Jewish extremists in West Bank pose biggest threat to Israel: report

May 30, 2024
Jewish settlers with their rifles at the vibrant Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, Israel. December 2009

When it comes to the security of Israel, it is uncommon to publicly hear of any threat facing the country other than that which emanates from either its Arab neighbours or else Iran.

But two highly experienced reporters from The New York Times recently filed an extremely detailed report outlining the threat that the country faces from Jewish terrorists in the occupied West Bank – something which, according to the material they gathered, far exceeds any threat from the sources mentioned above.

The article, by Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti, titled The unpunished: how extremist settlers took over Israel, was published in the newspaper’s magazine section on May 16. It is surprising that it has flown under the radar, because such an article would normally lead to other mainstream newspapers following up. But in the prevailing climate perhaps one should not be surprised; the mainstream American media have been very careful to sanitise Israel’s actions ever since the current stoush with Hamas began.

Bergman, who formerly worked with the Israeli newspapers Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz, has a slew of security sources in Israel where he is based. Mazzetti, who is based in New York, is best known for his connections to the CIA; in fact, at one time he was in the news himself for allegedly informing on his own colleagues. The point is, one cannot dismiss what they write.

Indeed, the article is based on material gathered over many years and from sources both in the Middle East and the US. The pair trace incidents in Israel since the 1970s, outlining when, where and how extremist elements among the Jewish settlers gained the upper hand to the point where, now, even the authorities are afraid to act against them.

The power the extremist Jews enjoy now comes from backing by two far-right politicians – Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, and Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister who also has oversight over the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is propped up by the parties led by these two politicians; were they to withdraw backing, then he would be out of a job. Thus, both have carte blanche to do what they want.

Over the years, right-wing elements have gained the upper hand in the West Bank. It was one of them, Yigal Amir, who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995, a few months after he had signed a peace deal with Yasser Arafat.

Bergman and Mazzetti outline in painstaking detail how reports about possible threats from the right have been underplayed and investigations dropped. There are other cases where, they point out, investigations have been launched and then been dropped either midway, or else after they were complete. The reasons are generally the same: someone higher up in the power chain pulled the plug.

At times, these were officials who subscribed to similar ideas as the extremists whom they were supposed to keep in check. At other times, the orders came from higher-ups in the chain. Whatever the reason, there were not many people who wanted to go against the bureaucracy for fear of jeopardising their own careers, the two reporters write.

More recently, ultra-nationalists have adopted a more violent ideology. As a shorter article, which provides a precis of this report, says, “Their objective is to tear down Israel’s institutions and to establish ‘Jewish rule’: anointing a king, building a temple in place of the Jerusalem mosques sacred to Muslims worldwide, imposing a religious regime on all Jews.”

If steps have not been taken to implement these suicidal ideas, it is only because the terrorists themselves have not gone through with them, Bergman and Mazzetti report.

The conclusion? “After 50 years of failure to stop violence and terrorism against Palestinians by Jewish ultranationalists, lawlessness has become the law,” to use the words of Bergman and Mazzetti. Yet no Israeli politician will dare say this in public.

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