The hilltop youth circus

These hilltop youth call themselves a “rebel group.”

Hebrew grafitti at the Dawabsha family home in Duma where a fire engulfed the house after a molotov cocktail was thrown at it (photo credit: ZAKARIA, RABBIS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS)
Hebrew grafitti at the Dawabsha family home in Duma where a fire engulfed the house after a molotov cocktail was thrown at it
The Duma attack, which the Shin Bet is currently investigating, has finally brought the phenomenon of Jewish hilltop youth carrying out serious terrorist attacks to the forefront of Israeli public discourse. These hilltop youth call themselves a “rebel group.”
Although we’re talking about a relatively small number of individuals, hilltop youth members carry out very severe attacks, as we’ve witnessed in the many “price-tag” incidents over the last decade.
These price-tag attacks are meant to convey a message to Israeli authorities. These attacks on Palestinians and other non-Jewish communities began in reprisal for removing Jews from illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria. Later, they served as revenge for terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians.
Eventually they turned into random acts of terrorism aimed at Palestinians and their property with no connection to specific incidents.
The terrorists carrying out price tag attacks formed a rebel group in which they formulated a way of thinking that was extremist, anarchist, anti-Zionistic and exceptionally violent. This group aims to undermine the government, to harm the foundations of our democratic society that we’ve spent so many years fashioning as a pluralistic community that is home to a number of religions. The rebel group’s aim was to bring all this crumbling down so they could reestablish the Kingdom of Judah, rebuild the Holy Temple and expel or kill all the idolaters (i.e. Christians and Muslims) who live here.
Rebel group members carry out attacks at sensitive locations such as the Temple Mount, murder Palestinians in the territories and set fire to their homes, all in an effort to reach their ultimate goal: expel the gentiles and eliminate idolatry.
This group is challenging the current government and encouraging soldiers serving in the IDF to refuse orders, and does not recognize the Israeli judicial system.
According the Shin Bet, the hilltop youth are behind all the serious attacks that have been carried out against Palestinians since December 2014, including the torching of Khirbet Adirat, the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, the Church of the Loaves and Fish at Capernaum, and the Beduin tent in Kafr Malik. And of course, these hoodlums are also the main suspects in the more recent murders in Duma.
This investigation of the Duma case is extremely challenging for the Shin Bet, since most of the hilltop youth are young (many are underage) criminals who follow a radical messianic ideology, and who live on mountaintops without any parental figures or educational frameworks. In addition, they are well informed about the structure and goal of Shin Bet security investigations.
Despite all of this, it is important to note that the Shin Bet possesses all of the operational tools required to carry out effective intelligence gathering: It uses the same efficacious practices and advanced technologies that it employ while combating Palestinian terrorism. However, preventing terrorist attacks is a complicated task, and more often than not, a substantial amount of evidence collected following these atrocities is not admissible in court, and therefore doesn’t lead to a conviction.
In such situations, the state uses administrative detention as a way to disrupt the activities of specific terrorists and prevent serious attacks from being carried out.
The main obstacle the Shin Bet must overcome in its investigations is the Israeli legal system. Whereas Palestinian terrorists can be arrested, interrogated and tried in military courts in the territories, Jewish terrorists are tried in the regular court system, and therefore they receive lighter sentences. As a result, there is much less deterrence for Jewish terrorists.
Nevertheless, the Shin Bet issued more than 40 administrative restraining orders in 2015, including expulsion from the territories, house arrest, no contact between hill top youth members, and administrative detention. As a result, there was a dramatic reduction in the volume of violent activity this past year, but the agency cannot fully prevent all Jewish terrorist network activity. The Shin Bet also succeeded in uncovering the culprits in a number of attacks that took place during the year, such as the murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the fire at the bilingual school in Jerusalem (which was carried out by members of the Lehava group), and the fires set at the Church of the Loaves and Fish and the Beduin tent at Kafr Malik. Last year, the Shin Bet thwarted four operations that were being planned by groups in Yitzhar, the Gilad Farm, Givat Binyamin and Beit El.
All of these investigations were conducted in accordance with Israeli law and under the full supervision of the legal system. All interrogations followed strict Shin Bet procedures and all detainees were allowed to observe holidays, including lighting candles and saying prayers. The assertions by detainees and their lawyers that torture was employed and that detainees were kicked and beaten during their interrogation are completely false.
The Israeli authorities have been neglecting the issue of hilltop youth for years and have failed to make the legislative changes necessary to properly deal with this situation.
If the government doesn’t make these changes soon, the situation will continue to worsen and we are liable to end up dealing with an even larger disaster than the current one.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).