Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What to make of the Ya'acov Teitel story

On Jewish terrorists


He acted alone. He might have been mentally unstable. An entire community should not be expected to apologize for, or be put on the defensive over, the behavior of one man.


That is what people said about Husam Taysir Dwayat and Ghassan Abu Tir, the two Jerusalem bulldozer terrorists, and about Alaa Abu Dhein, the perpetrator of the Mercaz Harav massacre.

Leaders of the settlement movement are making a similar-sounding argument about alleged Jewish terrorist Ya'acov Teitel. Yisrael Medad, a veteran settler ideologist, told The Jerusalem Post: "Don't blame the Teitel family, or the 100 families of Shvut Rahel, or the 8,000 residents of Gush Shiloh, or the 300,000 settlers who live in Judea and Samaria for what Teitel is accused of doing."

Indeed so. What distinguishes one terrorist from another? Answer: the reaction of their communities. There's a world of difference between the settler milieu Teitel called home, and the society that spawned Dwayat, Tir and Dhein.

Settler spokesmen - as well as the rank and file, including the ideologically hardline and Orthodox - are not glorifying the crimes Teitel is alleged to have perpetrated. No one is praising the murders of an Arab taxi driver in Jerusalem and an Arab shepherd in Judea, or the maiming of a young Jew for Jesus, or the bombing of an anti-settler academic.

An extremist voice can always be found to imply that the professor provoked his attacker by advocating that tanks be used to uproot the settlements. And there is the odd conspiratorialist claiming that Teitel was framed as a "gift" to the Left on the Rabin assassination anniversary. Others complain that the media is piling on, or that the charges can't possibly be true because Teitel seemed like a nice man.

But no one is justifying the crimes or saying the ends justify the means.

The Shvut Rahel leadership denounced the crimes attributed to Teitel and said it was praying that the charges would prove unfounded. The mainstream settler leaders at the Yesha Council congratulated the security forces for capturing Teitel and called on all Israelis to denounce such acts.

Here is another difference in societal attitudes toward terrorism, as pointed out by Aaron Lerner of Independent Media Review and Analysis: If found guilty, or criminally insane, Teitel will be incarcerated. The Israeli school system won't teach that Ya'acov Teitel is a hero. No one will name a summer camp for him. His family won't be awarded a monthly government stipend in appreciation for his sacrifices.

But this is not enough.

THE BLANKET repudiation by the settlers of the crimes attributed to Teitel is significant for its resonance within the settler community and beyond. Egregiously, one Hebrew tabloid columnist insisted that the suspect's neighbors could not possibly have been ignorant while he planned his crimes. For many years now, television's popular Eretz Nehederet comedy program has parodied American immigrants in the West Bank as gun-toting religious fanatics.

In that kind of climate, there may be an inclination within the settler movement to circle the wagons and resist introspection. But although the settlers' rhetorical response is to be commended, the movement cannot afford to be sanguine. The crisis created by the Teitel arrest should serve as an impetus for a spiritual and political reckoning, especially within ideological settlements such as Shvut Rahel. This same community was also home to Asher Weissgan, who murdered four innocent Palestinians prior to the the Gaza disengagement. He eventually committed suicide in prison.

A not-insignificant minority of religious settlers has broken away from mainstream Zionism; their allegiance is no longer to the state. To the extent that they listen to anyone, it is to renegade rabbis who countenance political violence. Their followers can be seen accosting security personnel and throwing stones at passing Arab motorists.

Behind the scenes, responsible settler leaders are struggling to end such behavior. Now is the time for communal leaders to demarcate anew an indelible red line against violence - whether directed at Arabs or Jews.

Granted, it is exceedingly hard to stop a Baruch Goldstein, a Yigal Amir or an Eden Natan-Zada if they "hear" God's voice telling them to kill a prime minister, policeman, leftist, homosexual, Jew for Jesus, or Arab. But neighbors, rabbis and community workers need to be more attuned to deviant behavior. Tradition teaches, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh. Troubled souls must not be left to their own devices. And settler leaders - especially rabbis - must advocate opposition to murderous political violence as fervently as they champion the Land of Israel itself.

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