The words “Jewish” and “terrorist” are not easily uttered together by Israelis. But just occasionally, such as last week when one of the country’s leading intellectuals was injured by a pipe bomb placed at the front door of his home, they find themselves with little choice.
The target of the attack was 73-year-old Zeev Sternhell, a politics professor at
Shortly after the explosion, police found pamphlets nearby offering 1.1 million shekels ($300,000) to anyone assassinating a Peace Now leader. The movement’s most visible activity has been tracking and criticising the growth of the settlements in the
Mr Sternhell, whose leg was injured in the blast, warned that this attack might mark the “collapse of democracy” in
Earlier in the year the professor was awarded the Israel Prize for political science. The settlers’ own news agency, Arutz Sheva, ran a story at the time headlined “
The shock provoked in
There are a handful of precedents, however, for these kind of attacks. In 1983, Emil Grunzweig was killed when a right-winger hurled a hand grenade into a crowd of Peace Now activists marching against
Violence directed at the Jewish Left typically peaks during periods when the religious far-right believes a deal with the Palestinians may be close at hand. Rabin paid the price for his signing of the
Certainly, the mood among the religious settlers has grown darker since the disengagement from
Either way, many far-right settlers are turning their backs on those secular laws that clash with their own convictions. One Israeli observer has noted that these settlers no longer see their chief loyalty to the state of
The pamphlet found near Mr Sternhell’s home, signed by a group called the “Army of Liberators”, read: “The State of Israel has become our enemy.”
Jewish extremists who attack Israeli soldiers or Palestinians in the occupied territories, openly incite against Palestinians or express unlawful views rarely face charges, even when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing.
The general lawlessness among the West Bank settlers has reached new peaks, underscored this month when settlers from Yitzhar went on what was widely described as a “pogrom” against Palestinians in the neighbouring
Also, often forgotten, the so-called Jewish underground has a history of targeting Palestinians inside
Groups such as the Temple Mount Faithful, which seek to blow up the mosques of Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock in the Haram al-Sharif of Jerusalem’s Old City so that a third Jewish temple can be built in their place, also face little recourse from the Shin Bet.
By contrast, the Shin Bet’s Arab department runs an extensive network of Palestinian informers in the occupied territories and is reported by human rights groups to use torture to extract information from Palestinian detainees.
Like Palestinians in the occupied territories, Palestinian citizens risk being locked up on secret evidence.
Israel’s leading columnist Nahum Barnea noted last week that the Shin Bet’s inability to find and arrest Jewish terrorists stemmed from “deliberate policy” and “emotional obstacles” – his coy way of suggesting that many in the Shin Bet share at least some of the settlers’ values, even if they reject their methods.
Prof Sternhell made much the same point in a radio interview from his hospital bed when he noted that Yitzhak Shamir, when he was prime minister, had defined the Jewish underground as “excellent young men, real patriots”.
In this vacuum of law enforcement, the far-right regularly and openly engages in unlawful activities, often without serious threat of punishment. Many of its leaders, such as Noam Federman, Itamar Ben Gvir and Baruch Marzel, all based in
Mr Ben Gvir, who leads a group known as the Jewish National Front, denied that his faction was involved in the attack on Mr Sternhell but refused to condemn it.
Although the head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, immediately branded the attack on Mr Sternhell as “a nationalist terror attack apparently perpetrated by Jews”, it is noticeable that no Israelis are demanding the demolition of the perpetrators’ homes.
That contrasts strongly with the response last week after a Palestinian youth drove a car at a group of Israeli soldiers near the Old City of Jerusalem. Israeli politicians called for the youth’s home to be destroyed and his family to be made homeless.
In the general outcry against the bomb attack last week, it was left to Prof Sternhell to remind Israelis that most Jewish terrorism was in fact directed not at people like himself but at Palestinians.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth,
A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae) published in