The scourge of Jewish terrorism

by Yaniv Reich on November 2, 2009

The Israeli press is abuzz with reports about the arrest of the Jewish terrorist, Yaakov Teitel, an American Jewish fundamentalist who became a settler (and much else) in the occupied West Bank. In particular, he has murdered at least two Palestinians, sent a bomb to a Jewish family with whom he disagreed ideologically, tried to blow up a leftist Israeli professor, incited to murder of gays, and on and on.

Despite the pushback from the right, which started even before the arrest was made public (suggesting inside knowledge of Teitel’s arrest), or perhaps because of it, the Israeli press has quickly crystallized around the idea that he was a solitary and marginal figure in Jewish history.

Is that true? Unfortunately, no. The settlements are factories for rabid ideological fervor and extreme violence. While some settlers, possibly even the majority, are economic settlers that benefit from housing made cheap by government subsidies, there is a substantial number of ideological settlers, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands, for whom all of biblical Israel is given to the Jews by God. Some unknown proportion of that group are violent.

This is a huge issue, as can be seen by considering some basic facts on Jewish terrorism. On Sunday, a Shin Bet official said there are many such extremists still out there. Settler violence is increasing against Palestinians, with most instances going unreported by the media and unpunished by the law. Jerusalem is covered with posters filled with anti-Arab (and anti-gay) incitement. Teitel managed to evade Israel’s sophisticated Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of the FBI, for 12 years after he admitted to the murder of two Arabs but was released due to insufficient evidence. He could not have done that without tight-lipped support from his community and an insufficiently rigorous investigation by Israel’s security forces. The Israeli group Yesh Din has uncovered that 90 percent of police investigations of settler violence are insufficiently investigated and later closed.

Many murders of Palestinians have gone unsolved:

Experience – and statistics – show that Israeli law enforcement is remarkably lax when it comes to tackling violence against Palestinians. Twelve years ago, Teitel confessed to killing two Arabs and then took a break from such activity. Sure, he was detained for questioning after the murder of shepherd Issa Mahamra, but he was released due to insufficient evidence. As with many other cases of murder and violence committed against Palestinians, the story of the shepherd from Yatta and the taxi driver from East Jerusalem disappeared into oblivion – until Teitel returned and attempted to harm Jews, bringing the wrath of public opinion, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police down on his head.

The (justifiably) prevailing feeling among Palestinians in the West Bank is that their blood is of no consequence. It’s hard to find a Palestinian today who will make an effort to approach the Israeli police about a settler assault, unless Israeli human-rights groups help him. The way Palestinians in the territories see it, Israeli law is enforced only if Jews are harmed, while incidents in which Palestinians are murdered, beaten or otherwise wounded are treated cursorily at best – and more often, are ignored entirely.

For instance, at least six shooting attacks against Palestinians in 2001-2002 have remained unsolved. The most shocking incident took place in July 2001, when three members of the Tamaizi family were shot to death by a man in a skullcap, according to relatives. The gunman asked the driver of the vehicle to stop, as it drove from one end of the village of Idna to the other, after a family wedding. When it stopped, he opened fire. But it’s doubtful that Israelis remember that 3-month-old Dai Marwan Tamaizi, born after his parents underwent 14 years of fertility treatments, was killed that day – as were Mohammed Salameh Tamaizi, 27, an only child, and Mohammed Hilmi al-Tamaizi, 24, who was engaged to be married.

There is a long and inglorious history of Jewish terrorism. Ignoring for now the terrorist activity against the British to bring about the state of Israel, as well as long history of formal military and paramilitary Jewish terrorist activity, modern Israeli history is filled with examples of ideological maniacs committing terrible atrocities. For example, Baruch Goldstein gunning down 29 Muslims in Hebron in 1994. Eden Natan-Zada killing four Israeli Arabs because he was ticked off about the Gaza disengagement. The Bat Ayin Underground, which planted (an ultimately unsuccessful) bomb at an Arab girls’ school in Jerusalem in 2002. Then, of course, there is the more famous case of Yitzchak Rabin’s assassin.

The existence of Jewish terrorism is outrageous enough. But the most concerning and disconcerting aspect of all is the powerful institutional forces that allow this situation to carry on (see, e.g., Max Blumenthal’s video on Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau’s relationship with the terrorist group Kach at Blumenthal's Gambling with Conflict).

These religious fundamentalists must be brought to account. A myopic focus on this one case will not solve the deeper and more serious problem we face.

Update: These are Teitel’s weapons, excluding his bomb making materials (Photo credit: Richard Silverstein’s blog).

teitel weapons

More great commentary on this case at Richard Silverstein’s blog, Promised Land blog, and here.

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