[The following opinion article is by Yossi Melman, analyst for i24news.tv and co-author of SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON and other books.]
It took the important visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis to prod Israel’s security agency – Shin Bet – into taking strong action against rightwing Jewish extremists.
Fearing that the extreme Right — which already has burned and damaged Christian churches and monasteries — would try to disrupt the Pope’s visit with violence, police and Shin Bet took preventive measures. Days before the Pope arrived on Sunday, dozens of suspects were detained and moved to remote locations — far from their homes.
These “administrative measures” are controversial, of course, in a democracy. But they are based on emergency laws dating back nearly 80 years to the days when the British ruled Palestine.
It would be better for a free country not to use these powers at all — or abolish them — but if they are used they should be used equitably. However, in the 47 years since Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza (in the Six-Day War), these draconian measures have been mainly used by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians linked allegedly with terrorism in the captured territories. Not against Jews.
This is despite the fact that, in the past 5 years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of incidents in which Jewish radicals have resorted to violence — mainly against Palestinians in the West Bank and their property. On occasion the targets have been Arab citizens of Israel, and sometimes mosques and churches have been attacked.
According to police and Shin Bet data, 20 mosques and Christian sites have been desecrated since 2010 – either with obscene and hate graffiti or, worse, by setting them on fire.
True, this is less lethal — “softer” — than Palestinian acts of terror. Arab attackers have killed Jews in recent years, some of them settlers but some simply visiting friends and relatives.
The right-wing Jewish gangs have not murdered anyone — one has to be cautious and add, “so far” — in the past few years. The victims have “only” been beaten and injured. Cars and houses have been set on fire and olive trees cut and uprooted.
The weapons of choice for the Jewish terrorists are not “so far” firearms and bombs — but stones, clubs and Molotov cocktails.
Yet, Jewish terrorism undermines Israel’s foundations as a democracy and portrays it instead as a lawless state.
It gives the impression that Israeli justice and law enforcement agencies use what English writer George Orwell termed “double speak” (in his prescient novel, 1984). One set of methods and laws is used to counter Palestinian terrorism, and a very different set is deployed against Jewish terror.
One law applies to Israel in its pre-June 1967 borders and another to the military-administered West Bank which is known to most of the world as occupied.
No less worrying, double speak and double standards distort Jewish values and tarnish the image of Israel among enlightened nations.
The Shin Bet unit which is tasked with countering Jewish rightwing radicals knows who are the spiritual leaders – the rabbis- who sanction the acts of violence, who are the commanders who issue the orders, and who are the foot soldiers who carry them out.
Yet, the failure to stop the violence lies not only on the doorsteps of the Shin Bet. It is a comprehensive one, a failure of the entire system. The blame has to be shared also by the police, the military, the attorney general, the state prosecutors, the Ministry of Justice and the courts.
In short, it is a colossal failure on the part of successive Israeli governments, which for years turned a blind eye or simply tolerated various degrees of political violence and hate crimes used by Jewish settlers against Palestinians.
This lax attitude is clearly illustrated by the way in which the Israeli media and the authorities demonstrate verbal flexibility when it comes to naming the perpetrators. Instead of labeling them as what they are – terrorists – journalists and politicians have adopted the label “price tag” for their intolerable and despicable acts of violence.
This stems from the rightwingers’ claim that they are extracting a “price” for every hostile act by Palestinians. In the Bible, this was the principle of “eye for an eye” justice.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has many dimensions – national, political, territorial, cultural and religious. In the worst case scenarios drawn by Israeli analysts, the most feared and dangerous one is that the religious aspect will take over and dominate the conflict.
A religious war, after all, might draw the billions of Muslims around the globe into fighting against Israel. And if such a scenario is not frightening enough, the acts of Jewish terrorists targeting Christian holy places have the potential of infuriating Christians, especially the Evangelist congregations in the U.S. which are considered among Israel’s most fervent supporters.
The perception and approach of the authorities, the media, and the public at large here in Israel must change. Indeed, in recent weeks one can sense a change of mind and heart by the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Minister of Police and Domestic Security who are promising that they are now more determined than ever to “uproot” the phenomenon. Let’s optimistically say: Better late than never.