38 the Muslim religious figures leading Hamas had debated whether or not it was permissible to use suicide bombers on Israeli civilian targets. Goldstein’s act ended the debate. Forty days after the attack, following the final day of Muslim mourning for the dead, a Hamas suicide bomber exploded himself on an Israeli bus, killing seven. Goldstein unleashed a genie of violence that led not only to suicide bombings but laid the groundwork for more political violence and incitement, part of a ladder of escalation that led to the assassination of Rabin, according to Yizhar Beer, who heads Keshev, an Israeli NGO that monitors extremist Jewish movements. The Hebron massacre is often cast as the act of a lone madman. But as the late Ehud Sprinzak, a leading expert on Jewish violence, noted, Goldstein’s association with the radical Kach movement alters that perception. He wrote, “It acquires, instead, a political meaning; it becomes a collective act by proxy, a colossal demonstration of political violence expressing a crisis of an entire fundamentalist milieu.” Zertal, who has studied and written about the radical right movement in depth, said the same is true of Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir. “By saying that Yigal Amir is just a bad seed is a way to anesthetize disaster.” “The power of the pistol and political violence is a dramatic veto power,” said Beer, noting how the actions of fundamentalists on both sides of the conflict increase along with the political activity of their leaders during times they try to push forward a peace agenda. Rabbi Yoel Ben-Nun, who was harassed by his fellow settlers for speaking out against their part in the atmosphere of incitement in the months leading up to Rabin’s assassination, said Israelis have been taught that violence pays. “In Israeli society there is a feeling that if you don’t use violence, you lose. And this encourages people.” The principle concern among policy makers, religious leaders and activists is the question of additional withdrawals from the West Bank. The working assumption is that, if the country thought leaving Gaza was a challenge, leaving the West Bank will precipitate an entirely different level of confrontation, both because the settler movement learned that civic disobedience failed in Gaza and because the West Bank is considered holier ground. (Gaza was not considered by many to be part of the biblical Land of Israel, whereas Judea and Samaria certainly were.) Nadav Shragai, a journalist for the daily Haaretz who covers the settler movement and has written a book on the Temple Mount Faithful, said a very different reaction can be expected to any withdrawals from the West Bank. The question is not one of whether there will be violence, but what kind of violence. The range of possibilities extends from settlers attacking soldiers to even a sort of Masada-style communal suicide.
For Ben-Gvir, the radical activist, the answer will lie with the youth themselves. They understand the lessons of Gaza, he said, as they demonstrated in Amona. He has extensive contact with them as he lectures and teaches groups of them. “The message is that they need to take destiny into their own hands, especially now the leadership is in crisis,” he said. He describes today’s settler youth as “even” more radical than himself, with a deeper ideology than his peers. “They don’t believe in state institutions, they are less naive than we are perhaps.” During the Gaza demonstrations, for example, a large group of teenage girls were arrested. Most refused to cooperate with officials, saying they did not acknowledge the court’s sovereignty. Such talk, including Ben Gvir’s call to action to take advantage of a situation of weak settler leadership, is exactly what concerns the security establishment.
RECRUITING AND LOGISTICAL SUPPORT The pool of religious extremist actors tends to come from the small, more isolated West Bank settlement communities. There is no need to actively recruit as most players come from within. They come to know each other through family ties, yeshivas, synagogues, or from within the network of their tightly-knit communities. In their small world they are suspicious of outsiders. Knowing they are being monitored by Shin Bet makes them even more wary. In a small country like Israel, it is easy to check out newcomers and see if they are potentially dangerous, i.e., connected to Shin Bet. One “test” given is to discuss a false secret mission with the newcomer present. If arrests or questioning follow soon after they can know the newcomer was likely an informant.14 “The Shin Bet tries to watch them, but as in every inbred society, it is difficult to put agents on the inside. Israel is a small society, if someone new approaches you can find out about him,” said Yosef Lapid, a former justice minister. Extremists’ caution was elevated after the Rabin assassination, when it was exposed that a leading far-right student activist and friend of Yigal Amir was actually working as a mole for Shin Bet. There have been repeated attempts by Shin Bet to infiltrate such groups with agents who themselves have a religious background but it is difficult to get them to the inner circles of leadership. Furthermore, those who do not know the community’s “internal codes” are easily exposed. The groups usually rise organically from within the yeshivas and synagogues. Ben Gvir said he was brought into the Kach group after attending right wing rallies. He started to get to know
Hillel Cohen (historian, Hebrew University of Jerusalem) interviewed by author (February 2007).
Published on Jul 23, 2010
Published on Jul 23, 2010