A price tag for Jewish terror

Successive Israeli governments have for years tolerated various degrees of political violence used by Jewish settlers against Palestinians

Jack Teytel521 (photo credit: FLASH 90)
Jack Teytel521
(photo credit: FLASH 90)
After years of frustration and embarrassment, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), can raise its head in pride – to half-mast at least.
In early April 2013, the Jerusalem District Court sentenced Jack Tytell, 37, to life in prison, after convicting him of murder and other hate crimes, or “Jewish terrorism.”
In the late 1990s, Tytell murdered two Palestinians, attempted to kill two other individuals, and carried out a bomb attack on the home of Prof. Zeev Sternhell, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a world authority on Fascism and a prominent peace activist.
As a teenager, the Miami-born Tytell, the son of a US Navy dentist, developed an obsession for weapons and explosives. In 1997, he immigrated to Israel, settling in the West Bank with the purpose of avenging the killing of Jews by Palestinian terrorists.
He was not the first American Jew who moved to Israel with an extreme right-wing ideology. Soon after Israel occupied the West Bank and other areas in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, Palestinian groups responded with acts of terror. The vicious circle of violence drew American Jews, mostly followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, who later would be elected as a member of the Knesset and end up assassinated by a Palestinian in New York City, in 1991.
As defined by law, the Shin Bet is responsible for defending Israel’s democracy against acts of terror and subversion. One of the main directorates of the security agency is the one dealing with counter-espionage and counter-subversion; and a key unit in this directorate is the one that deals with Jewish terrorism and subversion and is known in the Hebrew press as the “Jewish Brigade.”
In the 1960s and ’70s, the unit dealt primarily with what it considered as threats against democracy from radical left-wing groups. But since the 1980s, the unit’s efforts, resources and energy have been devoted to combating extreme right-wing plots and conspiracies against Palestinians and liberal and left-wing Israelis. Throughout the years, the unit has major achievements in exposing right-wing cells.
But it is also responsible, together with the VIP protection unit, for the Shin Bet’s greatest failure in its entire history – to identify and protect prime minister Yitzhak Rabin from the death threats of extreme settlers and right-wingers. Rabin was murdered in 1995 by Yigal Amir, a Bar-Ilan University student, who together with his brother Hagai and a few more accomplices were prominent activists in right-wing circles.
In the last three decades, more than 50 Palestinians were killed by Jewish terrorists, while dozens more were injured. In addition, thousands of incidents involving damage to property were recorded during that period.
In general, the Shin Bet acted swiftly and efficiently in solving most of the crimes, especially the killings.
Apparently, however, Jack Tytell was a hard case to crack. It took the security service nearly 15 years to identify him as the culprit and collect admissible evidence for his conviction. One of the explanations, provided by the Shin Bet to justify its failure to solve his crimes earlier, was the fact that Tytell was a “lone wolf” who acted on his own without consulting others.
One can say better late than ever. This is true. Yet, the Shin Bet cannot rest on its late laurels of solving the crimes committed by Tytell. Jewish terrorism is alive and kicking more than ever. True, it is less lethal and “softer” today – Palestinians have not been murdered by Jewish terrorists in the past few years. They’ve “only” been beaten and injured. Cars have been set on fire and olive trees have been uprooted. In recent years, the acts of terrorism have changed and transformed from the use of firearms and bombs to stones, clubs and Molotov cocktails.
Jewish terrorism undermines Israel’s foundations as a democratic state and portrays it as a lawless frontier. It gives the impression that Israeli justice and law enforcement agencies use what English writer George Orwell termed in his novel “1984” as “double speak.” One set of methods and laws is used to counter Palestinian terrorism and another set is deployed against Jewish terror. One law applies to Israel in its pre-June 1967 borders and another to the occupied and militarily ruled West Bank. And no less worrying, it distorts Jewish values and tarnishes the image of Israel among enlightened nations.
The failure to stop the violence is not only the failure of the Shin Bet. It is a comprehensive one, a failure of the entire system. The blame has to be shared also by the police, the military, the attorney general, the state prosecution, the Ministry of Justice and the courts. In short, it is a colossal failure on the part of successive Israeli governments, which for years turned a blind eye, looked the other way or simply tolerated various degrees of political violence used by Jewish settlers against Palestinians.
This lax attitude is clearly illustrated by the way in which the media and the authorities demonstrate verbal flexibility when it comes to naming the perpetrators. Instead of labeling them as what they are – terrorists – journalists and politicians have adopted the label “price tag” for these acts of “soft” terror. This is exactly how the terrorists describe themselves.
The perception and approach of the authorities, the media and the public at large changed, eventually. Unfortunately, it happened only four years ago. The wake-up that alerted the law enforcement agencies came when the terrorists started to target what the Shin Bet terms as “sacred [holy] symbols” – mosques, churches and monasteries.
According to police and Shin Bet data, 12 mosques and four Christian sites in the West Bank or Jerusalem have been desecrated since the start of 2010 – either with obscene and hate graffiti or worse, by setting them on fire. In most of these incidents the perpetrators left behind them their logo, their trademark – “price tag” graffiti daubed in Hebrew. Most of these incidents occurred after Jewish settlers were attacked by Palestinians, with fatal results on several occasions. Hence, the Jewish terrorists decided to take revenge and punish the Palestinians by forcing them to “pay a price.” In biblical terms, such acts are known as an eye for an eye.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has several dimensions – national, political, territorial, cultural and religious. In the worst case scenarios drawn by Israeli analysts, the most feared and dangerous one is that the religious aspect will take over and dominate the conflict, thus turning it into a religious war, which might draw the billions of Muslims around the globe against Israel.
And if such a scenario is not frightening enough, the acts of Jewish terrorists targeting Christian holy places have the potential of infuriating Christians, especially the Evangelist congregations in the US, which are considered among Israel’s most fervent supporters.
Thus, the Shin Bet and the police realized that in order to defuse the tension and to reduce the friction, they have to show more determination in the battle against the Jewish terrorists.
The first task was to identify them. This was not an easy one. The main vehicle has been and still is intelligence. The Shin Bet had to identify the individuals and groups involved and gather information on them.
The measures used are the traditional tools of surveillance, which include humint (human intelligence) sigint (signal intelligence) and visint (visual intelligence).
In other words, it seeks to penetrate the targets by recruiting agents (collaborators) from within, to intercept phone calls, text and fax messages and emails, and to physically monitor and observe them. The terrorists naturally tried to thwart the counter-terror efforts. Knowing that they were under surveillance, they took precautions. They stopped talking on the phone, reduced the use of computers, and made efforts to expose the “collaborators” among them.
Eventually, the Shin Bet managed to map the terrain. “Case officers and analysts got a fairly good picture of who are the leaders and who are the foot soldiers, how the terrorist networks operate and who are the helpers and supporters,” I was told by well-informed sources.
According to the sources, the terrorists come from among young hard-core settlers in remote West Bank outposts. In the Hebrew jargon, they are nicknamed the “hill-top youth” and they are influenced by certain extreme, uncompromising and zealot rabbis.
“The terrorists, the helpers and the envelope that surrounds their violent acts number no more than two hundred,” the sources say.
Yet one of the problems facing the Shin Bet is how to translate the crude intelligence into legal evidence admissible in courts. To their disappointment and frustration, security officials discovered that even when they arrested suspects of acts of terrorism and provided evidence, judges were sympathetic to the suspects and hurried to release them.
Faced with this attitude of the judicial system, the Shin Bet adopted a different approach. It issues orders, under the military law in force in the occupied territories, to remove the suspects from their homes and the scenes of the crimes in the West Bank; and, in some cases, suspects are being placed in administrative detention, thus circumventing the need to go through court hearings and the entire legal process.
Indeed, according to Shin Bet statistics, there was a 40 percent fall-off in acts of violence in 2012, in comparison to 2011.
From 30 incidents, the number has dropped to 18. In 2012, the figures show the prosecution indicted 43 individuals suspected of various acts of violence and terrorism.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the Shin Bet and the other law enforcement authorities have to do much more to uproot the phenomenon.
It is even more urgent and imperative now because of the growing risk that if the peace process is not renewed soon, the Palestinians may initiate a third intifada, which, in turn, may trigger and magnify Jewish terrorism.
Yossi Melman, a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Report, is a journalist and writer specializing in security, intelligence and strategic issues. He is co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.”