Monday, January 11, 2016

Are They Normal Jews? Terrorists? Or Both?

West Bank settler and former Chicagoan Eliezer Shekhtman and his family
Over the last few months there have been almost daily reports about Jews being attacked by individual Palestinians. Often ending in the death of an innocent victim. Just when you think you’ve seen every possible type of terror perpetrated against us, something new like this comes up. It seems like it will never end. The Arab hatred of the Jewish people seems to be in their DNA. And the terrorists that hatred has spawned have been doing their level best to show that hatred in a variety of deadly ways.

There seems to be no end. When one type of violence peters out, a new one arises. I think we can characterize it all as one big and continuous Intifada (Arab uprising) that keeps changing its methods. It’s disheartening beyond words to see innocent Jews in Israel being attacked every single day – because they are Jews. I cannot imagine what it’s like for an Israeli to wake up every morning wondering if he might be the next victim.

Unfortunately the kinds of constant attacks against us have given rise to terrorists of our own. Or has at least provided them cover for their true purpose of settling all of Eretz Yisrael (biblical Israel) at all cost. An article in the Forward depicting the lives and ideals of these particular settlers. The ones that live deep into West Bank territories. From which arise Jewish terrorists like the price taggers. Or the ones who set fire to a Palestinian house in the West Bank city of Duma – killing the family while they slept. These groups are no doubt gaining some sympathy because of the current spate of violence being experienced there now.

Frankly these people scare me.  Not because they are a bunch of crazed maniacs wielding guns and knives at Arabs all day long. But because they seem so normal in every way.

How normal are these they? I recall seeing a PBS documentary in the 70s called ‘West Bank Story’. It profiled Religious Zionist Jewish settlers living in Chevron. They were mainly supporters of Rabbi Meir Kahane.  They acted and sounded like typical American suburbanites living a middle class lifestyle. (To be clear, not all Religious Zionists are settlers. Many- perhaps even most - are even against the settlements. At least those deep in Palestinian areas of the West Bank. But it is mostly the Religious Zionist camp from where these people are drawn.)

These settlers were not only living fairly normal lives, they were also extremely idealistic. They lived in Chevron to show the Arab residents – and the rest of the world - who biblical Israel really belonged to. So they were going stay in Chevron. 

They were not however belligerent.  They tried mightily to get along shopping in their stores – trying to live their lives as good neighbors. I recall admiring them back then - looking at the sacrifice and courage of these young families had in living their ideals - hoping that Jews and Arabs could actually share that space in peace and friendship.

That has obviously not worked. Now, 40 years later - tolerance has turned to hatred. And it has spread to all areas of the West Bank. 

Most of them are not the kind of Jewish terrorists of Duma. But at the same time some of those ‘normal’ settlers are reluctant to criticize them. And who really knows just how much sympathy and support they actually have for them in their hearts?  

They are religious Jews who do not look that dissimilar from the rest of us and in every other way. They lead the normal life of a religious Jew. They Learn Torah; put on Tefilin; they pray 3 times a day; the go to Shul; they keep kosher; they keep Shabbos; women cover their hair and dress Tzanua (modestly). In short they are as meticulously observant and normal as any other Orthodox Jew. More even - in many cases.

What they care about most however is one particular Mitzvah - settling the land of Israel.And they are committed to doing so at all costs. If anyone gets in the way of those idealistic goals they will protest – citing their interpretation of Torah ideals as a biblical right that supersedes the government. Protest is one thing. The problem is that many of them have taken these ‘protests’ to a new level. Which include not only attacks against Palestinians.

They are now vandalizing Christian communities too, as reported in the Times of Israel. For them, the idea that Israel belongs to the Jews means ridding the country of all symbols they consider to be idolatry. And what bigger idolatry could there be than a cross - the symbol of the Christian god. This is only the latest in such attacks. And of course that pales in comparison to what happened at Duma.

My former admiration for them has turned into anger at what they have become. They still seem as normal as I viewed them back them back in the 70s. But their uncompromising convictions has turned some of them into monsters. And has turned quite a few of them apologists, sympathizers, and in many cases outright supporters. 

I’m sure there are settlers that actually condemn these Jewish terrorists. But that does not make their larger community any better. Their fervor has turned too many of them into terrorists and even more of them into sympathizers. In some cases actually celebrating terror committed by them. When people who are as normal as -and even more idealistic than the rest of us - that is the scariest thing of all.