2188Settler vigilantism, terrorism, on the rise
- Jul 30 1:42 PMJerusalem Post
July 29, 2001
A time for vengeance?
By Larry Derfner
The recent shooting of three Palestinians, along with other unsolved violent
acts in the territories, has raised concern over the rise of a new Jewish
It's probably impossible to find any Jewish settler who publicly condones
the recent killing near Hebron of a three-month-old Palestinian boy, Diya
Tmeizi, and two family members riding in the car. (Four others in the
family, including Diya's mother, were wounded.) Among settlers, there
appears to be near-unanimous contempt for the act.
"It was truly vile. To kill a baby - nothing on earth can justify this,"
said Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities in
Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The council issued a statement calling on Israeli
security forces to catch the "despicable" killers.
But when asked whether this killing might have grown out of a climate of
revenge among settlers - a climate evidenced by the commonly-heard chant,
"Revenge!" at settler demonstrations and funerals - Mor-Yosef dismissed the
"I also shouted 'revenge,'" he noted, "but for the revenge to be carried out
by the state, not by individuals. There's nothing forbidden about revenge if
the state does it. It's legitimate."
Asked whether the sorts of people who shoot up cars filled with Palestinians
might not make the distinction between "legitimate" and "illegitimate"
revenge, Mor-Yosef replied, "No, no," brushing off the question.
And to suggest that the Tmeizi killings were merely the worst in 10 months
of settler vigilante acts, including five previous killings of innocent
Palestinians - which is what the B'tselem human rights organization claims -
gets no hearing at all from Mor-Yosef.
B'tselem, basing itself on Palestinian witnesses, says that even before the
Tmeizi killings, five Palestinians had been shot or stoned dead in the West
Bank by Israeli civilians - almost certainly settlers - while doing nothing
but standing in the street or driving a car. Police arrested settlers as
suspects in two of the killings, but soon released them for lack of
evidence. In the three other unprovoked killings, no suspects have been
found, said B'tselem spokesman Lior Yavne.
While condemning Palestinians for the killing of scores of settlers, a
recent B'tselem publication had this to say about settler vigilantism during
the "Al Aksa Intifada": "In recent months, settlers have shot at
Palestinians, stoned their cars, damaged property, uprooted trees, burned a
mosque, harmed Palestinian medical teams, attacked journalists, prevented
farmers from going to their fields, and blocked Palestinian cars from
traveling on roads. Although some of the shooting was in self-defense, the
vast majority of violence was premeditated," B'tselem stated.
Asked his response to these claims, Mor-Yosef interrupted a reading of the
report, saying he wasn't interested in hearing it. "I believe a B'tselem
report like I believe a Hamas report," he said.
Nobody could have been too surprised by the Tmeizi killings. A few days
before, Shin Bet head Avi Dichter told a Knesset committee that at least one
Jewish terror cell was operating in the territories. Almost simultaneously,
explosives were found in the car of Noam Federman, a Hebron resident and
leading Kach member. But while the "Committee for Road Safety," a Kach
group, took responsibility for the Tmeizi killings, security officials
aren't convinced it was them.
IN JUNE a Palestinian truck driver was shot to death in the West Bank; the
"Shalhevet-Zar Brigade," named for Hebron infant Shalhevet Pass and Samaria
security officer Gilad Zar, both killed by Palestinians, took
responsibility. Israeli security officials attribute at least two other
shooting attacks on Palestinians to Jewish terrorists.
No suspects have been arrested in any of these assaults.
Mainstream settlers stress that the killers of the Tmeizis may not have been
settlers at all; the gunmen's car, after all, headed off on a road leading
across the Green Line towards the Lachish region. Mor-Yosef is inclined to
believe the killers came from the other side of the Green Line because
residents of Judea and Samaria, he said, "vent their anger and frustration"
over continuous Palestinian terror by talking regularly with each other
And among the more radical, but still widely-respected settlers, the
possibility, or even likelihood, is put forward that the killers of the
Tmeizis weren't even Jews, but rather Palestinians who tried to "look like
Jews" so that the blame would fall on the settlers. (The killers' car had
yellow Israeli license plates, drove off into Israel instead of the
Palestinian Authority, and at least one media account quoted Palestinian
witnesses saying one of the killers wore a kippa.) This was the point made
last Friday morning, the day after the shootings, by the highly popular
Arutz 7 radio commentator Adir Zik on his show.
"I'm against the killing of civilians of any kind," Zik said in an
interview, "but here there is no proof that it was done by Jews. It's taken
for granted, but I consider it very doubtful."
He recalled the killings of Palestinians some years ago in Halhoul, an act
at first thought to have been committed by Jewish extremists, but which
turned out to have been carried out by Palestinians.
Those Palestinian killers in Halhoul, however, did not disguise themselves
as Jews. Long-time observers of Palestinian terrorism do not recall a single
case where Palestinians dressed as Jews and killed Palestinians.
As for Dichter's confirmation that there is at least one Jewish terror cell
operating in the territories, Zik said, "I don't trust the Shin Bet in any
And when reminded that there have been cases of Jewish settlers killing
Palestinian civilians, such as Baruch Goldstein's 1994 Purim massacre of 29
Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs, Zik replied: "I have many doubts
over whether he killed the people there. It could have been an act of
personal revenge between Arab clans." Goldstein might have gotten "pulled
into" the Cave, Zik suggests.
That Goldstein was seen going into Tomb with his Army rifle, and that his
dead body was found in the Tomb afterward, and that his rifle and his spent
bullets were recovered from the Tomb, and that scores of Palestinian
survivors testified that it was Goldstein who opened fire, hasn't convinced
Soon after the Tmeizi killings, Women In Green sent out an e-mail headlined,
"Don't Blame the Jews!"
"The fact that Arab survivors testified that the attackers looked Jewish
doesn't mean anything," read the statement, noting that Efrat settler Sarah
Blaustein was shot to death by Palestinians wearing kippot. With Arab
pressure mounting to bring international observers to the territories, there
is a "clear Arab interest in protraying themselves as victims," Women In
Hebron settlement leader Noam Arnon said that if Jews killed the Tmeizis, it
was a "very grave act" that the settlement condemned. (Once, however, Hebron
Kach member Baruch Marzel pronounced the Friday morning killing of two
Palestinian laborers, allegedly by settlers, to be a "holy act" that
"gladdened my Shabbat." A few years ago on Purim, after quick-triggered IDF
soldiers killed three Palestinian civilians trying to get around a roadblock
near Hebron, Federman said with a smile that it "reminded us" of Goldstein's
Yet Arnon said he was "nearly certain that Arabs did it." He speculated that
Palestinians out to kill Jews "mistook" the Tmeizis' car for one carrying
Even when not speaking for quotation, settlers at the grassroots level are
unanimously appalled by the Tmeizi killings, said a Kiryat Arba settler who
has consistently spoken out against extremism and violence.
"On the bus to work [in Jerusalem] on Sunday, people were saying, 'This is
no way to wage a struggle,' that it was 'wanton murder,' that it 'lowers us
to the moral level of terrorists,'" said the Kiryat Arba resident, who asked
not to be identified. "Some of the passengers also said it 'endangers Jewish
families' by raising the threat of Palestinian reprisals.
"There was a minority of people who were arguing that this was an
'unbalanced' view, but nobody condoned the murders. At my shul nobody said a
word in favor, either," said the resident. He acknowledged, however, that
the settlers in his shul, and those going to work every morning, tend "not
to be the hotheads."
As for shouts of "revenge" at settler funerals, the resident said he
attended two recently, and both times the chant went up, and both times the
bereaved family, seconded by some moderates among the mourners, quieted the
The resident believes that only a small handful of Jews are involved in the
rash of recent killings, and that any "climate of revenge" is irrelevant to
"They believe they're answering to God, and the rest of us are just lackeys
and traitors anyway," he said.
Mor-Yosef took the same view. "The responsibility for the murders does not
go beyond the two or three people who carried them out. They have no
grassroots support, no support from any leaders."
Yet Zo Artzeinu, which spearheaded some of the most rousing, disruptive
protests against the Rabin government, called bluntly for the assassination
of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in a full-page ad last
Friday in the right-wing weekly Makor Rishon.
Might not such a notice encourage vigilante killers, signalling to them that
they have support? Mor-Yosef dismissed this suggestion, too.
"Zo Artzeinu has no support anywhere, no one takes them seriously," he
In a broadcast some weeks ago, Zik advised settlers that the only way they
could get soldiers or police to show up in their vicinity was to burn
Palestinian fields or throw rocks at Palestinian cars.
"I said it," Zik laughed, "but I said it with irony."
IN TIMES like these, the Jewish terror underground of the early 1980s
naturally comes to mind. Twenty-eight religious settlers formed cells whose
members opened fire at Hebron's Islamic College, killing three people;
booby-trapped the cars of three Palestinian mayors, blowing the legs off two
of them and blinding an Israeli policeman trying to disconnect the third;
attempted to blow up a Palestinian bus and plotted to blow up the Dome of
They were arrested in April 1984, served short prison terms, and were warmly
accepted back into the settler community. Haggai Segal today is news
director of Arutz 7. Yehuda Etzion, the chief plotter to bring down the Dome
of the Rock, remains a leading settler ideologue, heading a radical group
called "Hai V'Kayam" whose activities focus on the Temple Mount.
The obvious question arises: could another terror underground spring up?
Dichter told the Knesset that the level of Jewish terrorist activity now
taking place isn't widespread enough to be called an underground
organization. But Hezi Kalo, former head of the Shin Bet's "non-Arab
section," wrote in Yediot Aharonot that if Palestinian terror is not
contained, there may well be "an increase in Jewish terror attacks, whether
organized or carried out by individuals."
He noted that the Tmeizi killings were "very similar" to the shooting deaths
of three Palestinians in nearly the same spot, near Tarkumiya, in December
Those Jewish terrorists were never caught.
Settlers invariably bring up what they see as the government's "weak"
response to Palestinian terror as a key reason why vigilantism has arisen.
"Nobody's in control of the situation, there's a vacuum. And when there's a
vacuum, it's filled by Palestinian terrorists, [and] by Jewish terrorists,"
said Mor-Yosef. Arnon blamed the killings jointly on the Palestinian
Authority for orchestrating terror attacks on Jews, and on the Sharon
government for letting it happen.
This conviction that the government was abandoning the settlers to
Palestinian terror was a critical precondition in the rise of the 1980s
Jewish underground, noted Jerusalem Report senior editor Gershom Gorenberg,
who covered those events, and author of the recent book The End of Days -
Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.
He said the recent killings of random Palestinians, including an infant, in
passing cars, seemed to smack of the most extreme, violent school of Jewish
radicalism - Kahanism. In keeping with Kahanist thought, the killers had
"reduced the world to a matter of 'us versus them,'" said Gorenberg. Their
act seemed like a "sanctification of revenge," one of Meir Kahane's central
tenets, he added.
Meir Kahane was shot to death by a Muslim extremist in the US in 1991. His
son, Binyamin, who led the "Kahane Chai" movement from the settlement Kfar
Tapuah, was shot to death with his wife, Talia, by Palestinian gunmen while
driving through the West Bank late last year.
Yet Gorenberg stresses that not only Kachniks, of whom there are very few,
are influenced by Kahanism; Kahane's ideas "infected" much of the ranks of
the "extremist fringe" of settlers and their supporters.
And while he's not predicting another full-blown Jewish underground,
Gorenberg said that given the current conditions, "I don't see any reason
why it can't happen again."
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