The Answer to Jewish Terrorism? Legitimate Jewish Resistance

It is imperative we condemn attacks by Jewish extremists and distance ourselves from them. It is imperative we call out the hypocrisy of those for whom Arab blood is redder than Jewish blood. We will do this by reclaiming the struggle for Israel.

Ari Soffer

OpEds Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

The two deadly terrorist attacks last week in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian village of Duma have rightly left Israelis and Jews throughout the world shocked and appalled. 

Condemnations have come quick and fast, as well they should, and from all corners of the political and religious spectrum. We saw it in the headlines as much as on social media, where Facebook and Twitter feeds erupted in a chorus of revulsion.

The fact that everyone is speaking up regardless of their ideological hue is crucial. No country is free of violent bigots and extremists, but the real test of any society is how the majority - from the grassroots up to those in positions of leadership and influence - respond to hate crimes and terrorism.

Indeed, as shameful as those incidents were, the wider reaction to the two horrific attacks is something Israelis and Jews everywhere can and should be proud of. Unlike the Palestinian Arab leadership and society - which routinely glorify and encourage the murder of innocent Jews, including children - Israeli and wider Jewish society united in revulsion, denouncing such attacks on innocents as thoroughly "un-Jewish," and demanding the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Law enforcement agencies have already been mobilized to apprehend those responsible, though the sheer incompetence of police in allowing the Jerusalem gay parade stabber (Yishai Schlissel, who had only just finished a 10-year sentence for an identical attack in 2005) to get anywhere near the parade unnoticed raises serious questions of its own. 

The attack in Duma soon overshadowed even that shocking event - and understandably so, given that the result was so utterly tragic: the murder of an 18-month-old baby and the hospitalization of most of the rest of his family.

Police and intelligence services are yet to track down the attackers responsible for that heinous crime. According to initial reports, unlike the events in Jerusalem just hours earlier, in this case the attackers were much more organized. They wore masks, were in and out quickly before emergency services could arrive, and took precautions such as not bringing mobile phones with them, which would have enabled intelligence services to easily track their movements and zero-in on them.

Nevertheless, in all likelihood it is only a matter of time before they are caught - and when they are, and if indeed they are Jewish extremists as appears to be the case, they must be treated no differently to Palestinian terrorists. They must be made to pay.

The elephant in the room

But as the initial shock and revulsion subsides somewhat, a number of more delicate yet glaring issues must now be addressed as well (aside from the issue of police incompetence).

The first is the elephant in the room - a peculiarity which those who have dared to raise so far have seen sanctimoniously shouted down.

The cold-blooded murder of a young child is always abhorrent, always worthy of the harshest of condemnations. Always. And yet, it is impossible not to notice that it is only now - when the infant victim of terror is a Palestinian Arab and not an Israeli Jew - that we see mass protests in Rabin Square, unending condemnations from across the spectrum even days later, joint Israeli-Palestinian prayers rallies, the works.

Yonatan Palmer, Adelle Biton, Chaya Zisel Braun, even little Hadas Fogel - these and countless other murdered Israeli babies (many of them less than a year old) for some reason did not deserve the sympathy, or the wall-to-wall, angry condemnations from Left as well as Right, or the markedly strident condemnations from the US to the EU, or the cacophony of Facebook outrage, as Ali Dawabsha.

Those of us who live in Judea and Samaria and are the target of the near-daily stonings, firebombings, and other attacks - largely targeting innocent civilians; namely us and our children - could not fail to note the rank hypocrisy.

I must admit, it struck me almost as hard as news of the attack itself. Imagine how it feels to essentially be told that spilling the blood of you and "your kind" is simply not as bad as the murder of your Arab neighbors. That your lives matter less. That there must be "no ifs and buts" in condemning the Duma murder, while the deaths of "settlers" and other Israelis almost always come with some kind of qualification, or reference to a Palestinian "grievance" as a mitigating factor.

Similarly, the time has also come to call out the thoroughly dishonest discourse being systematically promoted not only by international media outlets (whose bias we have come to expect), but even by many Israeli outlets, who should know better. As a journalist it is simply galling, offensive even, to see this attack referred to as the start of some kind of escalation - as if everything was fine before.

According to this selective narrative there was no Malachi Rosenfeld, no Danny Gonen, no shootings of Israeli ambulances and other vehicles, no stabbings, car attacks or rock-throwing attacks, no firebombings of Jews and Jewish property. Everything was fine. And then, out of the blue, a bunch of "settlers" came and committed an atrocity - and now the Palestinian "backlash" is just something to be expected, a natural reaction.

Which of course raises yet another question. Why are Palestinian "revenge" attacks or "backlashes" always viewed as natural responses to perceived grievances, like the weather, or even something which is at least in part "our fault for provoking," while similar "revenge" attacks by Israelis "have no excuse"? Surely neither has any excuse?

Is this another form of Palestinian privilege?

The most extreme example of this supreme double-standard came, unsurprisingly, from the far-left Haaretz paper. In an oped, senior Haaretz columnist Gidon Levy declared that "All Israelis are guilty for setting a Palestinian family on fire." All Israelis. Yes, this from the defender of Palestinian terrorism par-excellence, the man who never grows tired of denouncing "collective punishment" against Palestinians.

His was not a lone voice. In an official editorial Haaretz predictably posited that the very existence of "Jewish settlements" is in fact the "mother of all sins," terrorism included. Yes, the paper which regularly, spuriously accuses Israel of "ethnic-cleansing" has an answer to the actions of a few Jewish extremists which would make all but the most militantly right-wing nationalists blush: expel the lot of them.

Time for introspection

Nevertheless, even in light of these very real, very legitimate questions, it is crucial that the religious-Zionist public and leadership remain focused on the need for deep introspection in light of these attacks.

It is true, as one of my colleagues on Arutz Sheva's Hebrew site recently wrote, that the strand of thinking which allows for "price tagging" and other forms of unacceptable violence is concentrated in just two or three relatively small yeshivot. This is not a large, organized movement affiliated with the religious-Zionist community as a whole, nor with the wider "national camp" at all for that matter - despite attempts by some elements of the left-wing media and political class, along with our own habitual apologists, to claim that that is so.

In fact, it is not even the majority of the so-called "Hilltop Youth" - a catch-all term used to describe not an organization, but a wider counterculture movement encompassing everything from pot-smoking hippies, to pioneering Zionist youths, to a small number of violent radicals, and everything in between.

The source of these attacks is a cluster of irresponsible, in some cases manipulative rabbis and teachers, grooming a handful of vulnerable youths to carry out violent acts. This is common knowledge.

In fact, for the most part these small, radical institutions do not even consider themselves "Zionist" at all, deriding religious-Zionists and shunning the State's institutions altogether.

But it is also true, as he noted, that we in the religious-Zionist community have a duty to make this fact abundantly clear, and to distance ourselves from such individuals and institutions and remove any possibility of us inadvertently lending legitimacy to them.

Not only is condemnation a moral imperative in its own right, but it also must be said that clamping down on such violent extremists is a fundamental Israeli interest. One need only look the countries which surround us, or even as close as Gaza, to see what happens when societies allow hatred and bigotry to take over. As an increasing minority of Arab dissidents are beginning to realize, the phenomenon of suicide bombings is simply the most graphic embodiment, the terminal stage, of the self-destructiveness of a culture based on hatred and vengeance.

Indeed, one of the secrets to the Jews' miraculous success in surviving 2,000 years of exile and rebuilding our homeland against all the odds is that we did not allow our many grievances to take over, no matter how legitimate and painful they were. We gritted our teeth and persevered, we struggled and succeeded, because we looked forward unswervingly.

Reframing the struggle

This leads us to a final, practical question. 

Although such violent attacks are unacceptable, we in Judea and Samaria do of course face a legitimate struggle for our land and for our very lives - despite attempts by some to deny our basic rights.

We struggle daily against Arab terrorism which seeks to drive us from this land, against plans by world powers to ethnically-cleanse us as they successfully pressured Israel to do in Gaza, and yes even sometimes against unjust, discriminatory policies by our own government, which places draconian restrictions on our communities which are not seen anywhere else in the country.

We struggle against a perverse political discourse in which an illegal, European-built Arab colony on the site of an ancient Jewish town (Susya) is considered sacred, while the ancient, indigenous Jewish presence in Bet El, Hevron, Shiloh and even Jerusalem is denied and actively opposed. And of course, we struggle for access to our holiest site, the Temple Mount, denied to us by the connivance of aggressive political Islam and cowardly political machinations.

However, without a proper strategy for our struggle, we create a vacuum which enables radical, fringe elements and unstable youths to hijack our noble cause. It is no coincidence that the expulsion from Gush Katif exponentially fueled a sense of disillusionment among some of our finest youth, one which exploded shortly afterwards in Amona and has simmered ever since. That disillusionment was not driven purely by the sense of betrayal at the State of Israel or the brutality of the police, but also in part by the failure of the "establishment" religious-Zionist (or "settler") leadership to lead the struggle, which in retrospect seemed doomed from the start.

Much has changed since then; the "settlement" leadership has learned a lot of lessons and religious-Zionism as a political force is now far stronger than it has ever been.

But more is needed on a grassroots level. On several occasions for example, provocations and terrorist attacks by Arab or left-wing extremists have met with spontaneous - peaceful, but assertive - counter-demonstrations. Instead of leaving it to locals to haphazardly arrange such events, efforts must be made to coordinate such peaceful resistance throughout Judea and Samaria to send a clear message of strength to those who wish to cow us into surrender.

In the same vein, if we are (rightly) upset by the double-standards of the Left in only organizing anti-terror protests on the rare occasions the terrorists are Jews, we must not make do with complaining. Nationalist groups should not only mobilize in a similar fashion in response to Arab terrorist attacks, but they must publicly invite those same left-wing groups to take part. If they take part, it will ramp up the pressure and make such attacks impossible to ignore - if not, it will totally void them of all credibility.

There must also be a more concerted effort to directly defy those who wish to wipe us out with that most classic of Zionist responses: building. It is a form of direct action, of beautiful Jewish defiance and resistance, most recently illustrated not far from my own backyard, when youths from Adei Ad (near Shiloh) reacted to the murder of Malachi Rosenfeld by immediately claiming two hills in his name, via the establishment of two new "outposts" overnight. That is true Jewish "vengeance" - for there is nothing which infuriates our enemies more than the growth of Jewish life in the face of their efforts to snuff it out.

But perhaps most importantly - and if there is one thing Gush Katif must have taught us it is this - it is crucial that the religious-Zionist public form a united political front. In a democracy, true change must come via politics; again it is no coincidence that the Disengagement occured at the low ebb of religious-Zionism in the Knesset. End the apathy, end the simultaneous follies of factionalism and naive attachment to ideologically-bankrupt establishment parties which backfired on us in the last elections, and stand with the confidence to forge our own path confidently, on the basis of our shared values in the Torah, people and land of Israel.

The truest, most effective way to disempower both our enemies and the lunatics who play into their hands is by empowering ourselves to take back the struggle.