Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Right-Wing Extremists Endanger Israel and the Jews

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Right-Wing Extremists Endanger Israel and the Jews

Article excerpt

Right-Wing Extremists Endanger Israel and the Jews

By Rachelle Marshall

Just when Israel has achieved its greatest triumph by concluding an agreement with the Palestinians that legitimizes its continued occupation of the West Bank and part of Gaza, the increasing militancy of Jewish extremists in both Israel and the United States is causing a widening split in Israeli society and threatens to undermine the very nature of Judaism. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a rightwing Israeli on Nov. 4 was an event unprecedented in Israel's history. Although verbal abuse is an accepted mode of political discourse in the Jewish state, Israeli leaders rarely have been physically attacked. The murderous act by 27-year-old Yigal Amir is a frightening signal that the danger to Israeli society from Jewish fanatics is far more real than the much-proclaimed threat posed by its Arab neighbors.

Israeli spin-doctors until now have succeeded in linking the world "extremist" exclusively with Arabs who protest Israel's takeover of their land, rather than with the ultra-orthodox Jews who claim God gave them title to the land 3,000 years ago. The day after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the latest agreement in Washington, DC (Sept. 28, 1995), Professor Nasir Aruri of the University of Massachusetts commented on a San Francisco radio station that because Israel will continue to control the land, water, and roads in the West Bank and Gaza, and can close the borders at will, Palestinians will enjoy no more freedom under the new arrangement than did Native Americans confined to their reservations or South Africans forced to live in bantustans. Israeli Consul Nimrod Barkan responded by calling Aruri's views "extremist."

But who are the extremists today? On the Palestinian side, the Muslim Hamas opposes the PLO's deal with Israel, just as do many Israelis. However, according to its spokesman, Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas intends to press its case through political means if given the opportunity. Only tiny groups such as Islamic Jihad have pledged to continue armed struggle.

Such Arab militants have plenty of counterparts among Israelis. In Hebron, where 65 Palestinians have been killed during the past two years, hundreds of Jewish settlers stormed the streets after the signing, shouting "Slaughter the Arabs!" and stoning Palestinian homes. Other settlers blocked traffic from moving across the Allenby Bridge that links the West Bank and Jordan. As usual, and despite the new agreement, the Israeli army put Palestinians, and not the Israeli protesters, under curfew and sealed the borders of Gaza and the West Bank. In the weeks following the signing, Jewish protesters physically attacked Rabin and several other cabinet ministers.

But so far Palestinians have been the chief targets of right-wing Jewish violence. Since 1987, Palestinians have killed 297 Israelis, and Israelis have killed 1,418 Palestinians, including 260 children. Most of the Palestinians were victims of the Israeli police and army, but several hundred were murdered by Jewish extremists. Rabin's assassin reportedly belonged to a group called "Eyal," composed of members of the late Meir Kahane's Kach party, which recently claimed responsibility for killing at least four Palestinians. Israeli militants have threatened more violence against Palestinians if terms of the new agreement are implemented. "They [the Palestinians] are the enemy," said Yisrael Harel, head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria. Another settler leader, Pinchas Wallerstein, told reporters that settlers would shoot Palestinian policemen on sight.

The extremists are spurred on by Orthodox rabbis and members of the Likud party who regarded Rabin as a traitor for agreeing to remove troops from the center of West Bank towns. The Israeli Rabbinical Association ruled last July that the Torah prohibits any withdrawal from the "land of Israel," and therefore soldiers must disobey orders to leave. …

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