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37 Holocaust. Jews in the Diaspora felt that as stateless people they were not active players in their own history. The sense was that they were hapless victims of persecution from generation to generation—from inquisitions to pogroms and eventually the Holocaust. The Holocaust underlined the need for a Jewish homeland as a place where Jews could build their own society and also be active players in carving out their own destiny. The religious messianism seen in the extremist Jewish camp did not come out of nowhere. It emerged from the political messianism characteristic of Israel’s founders, argues historian Idit Zertal. The very memory of the Holocaust was incorporated to shape the interpretation of the new conflict on the ground with the Arabs and to be used as a justification of the use of force, she says. After 1967, especially among the religious, there was a sense of divine intervention in Israel’s swift military victory that brought parts of biblical Israel under Israeli control. The ideology became one where any thoughts of territorial concession were linked with annihilation of the Jews. In the weeks and months preceding Rabin’s assassination, he was depicted in posters by the radical right as an S.S. officer in uniform. Revenge—specifically revenge for the Holocaust—is a cornerstone of Kach ideology; the slogan of Kahane’s original organization, the Jewish Defense League, was “Never Again.” Kahane preached the importance of physical revenge for humiliations and attacks by nonJews. His message that a Holocaust-like disaster is looming and action and violence are needed to prevent it is still influential. In the 2005 PBS Frontline film on Jewish extremists, Israel’s Next War, Yarden Morag, imprisoned for planning to blow up a trailer outside of a Palestinian girls’ school, explained how acts of violence in the name of revenge can spiral. “If they shot a few rounds at you, you go to their village and shoot a few more. These were simple reactions. If they damaged an orchard, you damaged ten. Two eyes for an eye, teeth for a tooth. And then there was an escalation to where I crossed all the red lines. From a desire to scare the Arabs off, you get to attempted murder. All the way, big-time,” Morag said. Israel’s former national police chief Assaf Cheffetz said investigating Jewish extremists was a different type of process than investigating violent criminals because their motivations were based on ideology, not on material gain or the thrill of committing an illegal act. Still, he noted that they, like criminals and even police officers themselves, can become desensitized to violence and in some cases may grow to “enjoy” it. Group dynamics also play a role, he said. “When you find a group that identifies with violence, then exerting violence becomes part of belonging to that group…the group dynamic is very important, especially when involved in a part of society that is very isolated.”

“These are people who are prepared to kill for an ideal. They are the most dangerous people of all. Others don’t break laws because they don’t want to get caught, but these people don’t care, they are past the limits of what is normal or rational. They are idealists in the most extreme meaning of the word,” said Carmi Gillion, former director of Shin Bet. Hundreds of settler youths roamed the West Bank hillside chanting “Revenge! Revenge!” at the 2003 funeral of hilltop youth activist Netanel Ozeri. In a fascinating mirroring of the Palestinian streets, where Islamic fundamentalists hoist their war dead with their faces exposed, shouting for revenge, here, too, Ozeri’s body was placed on a cot and his entire face was left exposed. Usually in Jewish tradition a shroud covers the entire body, including the face. The idea is to remember the person as they were in life, not in death. But in this case, showing the face of the body was considered to be a more powerful call to revenge. Baruch Goldstein, once one of Kahane’s most favored students, was considered to be motivated in part by revenge for the spate of terror attacks that killed several friends and neighbors in the early 1990s. A doctor, Goldstein had been at the scene of many of the attacks, treating the wounded. Some close friends even died in his arms. Beyond the personal motivations for revenge, there was also the much broader trigger of the Oslo peace process. He believed that by launching an attack he would help thwart the process and the disaster that he thought would follow. Investigations following his attack found that he felt that the government had forsaken the mission of settling Judea and Samaria and that the army had ceased to protect the Jews living there.12 Goldstein strode into the Tomb of the Patriarchs and fired his Uzi on Palestinian worshippers as they were bent over in prayer, killing 29 people before he was beaten to death. He was convinced he was acting as a savior of the Jewish people. He viewed his sacrifice as nothing short of saving the Jewish people from another Holocaust, a holocaust called the Oslo Accords.13 Elyakim Ha'Etzni, a leading ideologue of the settler movement who was a neighbor of Goldstein, describes him as a fanatic and a stray. “I was scared of him, his passion was something frightening. But I never imagined he would do something like this,” he said. His act, savage as it was, could be seen as successful by extremist Jews. Israeli opinion began to turn against the Oslo Accords when, in response to Goldstein’s massacre, the Palestinian extremist Islamic camp decided to unleash a series of revenge attacks in the form of suicide bombings of Israeli civilian targets. Until Goldstein opened fire in the Tomb of the Patriarchs,


Based on author’s interview with Akiva Eldar (columnist, Haaretz), March 2007. Based on author’s interview with Daniel Robinson (researcher of Israeli social history), February 2007. 13