Until recently each case of a suspected Jewish terror act against innocent Palestinians has been seen as an aberration.
Over the years violent acts committed by “hilltop youth,” alienated Orthodox Jews from settlement outposts, and “price tag” cases of arson and physical attacks on Palestinians, were seen as evidence of the disillusionment of a tiny fringe of religious young people angered at the evacuation of Jews from Gaza and other signs of alleged Israeli government and army weakness.
Israelis were shocked in the summer of 2014 when young Jews were arrested in the burning death of a Palestinian teenager, an act perceived as revenge for the murder of three Israeli youngsters by Palestinians. Then came the recent arson attack on the home of a young Palestinian family in Duma, killing the parents and their 18-month-old son. And last week a video was released of Jewish wedding attendees dancing with a photo of the slain child. That visual reality, and the arrest of young Jews for the murders, may have shocked Israelis into realizing that Jewish terror must be confronted rather than explained away. That calls for confronting radical rabbis who preach against the existing secular state in hopes of creating a religious one instead, a Jewish caliphate.
As our Joshua Mitnick reports from Tel Aviv, the Duma case presents a challenge to elements of the religious Zionist community and others living in Jewish communities on the West Bank amid complaints that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, has used torture on the suspects. Some criticize Shin Bet as anti-religious, anti-settlement and guilty of torture; others insist that as an agency of the sovereign government of Israel, it is doing its job of tough interrogation and treats all suspected terrorists the same to protect the state.
Some Knesset members on the right have argued that “terror” in Israel is defined by violent acts by Arabs on Jews. But to his credit, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, has spoken out forcefully in support of Shin Bet in describing those arrested for the Duma crime as terrorists seeking to “dismantle the foundations of the state.”
As a result, he now travels with increased security, a sad statement about real concerns over maintaining the fabric of Israeli society.
The issue of Jewish vigilantism today speaks to the mix of religion, nationalism, mysticism and messianism as religious Zionists define their loyalty. Does one have to choose between the land and the people, and between fealty to the word of God and to the laws of the state? The modern state is envisioned as having no such distinctions, but today’s reality is forcing a degree of soul-searching on a society struggling to be true to its core Jewish and national values.
What is clear is that acts of terrorism — violent attacks on innocents — are a sin against God and mankind, and the perpetrators must be punished, no matter who they are, Arab or Jew.