My Word: Unsettling violence

Jewish extremists might be a fringe element but that does not make them less dangerous.

Right wing extremists 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Right wing extremists 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It was the crossing of a red line. And it set off red warning lights that were all the more visible from their hilltop position in a sparsely populated area.
The 50 or so far-right extremists who participated in a series of attacks last week were slaughtering a holy cow in the most unkosher manner. Near Ramat Gilad, fanatics, high on righteous zeal, threw rocks at passing Palestinian-owned cars and attacked an IDF brigade commander and his deputy. Lt.-Col. Tzur Harpaz, who sustained a light head wound from a rock, later reportedly told his wife that what really hurt was being called a Nazi, a month after the death of his grandmother, who had survived the Shoah.
The “price-tag attacks” are not new, but the price has gone up – and we’re all paying it. They endanger not only Israel’s character but its security.
Extremists risked escalating the security situation when they occupied abandoned churches in Qasr al-Yahud, on the banks of the Jordan River, and entered Nablus in the Palestinian Authority-controlled area – ostensibly to pray at Joseph’s Tomb – without coordinating with IDF forces. A mosque in Jerusalem was defaced. And Jews everywhere felt they were being defiled.
Cruelty is cruelty; violence is violence. The youths who can tear down the branches of an olive tree; spit at an old man; or hit, push or hassle someone just because they belong to a different religion clearly have no respect for the Torah’s “ways of pleasantness.”
How far they have come down the wrong path is now evident. The media have analyzed questions like “Where were the police?”; “Where was the Shin Bet intelligence agency?”; “Where was the judicial system?”; and “Where were the educators and religious leaders?” I’d like to add one more question: Where were the parents? Most of the extremists involved in these attacks were aged between 14 and 18, some were younger.
What they share is a lack of respect for authority of any kind. They are no more representative of the national religious community, or the so-called settler movement, than the left-wing radical who encourages an economic boycott or tries to storm a border crossing represents the secular or Tel Avivians.
Politicians and leaders who rarely share similar views were united in their condemnation last week.
“There is no ideological crime. There is only crime,” declared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Defense Minister Ehud Barak described the attacks as having “the characteristics of homegrown terror.” Opposition leader Tzipi Livni predictably – and less constructively – blamed Netanyahu, saying: “Settlers’ violence in an IDF base is another step in the extremism that is overtaking Israel, with silence and a wink from the Netanyahu government, directly or indirectly.”
The rabbis who have cultivated this generation need to do some deep soul searching. While the Tzohar rabbinical group expressed “deep pain,” other leading figures had more trouble working out what red lines had been crossed. As reported by the Post’s Jeremy Sharon, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hebron Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of the Samaria region Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, and Rabbi Eliezer Nahum Rabinovitch, head of the Birkat Moshe yeshiva in Ma’aleh Adumim – seemingly without ironic intention – sent a letter on December 13 asking that Netanyahu and Barak allow the IDF to open fire on rioting Palestinians who throw stones.
They obviously dismissed the thought that by the same measure soldiers should shoot at Jewish stone throwers – if the thought occurred to them at all.
Some have placed the blame on disengagement from Gaza. I know a respected and generally charming rabbi who refuses to stand for the Prayer for the State of Israel or the Prayer for Soldiers ever since what is known to many as Hagerush – the Expulsion – in 2005.
I often fight the urge to ask just what state he thinks he is living in and which soldiers are helping to defend it.
Undoubtedly, demolishing the Jewish communities and removing every last Jew (even the dead, buried in Jewish cemeteries) was a wrenching experience, made worse by the escalation in Palestinian missile attacks from the abandoned area. It probably rocked some people’s faith in the state – if not in the Highest Authority. But we are judged by how we handle such challenges. And that means not taking the law into our own hands.
The far-Left describes the increasing number of members of the national religious community found in command positions in the IDF – and making up a large part of the ranks in combat units – as a threat, concerned they will undermine the army from within.
Yet they are now the victims, the double victims, for they were taught above all that they should not lift their hands against their fellow Jews.
They were stunned not just by the violence but by the identity of the perpetrators.
In the communities, schools and families where they were raised, wearing an IDF uniform and a crocheted kippa (skullcap) is a badge of honor.
SUCH ATTACKS are a moral affront to all the good people who dwell here. They also weaken the country on many levels. The extremists might think they are fighting the undefined “enemy,” but they are aiding Israel’s many detractors. Every brick thrown, every slogan spray-painted, every fire ignited is ammunition in the hands of those who seek to delegitimize Israel. They are not strengthening Israel, they are bringing it down.
They also provide inspiration to Palestinian extremists and their supporters. An army that cannot even defend itself against its own, unarmed, attackers makes an attractive target.
The young women who participate in such incidents do not realize that true modesty is not about wearing ever-longer skirts and sleeves; it is about self-respect and respect toward others. That sort of modesty and respect gets lost in the clash with armed forces over the fate of an illegal outpost.
The youths who believe they are saving the country by fighting to retain every illegally erected mobile home may be too young to realize that they are endangering the entire Jewish homeland. That’s why the country needs to see why these “wild weeds” sprang up where they did, what nourished them, who cultivated them.
You cannot sweep problems under a rug and hope to never trip on the bump. There needs to be a crackdown against the perpetrators of these crimes. And serious thought needs to go into preventing future violence. The situation does not require new laws, it requires enforcement. Just as the IDF would pursue a Palestinian who infiltrated a military base and vandalized vehicles or attacked soldiers, so must it respond to attacks by Jews who do the same.
As we all know, the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. It is no consolation that the numbers of extremists are small. All forms of terrorism are perpetrated by a small number of fanatics acting against the greater good for their own reasons.
These Jewish extremists might be a fringe element but that does not make them less dangerous.
Keep in mind: When a crocheted kippa begins to unravel it always starts at the fringe.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.