The golem turns on its creator

As a rule, it is not just their extremist ideology that has sent them to camp on the hilltops, but also the alternative they have chosen to replace the staid, bourgeois life they left behind.

A cement bench at an observation point in the West Bank.   (photo credit: REUTERS)
A cement bench at an observation point in the West Bank.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Once again, the “hilltop youth” are on the rampage. After a relatively long period of quiet, the teenage anarchists from the hills of Samaria are in the news again. This time around, several of them threw rocks at IDF soldiers and hurled verbal threats at the commander of the Golani Brigade Reconnaissance Unit, Lt.-Col. Ayoub Kayouf.
It’s important to note that this behavior met with wall-to-wall condemnation, not only by politicians from across the spectrum, but also by the senior leadership of the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. The secretariat of Yitzhar, in whose jurisdiction the teenagers’ encampment is located, went as far as to ask them to pack up and leave.
These gangs of adolescents, who in total, on all the hilltops, number no more than a few hundred, are the prime suspects in the repeated attacks – referred to as price-tag incidents – on the persons and property of Palestinians living in the territories. Several were arrested as suspects in the most extreme attack attributed to Jews that has been perpetrated to date against Palestinians – the murder, four years ago, of three members of the Dawabshe family in the village of Duma.
These boys are at the top of the list of those under surveillance by the Jewish unit of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), both because the frequency and severity of their attacks has increased over the years, but mainly because they threaten to upset the already fragile balance between Jews and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.
In light of this destructive potential, we must take the “hilltop youth” very seriously. In response to their violent actions, such as the recent incident in Yitzhar, the full force of the criminal justice system should be deployed against them. At the same time, however, we must acknowledge that the criminal courts cannot be the only means to deal with the problem, nor even the main one. As in the case of every challenging social phenomenon, the response must be based on an understanding of the phenomenon and its roots and, accordingly, of what could restrain it.
In this context, the media image of the group, which can be summed up as “ideological extremists,” distorts their true identity and makes it more difficult to deal with them effectively. Indeed, these adolescents adhere to a radical ideology. But, in fact, a majority – or perhaps all – of those who voted for the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party hold the same views. Yet very few of them would ever consider engaging in the actions attributed to the “hilltop youth.” So it is important to understand what it is about these teens that leads them to resort to violence.
THE MAIN response is that, their extremist ideas aside, these are youngsters who have dropped out of or have been banned from their natural environments – their homes, schools and youth movements. To a large extent, they can be seen as the disengaged and alienated teens of Samaria, or of the territories as a whole. In this respect they are scarcely different from any other group of disengaged teens, whether in Tel Aviv or Taiba or Jerusalem.
As a rule, it is not just their extremist ideology that has sent them to camp on the hilltops, but also the alternative they have chosen to replace the staid, bourgeois life they left behind. They feel only disdain for their bourgeois parents, teachers and rabbis, who are not prepared to fight to the bitter end on behalf of the ideology that all settlers are supposed to share. In most cases, the extremism is the excuse, and not the cause, for their leaving their homes and dropping out of other formal frameworks.
This leads to two important conclusions about how we should deal with these youth. The first is that, in addition to the criminal aspect, it is important to treat these adolescents with the tools routinely used when dealing with disengaged youth: youth counselors, providing employment options for those who are not able to live in the standard settings of their communities, alternative study frameworks and other rehabilitation measures.
The second conclusion is that, despite the temptation to point a finger at their rabbis, in most cases the rabbis bear only very limited responsibility for the emergence of this phenomenon – or more precisely, their influence is only indirect. The rabbis are certainly to blame for the development of a worldview of fanatic devotion to the land, to which the “hilltop youth” take their oath of allegiance. But they are not directly responsible for its mutation – no, this is rather a classic case of our own invention backfiring in our faces.
As stated, these adolescents are sworn anarchists, for whom all authority figures, including most rabbis, are despicable bourgeois, if not indeed collaborators. In their childish romantic fantasy, only people like themselves, for whom the only thing that matters is their bond to the land and the Torah – and not conventional structures like the state, family and the education system – are men of honor and truth. Everyone else is beneath contempt. If they listen to anyone, it is to their older and more senior colleagues on the hilltops.
Even though they have organized frameworks and an ideology, the motives of the “hilltop youth” resemble those of the Palestinian lone-wolf terrorists or of the Jewish teenagers who murdered Muhammad Abu-Khdeir: young people who want to prove to a society that sees them as juvenile delinquents that in fact they are more authentic and more courageous than those who scorn them, and are capable of actions that the bourgeois silent majority would never dare undertake.

The writer is a research fellow at the Center for Religion, Nation and State of the Israel Democracy Institute.