By Richard Edmondson
Do Jews get tortured in the state of Israel? One wouldn’t think so, but such are the reports that have been coming out of the Jewish state over the past several days.
Even though the Israeli government has moved further and further to the right under Benjamin Netanyahu, there apparently are some in Israeli society for whom the rightward march isn’t progressing fast enough.
And some of these people are actively seeking to overthrow the present government–that is, at least, if you believe recent claims by the Israeli Shin Bet. Yes, I know–it could all be fiction, basically a ruse to get people to think: “O my God! We better support the Israeli government, or something even worse might take its place.” But before you dismiss it as solely that, there are a few things you might consider.
As I reported recently, arrests were made earlier this month in the arson attack on the Dawabsha home, a ghastly incident which took place in the middle of the night on July 31 and which killed three members of a Palestinian family–an 18-month-old toddler who perished instantly, as well as the child’s mother and father who succumbed to their injuries later.
The crime was so atrocious it even elicited a response from the US State Department, which condemned it as a “vicious terrorist attack” and called on Israel to “apprehend the murderers.” But on September 10, three days after the mother’s death and a funeral that was attended by thousands, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced that arrests could not be made because it might reveal “sensitive information.”
Later on in the month, however, on September 27, Ya’alon changed his tune, saying that “we know which group is responsible” for the attack and vowing that “we will have them in the future.” And on December 3, an Israeli police spokesman announced that indeed “a number of suspects” had been arrested in the case.
The identities of those charged were not made public at the time, and still have not been published in Israel, due to a gag order, but the police spokesperson confided that the arrestees are “suspected of belonging to a Jewish terror organization and carrying out terror attacks.” Moreover, the names have been published by blogger Richard Silverstein, and it seems that at least one of them is a US citizen.
The plot thickens. On December 15 Ya’alon changed his tune once again, telling Army Radio that there is “not enough evidence” to prosecute the individuals who were taken into custody (apparently there are four altogether). The same report also informs us that “extraordinary measures” were used by Israeli authorities in the course of interrogating the suspects.
And finally on December 18, the Times of Israel reported that these “extraordinary measures” were torture. That, at any rate, is the claim being made by defense attorneys in the case, and the allegation is apparently being taken seriously by a number of people in Israel, including organizations such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel which, in the words of the Times, “deals overwhelmingly with human rights abuses against Palestinians.”
Others who are taking it seriously are Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, of the Jewish Home Party, who has called upon Netanyahu to convene a committee to discuss the allegations, as well as Ariel’s colleague in the same party, MK Bezalel Smotrich, who insists, against all logic, that the attack upon the Dawabsha family “is not a terror attack.” Smotrich’s comments, and the rise of the Jewish Home Party in general, would suggest how far to the right things have moved in Israel.
While the Shin Bet has denied the allegations of torture, it does admit that the suspects were “interrogated in an intensive way with regards to the suspicions against them.” Whatever. Torture and/or “intensive interrogations” aren’t normally meted out to Jews in Israel, such measures being normally reserved for Palestinians. That the Shin Bet resorted to methods of this sort in this case would suggest a high level of concern–at least over something.
Silverstein’s take on the whole thing is that there is indeed a plot by settlers to engineer a violent overthrow of the government–but that the government, paradoxically, is not for the most part highly motivated to stop it:
In all other societies which are functional, when a terror network attacks the State itself there is a fast and firm response. The forces of the State unite to attack terror and uproot it. If they do not, they risk undermining the very basis for the State’s existence. That is why George Washington reacted so strongly to Shays Rebellion and firmly put down this farmers’ revolt in Pennsylvania at the outset of the American Republic. It’s also why Ben Gurion commanded Rabin to attack the Alta Lena, which was bringing weapons meant to enable a Lehi militia that would be independent of the Yishuv’s official military forces. To survive, a State needs to enforce discipline and allegiance. Those who reject its sovereignty are, or should be, enemies of the State.
The strange case of the settlers is that they are essentially enemies of the State, but the State embraces them anyway. In effect, and this is the really crazy part, the State turns on itself; eating itself from within.
In a recent article, I noted evidence suggesting that in the West Bank settlers “exercise at least as much authority, if not more so, than the army.” There are plenty of rabbis in the settler movement, and what the movement seems to possess and exercise is a “religious authority.” This may not be the equivalent of outright political and military authority, at least not at present, but it could reach that point. Yet even now, a great deal of affinity and cooperation seem to exist between both soldiers and settlers alike in terms of violence perpetrated against Palestinians, particularly in the Hebron area.
Perhaps the words of Smotrich are instructive. The Knessett member recently penned an op-ed piece for a newspaper tied to the settler movement. The article is mentioned in a report published in English by the Times of Israel and which appeared on December 10. In the article, Smotrich stated that “price tag” attacks carried out by Jews should not be equated with “terror” attacks by Palestinians, and he criticized what he referred to as the “draconian” measures taken against the Jewish suspects by the Shin Bet.
The following is from the Times of Israel article:
Smotrich accused the government of “demonizing” the population of Israeli settlers, maintained it was violating the rights of the suspects to exact a confession by force, and appeared to insinuate that the government was driving the perpetrators to commit anti-Arab attacks.
A government that “treats the most moral population in the State of Israel as a terror-supporting population loses its right to exist,” he wrote. “When you push an entire community up against the wall, treat its [members] like terrorists, demonize it, trample on its rights, it ultimately explodes. Let no one be surprised when this should happen, when more and more people will be pushed, against their will, to carry out actions that are forbidden.”
“A system that does not make this simple and especially moral distinction between enemy and and citizen — even if he is a criminal — raises questions about the justification to give it so much power and authority, with so little oversight and supervision, even if in most cases it uses its powers correctly against terror.”
It may be an unexpected, inadvertent spin-off to the Palestinian intifada, but what seems to be metastasizing now is a coalition between the settler movement and certain elements within the Army and the Jewish Home Party. Inevitably we might wonder: is this what set off the alarm bells inside the Shin Bet (assuming such bells did go off)? It’s hard to say for sure. But a question worth asking is what happens when the Jewish state finally “eats itself from within,” as Silverstein puts it? Or more precisely, what if terrorists such as those who perpetrated the attack on the Dawabsha family succeed in getting their hands on the levers of state power, and, even more frighteningly, what if they gain access to Israel’s stockpile of nuclear weapons?
Some more from Silverstein, who, in the passage below, comments on what motivates these people, and what seems to be motivating one of them in particular–Amiram Benoliel–who is pictured above talking on his cell phone:
What I find especially odd about all crimes of Jewish terror is that the ideology that underpins it is essentially rejection of the (secular) State. The attackers in this case have very publicly expressed their hate for both the State and Zionism. The ideological godfather of the latest iteration of the “Jewish Revolt,” Meir Ettinger (Meir Kahane’s grandson), believes (like many extremist terrorists) that by mounting enough terror attacks against Palestinian targets, it will prove the state to toothless and eventually lead to its downfall. The fall of the secular state, so this narrative goes, will lead to the founding of a Torah-true theocratic State, a Davidic monarchy.
Shabak [Shin Bet] released its own statement about their motives:
“It is an extremist anti-Zionist ideological group whose purpose to exploit violence to destroy the established order, by means of terror attacks which would advance their goals.”
One of the suspects, Amiram Benoliel, explicitly rejected the jurisdiction of the Israeli court according to this Facebook post on the page of the Kahanist Jewish Voice (full Hebrew statement here). He demanded to be tried by a halachic court (beyt din) knowing full well that settler rabbis would never convict him. In fact, he noted that he wished to be tried before Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who was recently quoted as saying it was permissible to kill both Christians and Muslims if they rejected the seven Noahide Laws. Ariel leads the Temple Institute, seeking to destroy the Noble Sanctuary and replace it with the Jewish Third Temple.
Benoliel’s supporters are quoted as saying on his behalf during one of his earlier 2014 Shabak detentions:
“The only [law] to which we are subject is the law of the Torah. We are proud of him for paying the price for remaining true to Torah.”
They further claim that secular judges tasked with hearing his case are “criminals” and “disqualified from hearing evidence according to the laws of the Torah.”
In other words, the violent extremists raising such concerns now completely reject the authority of any secular state, and feel that the only law Jews should be subject to is the law of the Torah. Since that is the case, it might behoove us to examine a few passages from the Torah that conceivably might be guiding their thinking at present:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.
The above is from Deuteronomy chapter 7 and is a clear command for genocide. Interestingly, in 1 Samuel 15, Saul, the Israeli king, undergoes severe punishment for failing to meet the kill quota. Saul follows the divine directive to slaughter all the Amalekites, down to every last man, woman, and child– and even infants–but for some reason he spares the life of the Amalekite king and also allows his soldiers to take the tribe’s domestic animals as bounty. As Samuel puts it to him, “You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel.” Saul, in other words, paid a major price just for sparing one man’s life.
The founding of the state of Israel resulted in the deaths of numerous Palestinians, at Deir Yassin and elsewhere, but the large majority of the population suffered nothing worse than displacement (though this is not intended to belittle or diminish their suffering). Some of these were displaced within the new state, with many more, approximately 750,00, scattered into a diaspora outside it. What follows is pure speculation, but I’ll offer it anyway–that the major fault found by today’s Jewish terrorists with the founders of the state of Israel is that they didn’t kill every last single Palestinian, or at any rate a substantially larger number than they did. And in the volatile environment of the current intifada, with the number of stabbing attacks mounting up, quite likely there are large numbers of Israelis today inclined to agree with them.
Should people of this sort seize the reins of power, there likely will be a bloodbath greater even than what we’ve seen over the past two and half months. Moreover, it’s a bloodbath that could easily end up extending outside the state of Israel as well–maybe even far outside it:
The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed.
The above comes, once again, from Deuteronomy 7, and the part about the “wild animals” is interesting given the teachings of such Judaic authorities as Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavichter rabbi who viewed Jews as a separate species from non-Jews, or Ovadia Yosef, who likened Gentiles to donkeys. For such people, and their present-day followers and adherents, the attack upon the Dawabsha family would be little more than a minor crime, or maybe not even a crime at all. And perhaps in light of this we can more easily understand the words of Smotrich:
“The murder in Duma [the West Bank town where the family lived], with all its severity, is not a terror attack. Period.”
Smotrich, of course, is a member of the Israeli Knessett, and politicians have to be circumspect in their public remarks, more so at any rate than average people on the street. This is a dictum that would apply doubly to politicians of the stature of Naftali Bennett, the Jewish Home Party leader who refuted Smotrich’s comments in a tweet, “Anyone who throws a firebomb at a house is a terrorist. Period.”
Bennett may well be sincere in that, but he may also be cognizant of the fact that any sign from the Israeli political establishment of countenancing what the murderers did at the Dawabsha home on the night of July 31 could jeopardize the continued flow of US tax dollars. While the US Congress is solidly bought and paid for, there are limits nonetheless to what Congress members can justify to their constituents and still sound rational or sane.
So what happens if the present Israeli government implodes and the settler movement seizes power in the resultant vacuum, establishing in the process the “Torah-true theocratic state” Silverstein spoke of? The implications are disturbing, not just for Palestinians, but for every single person on the planet.