Comment: Cracking down on the Jewish settler hilltop youth

A year after Duma attack that left Palestinian parents and toddler son dead, Jewish terrorism is in regression.

Meir Ettinger attends a remand hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Nazareth. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Meir Ettinger attends a remand hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Nazareth.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Meir Ettinger is back in action after he was released from a 10-month administrative detention. Well not really.
He is back to his blog, writing his ideas and spreading his ideology. Nowadays though, his posts are more cautious, milder and devoted to expressing his experience as a prisoner under investigation by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Ettinger, the grandson of the slain racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, is considered the leader and chief ideologue of a Jewish terrorist group, of which some members are accused of murdering three members of the Palestinian Dawabsha family a year ago in West Bank village of Duma, 25 kilometers southeast of Nablus.
Throwing a firebomb in the middle of the night at the house of an innocent family and burning alive three of its members – two parents and their one-and-half-year-old toddler – was a shock, a turning point for the Israeli public, as well as for the government and Shin Bet.
The gloves came off and the police and Shin Bet decided to crush the group. A year later, Jewish terrorism is in regression, almost completely defeated. It would have happened earlier had the government and Shin Bet taken it more seriously.
For nearly four years before the murder, Jewish terrorism was on a slow rise. It began with cutting down olive trees in Palestinian orchards, throwing stones at Palestinian cars, attacking and beating Palestinian farmers and preventing them from cultivating their lands and shepherding their flocks.
It was clear from the beginning that the perpetrators were young Jewish settlers known as the “hilltop youth” who live in caves and tents in the hills around Jewish settlements and between Palestinian villages. Many of them were teenagers – Ettinger, 25, is one the elders – dropouts who rebelled against their parents and the settlers establishment.
While the government half-heartedly condemned the acts of violence and the majority of the leadership of the Jewish settlements turned a blind eye, investigating the crimes slipped between the cracks of the Shin Bet and the police.
The division of labor between the two bodies was not clear. According to the Israeli law, the police has the authority to investigate violations of order and the Shin Bet is responsible for investigating acts of terrorism. Is stone-throwing or tree-cutting an act of terrorism or breaking the order? The answer depends on your race and nationality. Ordinary law is enforced on Israeli citizens, while similar crimes carried out by Palestinians are automatically defined as acts of terrorism and investigated by the Shin Bet. This bureaucratic blur created the impression that this is a manifestation of discrimination.
But since October 2013 the acts became more and more violent and started to escalate.
The most extreme members of the hilltop youth regrouped into what would be known later as “The Rebellion,” named after a secret booklet which outlined their ideology.
The Shin Bet called them “Givonim” named after the Givon settlement, which was nearby the illegal outpost where they lived. The booklet that was found in the laptop of one of the central activists was not written by a single author.
It is more of a collection of ideas and thoughts discussed in the group’s meetings.
These sometimes confused and immature notions combined the basic strong hatred of Palestinians with anti-Zionism.
The aim, according to the “Rebellion,” was to change the regime because “it prevents [building] the Temple and [bringing] about the true and complete redemption.”
The group felt the need “first to destroy and then to build.”
The document also states that “one needs one’s self-sacrifice.”
Their ideological goal was to destroy the State of Israel and replace it with a Jewish theocratic monarchy. The new state would pledge allegiance to the king, would erase all non-Jewish religious practice and sites, including churches and mosques – the Temple Mount’s al-Aksa would be the first target to make room for the Third Temple. They also advocate expelling all Arabs and enforcing Jewish Orthodoxy in the public domain. In a way they are a Jewish version of ISIS.
Their belief is that using violence against Palestinians as well as Muslim and Christian religious symbols would provoke a cycle of violence which would eventually generate a rebellion against the state.
Such words, especially when they come from teenagers, may at first seem written by people who have hallucinations after having a joint or two. And indeed among the hilltop youth, drug use is common.
But their deeds spoke for themselves. In 2014 and 2015 they burned Palestinian cars, threw firebombs at Palestinian houses and set on fire the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. They also planned but failed to execute a violent disruption of the pope’s 2014 visit to the Holy Land.
After the murders of the Dawabsha family and the public outcry in Israel and abroad, the Shin Bet was accused of sitting idle and discriminating with its investigative measures between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Shin Bet’s top echelon decided to act firmly. It shadowed suspects, bugged the phone numbers and laptops of the very few who had them, and tried to plant and recruit agents among them. It wasn’t an easy task. The group members knew that they were under surveillance and were very cautious, trying not to leave any digital trace.
Another aspect that also helped the Shin Bet was the permission it gained from the attorney-general to use its special interrogation methods, which usually are used only against Palestinian suspected of terrorism. Many of the youth were issued expulsion orders to relocate outside the West Bank, others were placed under movement restrictions.
Ettinger was put under administrative detention for a few months.
Eventually a year of intensive investigations produced results. Some of the suspects broke down and began to “sing” in their interrogations.
Amiran Ben Uliel and a teenager were charged with the murder of the Dawabsha family and four others with other crimes against Palestinians.
Yet the Shin Bet and the police know that they cannot sit on their laurels. They know that, sooner or later, a completely new generation of Jewish terrorists will resurface, especially if the government reignites peace talks with the Palestinian Authority and begins to consider dismantling some of the Jewish settlements.