Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Fears Grow of Ultra-Orthodox Violence If Israel Withdraws from Palestinian Territory

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July - August 2004

Less than a decade after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, reports The Forward (July 9, 2004), “political assassination has moved once again to the center of Israel’s public debate, with intelligence officials warning of an ‘imminent threat’ as right-wing rabbis openly debate how violently to resist the evacuation of settlements.”  

Internal Security Minister Tzahi Haneg states; “I have no doubt that some people have already decided that when the time comes they will save Israel by murdering the prime minister, a Cabinet member, or any army or police official.”  

The director of the Shin Bet security service, Avi Dichter, said that right-wing opposition to Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan “is becoming more extreme and more dangerous.”  

These warnings come after a series of declarations by rabbis forbidding the evacuation of settlements as a violation of religious law. One respected rabbi, Avigdor Nebenzahl, chief rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, declared in July that withdrawing from the territories might incur the so-called “din rodef,” or “verdict of the pursuer,” a religious categorization traditionally punishable by death. “Whoever gives away parts of the land of Israel to others should be considered according to this verdict,” he told a rabbinical gathering in Jerusalem.  

The phrase, drawn from the Talmudic injunction, “Whoever comes to pursue you, kill him first,” was discussed among ultra-Orthodox rabbis in reference to Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and the phrase was cited by Rabin’s killer as a motivation for murder.  

Yossi Alpher, a former director of the Jaffee Center for strategic Studies and former senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, writes in The Forward (July 16, 2004): “Israel’s most ideologically committed and politically skilled minority knows it is in a fight for its life. If Sharon succeeds in removing even a single settlement, a fateful precedent will have been set, one that puts Israel on the road to a Jewish and democratic state in part of Eretz Yisrael, rather than a Jewish but nondemocratic state — a mini-South Africa really — in all of Eretz Yisrael.”  

Alpher argues that if Ariel Sharon were murdered by right-wing extremists, “the assassination of a second Israeli leader seemingly bent on rolling back the settlement movement probably would mark the end of attempts to remove settlements or otherwise restrict Israel’s territorial reach in the West Bank and Gaza. The fanatics would have succeeded once and for all in determining both Israel’s national territorial agenda and its ethno-political nature. . . . Why aren’t the rabbis and settlers who threaten violence and murder against their fellow Jews — or for that matter, against anybody — in jail? . . . Because not only do the inciters’ fellow ideological settlers condone their remarks . . . but the pragmatic secular mainstream seemingly fears to touch the extremists, ostensibly lest it trigger the very escalation of violence that is already being visited upon its leaders. . . . Virtually everyone on the political, legal and security scene seems to back off when it is a rabbi who is invoking religious law to justify political murder.”  

In a report from the occupied territories, “Among the Settlers,” in The New Yorker (May 31, 2004), Jeffrey Goldberg notes that, “A brigade of soldiers, coils of razor wire, and hundreds of concrete barriers stand between Hebron’s fewer than 800 Jewish settlers and its 150,000 Arab residents. Across from Hadassah House is a school for Arab girls, called Cordoba, after the once-Muslim Spanish city. On one of its doors someone had drawn a blue Star of David. On another door a yellowing bumper sticker read ‘Dr. Goldstein Cures the Ills of Israel.’ The reference is to Baruch Goldstein, a physician from Brooklyn, who, in 1994, killed 29 Muslims when they were praying in the Tomb of the Patriarchs just down the road. Across the closed door of a Palestinian shop someone had written, in English, ‘Arabs Are Sand Niggers.’”  

Goldberg interviewed many West Bank residents, including Rabbi Moshe Levinger, Hebron’s first Jewish settler who in 1988 killed a Palestinian shoe-store owner. He served 13 weeks in jail for the killing. He said: “I’m not happy when any living creature dies — an Arab, a fly, a donkey.”  

Levinger told Goldberg: “All my ideas are formed from the Torah. It’s not complex. This land is ours. God gave it to us. We’re the owners of the land..”  

Goldberg points out that, “The most hard-core settlers are impatient messianists, who profess indifference, even scorn, for the state; a faith in vigilantism; and loathing for the Arabs. They are free of doubt, seeing themselves as taking orders from God . . . Hard-core settlers make up perhaps two percent of the Israeli populace, but they nevertheless have driven Israeli policy in the occupied territories for much of the past 30 years . . . . A de facto apartheid already exists in the West Bank. Inside the borders of Israel proper, Arabs and Jews are judged by the same set of laws in the same courtroom; across the Green Line, Jews live under Israeli civil law as well, but their Arab neighbors — people who live, in some cases, just yards away — fall under a different, and substantially undemocratic, set of laws administered by the Israeli army. The system is neither as elaborate or as pervasive as South African apartheid . . . It is nevertheless a form of apartheid, because two different ethnic groups living in the same territory are judged by two separate sets of laws.”  

Rabbi David Samson, who teaches at Mercas HaTav Yeshiva’s high school in Jerusalem told Goldberg: “God won’t allow a Palestinian state to come into creation. And if it does, He’ll destroy it. God has placed the Arabs in the way of the Jews to test our resolve.” In Samson’s view, Israel’s problem is that it refuses to fight in the manner of the ancient Jewish generals, “The Torah doesn’t see a difference between civilians and the military. Until the Jewish people realize that we are fighting a nation that has vowed to destroy us, our mission won’t be completed. If we were willing to kill their civilians, this war would be over in a week . . . In any case, their children are born with Molotov cocktails in their hands. These are a people as unfeeling as jackals.”  

Goldberg concludes: “Today the Jews have a national home, a potent Air Force to protect it, and the patronage of the most powerful country on earth. Today, the Jewish claim to the West Bank and Gaza is one of appetite, not of starvation.”

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.