Jerusalem Post Editorial: Delicate balance

Is Israel doing enough to fight Jewish terrorism?

By
August 6, 2015 23:00
3 minute read.
Yishai Schlissel

Yishai Schlissel arrested after stabbing six people at the Jerusalem gay pride parade. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Is Israel doing enough to fight Jewish terrorism? At first glance it would seem that it is. Just this week in the wake of the horrific firebombing in Duma, the security cabinet authorized more extensive use of administrative detention against far-right Jewish suspects.

Already, use of administrative detention is fairly widespread as an exceptional, highly anti-democratic measure to stop what is euphemistically referred to as “price tag” attacks against Palestinians and their property throughout the West Bank.

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Since the 1980s, when members of the Jewish Underground such as Yehuda Etzion began carrying out attacks against Palestinians, a dedicated division in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) has been responsible for combating Jewish acts of terrorism.

The organization has used all sorts of controversial methods to prevent attacks by Jews, from deploying sting operations and secret agents such as Yehuda Cohen who married into a settler family and later escaped to Argentina where he was jailed as a sex offender.

Similar to its fight against the much more prevalent and more deadly Palestinian terrorism, the Shin Bet taps phone calls, carries out searches, obtains restraining orders and even deploys drones to prevent settlers from carrying out vigilante attacks.

There have been recent successes. Two brothers were jailed for their part in arson last November on Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand school, a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic institution with both Jewish and Arabic pupils.

Two suspects have been charged in another arson at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.

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But overall the results have been disappointing.

The most colossal failure of the Shin Bet’s Jewish division was its inability to prevent the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, though Yigal Amir was being followed.

In recent years, dozens of acts of arson, destruction of crops and assaults against Palestinians and their property have gone unpunished despite repeated declarations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in the government that “price tag” attacks are morally wrong and liable to ignite another wave of Palestinian terrorism.

According to Yesh Din report released in May, only 7.4 percent of Judea and Samaria District Police investigations into offenses allegedly committed by Israeli civilians against Palestinians and their property have resulted in indictments. This is based on a sample of more than 1,000 police investigations conducted between 2005 and 2014.

Throughout this period, security forces and police have used – sometimes abused – measures administrative detention against Israelis against whom charges were never filed.

Part of the problem is directly related to the situation in the West Bank. Police and soldiers tend to view the Palestinians as threats, not as potential victims of settler attacks.

A lack of trust between Palestinians and law enforcers makes it difficult to investigate Palestinian complaints.

This leads the Shin Bet and police to rely more on draconian measures such as administrative detention, which do not require real investigative work, against Jewish suspects.

Also, the way Jewish terrorist groups tend to operate makes them nearly impenetrable.

They are a product of tight-knit, counter-culture communities located on isolated hilltops in Judea and Samaria with extremist ideologies that not only reject democratic values and the liberal assumption that religion is a private matter, they are antagonistic to formal religious-Zionist institutions.

Working on little, if any, information, the Shin Bet and police often arbitrarily arrest members of these communities, simply because members harbor extreme ideological beliefs or live outside normative society.

In a gross trampling of basic human rights, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon this week signed an administrative order ordering Mordechai Meyer, 18, jailed for six months even though no charges have been filed against him.

As the government continues its fight against Jewish terrorism, it must be careful not to overstep the bounds befitting a democracy. Administrative detention can only be justified under the most extreme circumstances. Often innocent people suffer from these detentions, and this undermines trust in the security and police forces and in other government institutions such as the legal system.

We must never lose sight of what we are fighting for – a flourishing, liberal democracy that

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