32 end, we'll win. We'll inherit the land and expel the people who are in it.”6 To understand the violent Jewish extremist fringe in Israel, which is motivated both by religious insularity and a fear of Arabs, it is essential to understand the legacy of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. The highly charismatic Kahane, an American from New York, founded the extremist Jewish Defense League. Along with a group of loyal students, many of them from broken homes and for whom he was a father figure, he immigrated to Israel in 1971 and advocated the expulsion of Arabs from the country. He taught that Jews were superior to Arabs and that violence against them was not only condoned, it was encouraged. Although the political party he founded was banned by the Israeli Supreme Court and although he himself met a violent death—gunned down by an Egyptian in New York in 1990—his teachings and influence live on in small groups formed as offshoots from his original organization (which incidentally also had been listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization). Goldstein himself was once one of Kahane’s most favored pupils. Both Goldstein and Amir, Rabin’s assassin, would eventually act out of a desire to halt peace efforts with the Palestinians, which, if successful, would have led to the Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza. To relinquish any part of the Land of Israel, land they view as their biblical birthright from God, was seen as a disaster. The most recent generation of radicals has been dubbed by the Israeli media as the “hilltop youth.” The name comes from their decision to live on illegally seized isolated West Bank hilltops. Emboldened by the romantic, biblical feel of the landscape—olive groves, terraced hillsides, herding flocks of sheep, and tending to organic gardens—they consider themselves the authentic Jewish Zionists, following in the path both of their biblical ancestors and the Jewish settlers of the early 20th century who became the founding fathers of the state of Israel. June will mark forty years since Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War and almost as long since the first Jewish settlements were established in the West Bank. Many of the more radical youth have only known life in the West Bank and have been raised among the smaller, isolated, and more ideological communities. Their sense of detachment from the state and Israelis living inside the “green line” (Israel’s pre-1967 borders) has been exacerbated by their geographic isolation. This disconnect could prove to be a dangerous one as they increasingly see themselves as separate from Israeli society, including its rules and norms. Ahead of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, some Jewish children in the settlements played a
Ozeri interview for PBS documentary “Israel’s Next War.” Transcript available at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/israel/etc/script.html
game reflective of that hostile detachment. The game, which enacted the upcoming withdrawal, was called “cops versus Jews.” At a demonstration in 2006, some Jewish protestors in Hebron yelled out “the Israelis have come to kick out the Jews” as security forces removed settlers from illegal encampments. There are concerns that, fringe as the radicals may be, they are tapping into a feeling of general disillusionment with the state expressed by Israel’s national religious sector—especially following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and a small part of the northern West Bank. The questions become: will the support of the radicals grow as the government is increasingly dismissed across the political spectrum as weak and corrupt? And, if that support grows, will Israel be facing a group of radical activists intent on raising the stakes and escalating the violence? Or, despite all the tensions, will the violence remain at a relatively low intensity, kept in check by more mainstream elements of Israel’s national religious community? Crucial to answering those questions is how Israeli authorities and society itself choose to address the Jewish extremists—as pesky nuisances or as a threat equal to or greater than that of their Palestinian counterparts.
POLITICAL CONTEXT Today the political environment is as volatile as ever, shaped most prominently by the scars of last summer’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and the Second Intifada, which began in the fall of 2000 and continues to feed into long existing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Currently, the country as a whole is steeped in a deep, almost passive malaise, wondering how so many things could seemingly have gone wrong at once—the bitter aftermath of last summer’s war in Lebanon, a slew of government scandals, mayhem in Gaza, and the threat of Iran gaining a nuclear capability. There is a feeling that this is a country without a compass—a feeling that vindicates the extremist camp and its view that the state is not the true authority and that only a state based on Jewish law can be deemed legitimate. Some of the more extreme rabbis and their followers say the country’s present day woes are divine retribution from God for the withdrawal of troops and settlements from the Gaza Strip over the summer of 2005. This extends even to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s collapse into a coma just months after the withdrawal. For the religious extremists, most of whom are either settlers themselves or at least aligned with the settler movement, the Gaza withdrawal is the pivotal event shaping their most recent political reality and perceptions.
Published on Jul 23, 2010
Published on Jul 23, 2010