” Shmidov said.

The settlement groups organize themselves through underground networks and are often made up of members who are social outcasts or recent immigrants, said Shlomo Fischer, an expert on Jewish extremism. They include both militant and non-militant members who share a conviction that only once the land of Israel — including the West Bank — gets rid of non-Jewish elements will the nation be able to usher in an era of a “true Jewish state,” according to right-wing activists’ blogs.

Unlike previous generations, the more extreme members of the group don’t look to local leaders for guidance in carrying out attacks. Instead, they only respect extremist interpretations of religious texts and act on their own accord, Fischer said.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a lawyer who represents “price tag” and other ultra-nationalist activists in court says that while they face persecution by a state which fails to recognize its lofty goals, they are fighting back.

“The government is trying to hurt us, but when you have faith, it’s a different story, nothing deters you.”


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One of the right-wing activists, Meir Ettinger, the grandson of the famed ultra-nationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane, was recently arrested and placed under administrative detention — a controversial policy that denies the right to a trial or knowing the evidence that led to the charges.

Ettinger, 24, wrote on his blog that rather than prosecute “Arab terrorists,” Israeli police busy themselves with groups like the “hilltop youth,” young activist settlers that camp on hilltops in the West Bank, and “Lahava,” a youth organization that seeks to prevent intermingling between Arabs and Jews.

According to the Shin Bet — Israel’s security agency — members of Ettinger’s “price tag” offshoot movement called “the revolt” meet at night at different locations, share information on how to get Molotov cocktails and remain silent during police investigations, as well as plot schemes for creating anarchy and overthrowing the Israeli government in favor of a “Jewish kingdom.”

(Shira Rubin writes for USA Today.)

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Shira Rubin

12 Comments

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  • As I have written many times, Israel is a sovereign state, but not meant only for the Jewish people. The Palestinians should be able to live side by side equally with the Israelis as it states in Leviticus 19:34. This is part of the Torah which the new zealots are supposed to take seriously!
    If it can be done in other countries, it can be done in Israel.
    The main fear of the Jews is fear of intermarriage which would destroy Judaism. This need not happen if the Jews are firmly grounded in their faith. Yes, I know, it can still happen, but it can happen anyway here and there.
    Israel, show the world you are a real democracy!

  • Surprised?

    A society that does not discourage superstition and dogma in favor of curiosity, knowledge, the scientific theory, and honing of intellect inevitably ends up like this.

    There is very good reason why the Enlightenment and the subsequent suppression of the church spurred the biggest societal and intellectual revolution the world ever saw.

    There is equally good reason why societies that continue to cling on to religion, even the most temperate of religions such as Buddhism, are at best stagnant, but most usually mired in strife, conflict, oppression, and general misery of both body and mind.

  • Fundamental extremists and ideologues of all religions or ideologies are to blame for most of the world’s problems.

  • Your comment is somewhat confusing because Palestinians DO live as equals in Israel. All Israeli citizens of Israel, male and female, regardless of race or religion, have equal rights. You certainly aren’t suggesting that Israel treat non-citizens from neighboring nations as citizens are you?

  • Your comment is ignorant. There is literally nothing more stagnating and destructive to a society than the closed mindedness of Atheism. Look at Russia, China, North Korea, etc. It is always sadly ironic to see intolerant, hate mongering people blaming religions for being precisely what they themselves are.

  • The three largest genocides in history were perpetrated by atheists: Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. Pop culture atheists would do well to learn a bit more of the history of their faith.

  • False religions and man’s corrupt political systems, both of which endorse warfare, hate and prejudice, probably have contributed to the problems to a certain degree.

  • This is not Jewish. The rabbis developed a concept called pilkuah nefesh, saving lives, is the most important value in Judaism. Plus Jewish values have never included blind faith. Even God can be questioned.

    Atheists can be antisemites too. Voltaire and the Enlightenment were full of antisemitism.

  • Wrong. The largest genocides in history were perpetuated by religious believers.
    -The wholesale destruction of indigenous peoples in all European colonies
    -The Taiping Rebellion killed more people than World War 1
    -Every European war from 1000 AD to the 1801
    -Hitler ring a bell?
    -The list continues to go on as religious based barbarism has become the greatest threat of conflict in the world. Surpassing disputes between nations over territory.

    The whole “atheists are evil” cliche is built upon willful ignorance of history. No matter how many times it is corrected, it gets repeated. Lying to support one’s POV is a feature of Christian apologists.

    The only thing which keeps religious barbarism in check is secularism. Respect for all faiths, favoring none in an official fashion. Secularism is not atheism.

  • The easiest solution is to just get rid of the settlements as they did in Gaza.

    They are a failure for Israel, a political liability.

    They were an abortive attempt to conquer and consolidate conquered lands like European powers prior to the 20th Century. Such policies only worked by doing the unthinkable, genocide of the local population. Something Israel was never going to do.

  • Larry

    The people you are arguing with do not know any atheists. They may live in Kansas or somewhere in the confederacy. They learn about atheists from Fox news and Christian pastors. You will never change their minds.

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