Revealed: How Israel First Thought to Deal With 'Jewish Terror'

1980 protocols show how Prime Minister Begin was opposed to administrative detention, but told Shin Bet not to worry about going after Jewish suspects

Israel's Prime Minister Begin addresses the Knesset in 1982
יעקב סער / לע"מ

On June 2, 1980 the so-called Jewish Terror Underground booby-trapped the cars of three mayors in the West Bank. As a result of the explosions, Nablus Mayor Bassem Shakaa and Ramallah Mayor Karim Khalaf were seriously wounded. The Border Police sapper called to defuse the third bomb was blinded in both eyes.

The next day, senior members of the security establishment convened in the office of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, among them IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, Maj. Gen. Danny Matt and Shin Bet security service head Avraham Ahituv. The minutes of that meeting, which had been highly classified and are being published for the first time, reveal the dilemmas about dealing with Jewish terror attacks.

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Fearing leaks “even from this discreet forum,” Ahituv refused to brief those in attendance. He had apparently asked earlier to detain Israeli suspects without trial, but Begin made it clear that this wouldn’t happen. “It is not inconceivable that yesterday’s crimes were committed by Jews,” Begin said, “But we are a state of law and we won’t detain people just like that. When I agreed to administrative detention [in past instances], I wasn’t myself for several days," he said refrencing the term for detention without trial.

“Avraham will not make any arrest without knowing that within 48 hours the person can be brought before a judge to have his detention extended,” Begin said.

“Until such material allowing this is in [the Shin Bet’s] hands, no one is to be arrested. If there is such material in their hands, then even if 50 people must be arrested, they can arrest 50 people. That’s my order. If it turns out they were Jews they will be prosecuted and judged and get 20 years’ imprisonment without any loss of sleep.”

The heads of the security establishment discussed the possibility of an uprising in the West Bank following the incident. “What happened, happened, and the circumstances are very upsetting – the question is how we develop a policy for the near term,” Ahituv said. “We think on the one hand it is necessary to develop relations with the people in the various municipalities. We have to restrain ourselves as much as possible, but to them it should be clear that when we must, we will react. “

The army officers warned about a strike in West Bank cities that day. Matt told of how the army had caused the Palestinians to break the strike. “We realized that when some shops are opened by force, the rest of the merchants open on their own. It’s like they’ve been legitimized.”

Asked by Begin how the stores are opened, Matt replied, “Our soldiers break the lock, and then storeowners – who are usually waiting for this sign – open them themselves.”

The 50 pages of minutes were found in the State Archive by researchers from Akevot – The Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research.

“The minutes we found give a glimpse into the position of Begin and the heads of the security establishment on an issue that’s relevant to the occupation to this day,” said Lior Yavne, the institute’s executive director.

“The document also illustrates the importance of regular exposure of material from the state and Israel Defense Forces archives to public view, without which there can’t be a public discussion about the occupation and the conflict.”