(photo credit: AP)
Hebron has become the symbol of Jewish fanaticism gone wild. In the cradle of biblical coexistence, prejudice, intolerance and brutality reign. The latest events are part of an extended pattern of unfettered attacks by gangs of youthful settlers on Palestinians, their property, their livelihood and traditions. Their actions have been roundly condemned by all components of Israel's political spectrum, except for those representing the fringes of the right-wing. It is not enough, however, to denounce organized hooliganism - it is necessary to do something about it. Otherwise, Israeli authorities - not to speak of the public at large - become complicit in the activities they seek to expunge.
There is a long and sorry history of purposeful harassment of Palestinians by Jewish groups. Recently, this syndrome has escalated, taking on particularly ugly forms. Bands of roaming provocateurs have seized lands, destroyed cultivated plots, burned houses and beaten up women and children. They continue to mercilessly threaten the lives of innocent civilians, injuring and maiming them in the process.
Many of these ideologically fueled hoodlums are now channeling their distorted energies into the already overheated arena of Hebron, where just in the past week a Muslim cemetery was desecrated as graffiti proclaiming that "Muhammad is a pig" was scrawled on gravestones and on the walls of a mosque. The targets of the ire of these vigilantes and of the militant settlers they support now include Israeli policemen and IDF soldiers. Not only have their tires been slashed and their vehicles sabotaged, but they have been attacked in unconscionable ways. No holds bar their relentless rampage.
The outcry against this repugnant behavior has focused, justifiably, on its immorality and inhumanity. It constitutes, by every conceivable measure, a gross violation of human rights, and has been decried as such. From a Jewish perspective, the outrage is especially profound: the purposeful disregard for human life and dignity by self-anointed guardians of the faith adds up to systematic persecution to which Jews were subjected in the past and which no Jew would countenance today.
BEYOND THESE most fundamental moral concerns lie issues of law and order as well. It is widely recognized that the criminal comportment of these diehards cannot go unpunished lest inaction be interpreted as official license for any group or individual to take matters into their own hands. Flagrant defiance of the law breeds disorder; the ensuing chaos makes the imposition of any authority impossible. The foundations of Israel's system of government are at stake.
These ethical and legal considerations are enough to justify concerted action against Jewish lawbreakers. But politicians and opinion shapers only joined their voices to demands for decisive implementation of legal provisions and court orders when inciters attacked Israeli enforcement forces.
At this juncture it dawned on the broad public and their representatives that these youngsters - along with their far more seasoned mentors - are a tangible threat to Israel as well. Their acts continuously fuel widespread criticism of Israel. And they cause additional damage by appealing to the Jewish people to rise up against the State of Israel in the name of biblical rights.
No country can permit such shameless subversion.
What is happening throughout the West Bank (and in Hebron in particular) is a blot on Israel. It flies in the face of essential human norms, the rule of law and everything precious to Israel and the Jewish heritage.
THE GROWING consensus on this matter, however, has yet to be translated into determined action. For too long this foot-dragging was attributed to the marginality of those involved. They were dismissed as young, confused, "wild oats" that should either be ignored or, preferably, reeducated to correct their errant ways. Only sporadically, under extreme duress, were the most virulent weeds extracted.
When their numbers were reinforced in the wake of the disengagement from Gaza, their penchant for heightened violence was justified by the trauma they had undergone. Such inexplicable indulgence sends a dangerous message: that they could pursue their incendiary acts with impunity.
Now that it is apparent that the situation has gotten out of hand - that isolated incidents have swelled into a veritable wave of unbridled fanaticism, and that behind its perpetrators stand rabbis and communal leaders - a new type of reluctance has set in. Some politicians, especially during this election period, are unwilling to openly confront potential constituents. Others are afraid of indirectly bolstering the electoral appeal of their rivals. And while many talk openly of the widespread dangers of civil war, they do little to uphold both the values they claim to hold dear and the normative adhesive which binds the society together.
Behind these immediate, politically driven impediments to imposing the rule of law lies the telling fact that many agree with the worldview and objectives of these ruffians, even if they distance themselves from their methods. This is the only way to account for the lengthy negotiations between the authorities and the militant Jewish leaders on the disputed house in Hebron. It is also why some compromise is sought there - and in the patently illegal cases of unauthorized outposts such as Migron - exactly when emphatic action is needed.
At this point, Israel's inability to rein in its extremists is almost as damaging to its image as the harm they are wreaking by their despicable actions. If this - or any future - government wants to avoid cutting off its nose to spite its face, it must arrest and bring to trial those responsible for carrying out abominations which contravene the country's most basic tenets. Any further procrastination in carrying out the letter of the law and the normative precepts that underpin it is ethically, legally, politically and humanly untenable.