Two events last week have forced Israel to reckon with its long-simmering problem of Jewish extremist violence. On Thursday a 16-year-old Jewish girl was stabbed to death at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade by an ultra-Orthodox man who had carried out a similar attack in 2005. Then on Friday a Palestinian toddler was killed when his home was set on fire in the West Bank town of Duma in what authorities believe was a “price tag” attack by extremist settlers.
These attacks, which began after the 2005 evacuation of settlers from Gaza, are designed to impose a cost, in the form of violence, for any Israeli government move to dismantle settlements. Friday’s attack followed the IDF’s eviction of about 20 settler families who had been camped out in a previously razed settlement. The Duma attack was at least the fifth such incident of vandalism or arson against mosques, Christian churches, and Palestinian property so far this year, but the first to result in a death.
Investigators say that the attack was likely the work of an underground faction of settler youth who’ve become even more radical, seeking to destabilize the Israeli state and replace it with one based on religious law. The Israeli government has described the attack as an act of terrorism and has arrested 23-year-old suspected extremist leader Meir Ettinger. Ettinger is the grandson of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned from the Israeli Knesset in 1988 for its openly racist views. Israel’s security Cabinet has authorized the use of “administrative detention”—the holding of suspects without charges for security reasons—against Jewish extremists. The tactic is commonly employed with Palestinian suspects but rarely against Jews. Harsh interrogation methods including tiltul, or “violent shaking” of suspects, has also been authorized.
The attack also prompted a call from Netanyahu to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to condemn the attack, and a condolence message to the family. There have already been riots in response to the attack and several apparent retaliatory attacks, including a Molotov cocktail attack that seriously injured a woman in Jerusalem, and Benjamin Netanyahu says he is waiting for the world to condemn attacks against Jews as forcefully as it does attacks against Palestinians. As he has after previous attacks, Netanyahu said that Israel’s condemnation of all forms of terrorism distinguishes it from its Palestinian neighbors.
It might be comforting to think this recent violence is just the work of a small group of isolated extremists who can be tracked down and eliminated, but the problem is more deeply rooted than that. Netanyahu may have said all the right things after the attack on the gay pride parade, but his Cabinet includes the right-wing Jewish Home party, whose lawmaker denounced the event as a “parade of beasts” and refused to back down on that assessment even after the killing.
As for the price tag attacks, they may be aimed at punishing (and at times directly attacking) the Israeli state, but the authorities have been slow to react to them and much less likely to prosecute them than attacks by Palestinians. That’s hopefully starting to change, but the expansion of settlements is not: At the same time as the recent standoff with rogue settlers in unauthorized areas, the prime minister’s office announced plans for the construction of hundreds of housing units in another area of the West Bank. Without a resolution of the status of the West Bank, Palestinian anger—not just at the settlements and the occupation but at a Palestinian Authority government widely viewed as corrupt and ineffectual—will grow, and settler extremists operating in a state of legal limbo will continue to feel they can act with impunity.