Jerusalem Stakeout Reveals 'New Generation' of Radical Jewish Settlers

Turning point, says Shin Bet source, was evacuation of illegal outpost of Amona, and Shin Bet’s kid-glove conduct during it. Since then, attacks on Palestinians, left-wing activists and soldiers have multiplied

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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The Baladim outpost near the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashahar, August 23, 2017.
The Baladim outpost near the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashahar, August 23, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

Until recently, the Baladim outpost near the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashahar was of great concern to the Shin Bet security service. The Shin Bet considered Baladim the epicenter of Jewish terrorism in the West Bank and ascribed attacks on numerous Palestinians, left-wing activists and soldiers to the few dozen young men who intermittently resided there.

Since being evacuated two months ago, Baladim has stood almost empty; the so-called hilltop youth haven’t returned. But the Shin Bet says this quiet is deceptive: In recent months, the extremist fringe has actually grown stronger. The Shin Bet terms it “the second generation of the infrastructure of the revolt.”

>> Meet The Revolt: The Jewish extremist group that seeks to violently topple the state <<

The first generation was responsible, among other acts, for the murder of the Dawabsheh family in the Palestinian village of Duma in 2015 and torching the Church of the Loaves and Fishes that same year. Now, the Shin Bet fears a new wave of Jewish terror.

But some people familiar with both the Shin Bet’s work and the hilltop youth consider the terms “infrastructure” and “terrorist organization” exaggerated. This “second generation” is just an amorphous group, they say, and its members – a few dozen people aged 16 to 25 – don’t function as a coordinated, hierarchical organization.

Hilltop youth protest the indictments issued against suspects in the Duma arson-murder, Lod, Jan. 3, 2016.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Both the Shin Bet and many hilltop youth describe Meir Ettinger, a grandson of Rabbi Meir Kahane, as the first generation’s leader. The very name “the revolt” comes from a document he wrote outlining plans for overthrowing the government. But people familiar with the hilltop youth say the Shin Bet’s decision to make Ettinger their most-wanted Jewish target was essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“If he could, he’d send the Shin Bet flowers,” one said. “They’re the ones who made him a rock star.”

The Shin Bet is proud of having dismantled the “first generation,” which it did partly by putting some members in administrative detention, or jail without charges, and slapping others with orders barring them from the West Bank. Despite admitting that some of these people had no connection with major crimes like the Duma murders, the Shin Bet said these controversial tactics were necessary to dismantle the terrorist network.

But the rise of a second generation calls the efficacy of those tactics into question. The turning point, one Shin Bet source said, was the evacuation of the illegal Amona outpost in February, and specifically the Shin Bet’s kid-glove conduct during it. Since then, attacks on Palestinians, left-wing activists and soldiers have multiplied. The Shin Bet says veteran settler extremists began returning to the West Bank, and new ones joined their ranks.

The security service says this actually proves the effectiveness of its administrative measures: The upswing began when orders barring them from the West Bank lapsed. As for the new generation, it has no personal experience of these measures, so its members “lack the fear and deterrence of more veteran activists,” the agency said.

The “second generation” consists of a few dozen people, the Shin Bet says. Since the start of the year, the Israel Defense Forces has issued 47 administrative orders against them, of which 28 are still in force. Five suspects are currently under arrest, mainly because they violated such orders – for instance, by making contact with someone the order barred him from contacting – and then rejected release with restrictions. The only administrative detainee, Elia Nativ, was released last weekend.

Nativ, 19, from the settlement of Yitzhar, was arrested in June on suspicion of involvement in torching cars in two Palestinian villages and attempting to damage diplomats’ cars in Jerusalem near the Spanish consulate and a UN facility. But when a judge ordered him freed soon afterward due to insufficient evidence, the Shin Bet put him in administrative detention for two months.

In an interview with Haaretz, Nativ’s father, Yitzhak, dismissed talk of a “second generation of the revolt,” saying he didn’t think his son “ever exchanged a word with Ettinger.”

“Even the judge threw them out,” he noted. “A terrorist organization is an organization that commits attacks, that seeks to kill people. It’s not a few children throwing things. That the Shin Bet is even involved in this story strikes me as delusional.”

Nightime raid in Jerusalem nets nine suspects

Nativ was arrested along with eight others in a nighttime raid on a Jerusalem apartment owned by a far-right activist who was abroad. The apartment was sporadically inhabited by about 10 people considered part of the second generation. But of those arrested, only Nativ and Hanoch Rabin – whom the Shin Bet actually considers part of the first generation – were suspected of property crimes. And Rabin, who has previously lived in several illegal West Bank outposts, was released a few days later.

Meir Ettinger, the alleged head of a group of Jewish extremists, appearing in an Israeli court, August 2015. Credit: AFP

The others were suspected only of violating administrative orders, and most were quickly released. But one, Yisrael Meir Samany of Jerusalem, was arrested again a few days later along with two other people, carrying equipment that the Shin Bet said they planned to use to vandalize Palestinian property. A 16-year-old boy who was arrested with Samany was released but arrested again a few days later for violating an administrative order.

The Shin Bet says the second generation has ties with the first. Based on a stakeout of the Jerusalem apartment before that nighttime raid, Rabin wasn’t the only first-generation activist spending time there.

Also arrested that night was Moshe Shahor, 19, of Ramle, another activist involved in illegal outposts. His grandfather, Dov Lior, is rabbi of the settlement of Kiryat Arba. Shahor was arrested for violating an administrative order but rejected release with restrictions, so he remains in jail.

Shahor later wrote a letter to the head of the IDF’s Home Front Command who signed the administrative order against him, and it has been circulating among right-wing activists.

The Jerusalem house where a number of right-wing activists met and lived, August 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

“Even you don’t think the case of a teenager who meets a friend to eat pizza for a few minutes is really an incident liable to endanger the region’s security,” he wrote. “On the contrary, it clearly shows this order was meant to liquidate the hilltop youth. ... The judge proposed that I go free after committing to uphold the administrative order and not speak with those it forbade me to speak with. But I decided I’d had enough. This time, I won’t sign.”

Another veteran outpost activist who has refused release with restrictions is David Chai Hasdai, 22. “For three years they’ve been giving me orders that separate me from my friends,” he said in court, according to friends who were present. “I’m not willing to comply with this order.”

Other people arrested in that raid were from the younger generation, including some minors. All are religious. Many, though not all, are from West Bank settlements. Most, though again not all, come from stable families.

Attorney Chaim Blaycher of the Honenu organization, who represents several hilltop youth, asserted that most are “genuinely good kids” more in need of a social worker than jail – a statement echoed by other adults who know them. A relative of one arrested teen said most dropped out of school at some point to engage in farming or shepherding in West Bank outposts.

Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, a veteran Kahanist activist who also represents many hilltop youth, similarly dismissed talk of an organized “revolt” with a first and second generation, saying it “stems either from lack of familiarity with the situation in the area or the fact that the Shin Bet wants to make headlines.”

Blaycher also argued that had a secular teen been accused of vandalizing cars, nobody would dream of calling in the Shin Bet. Ben-Gvir concurred. Though vandalism shouldn’t be made light of, he said, “The Shin Bet itself admits that this group, which it calls the ‘second generation,’ hasn’t attacked human beings,” and vandalism isn’t the Shin Bet’s job. “If their worldview were different, the Shin Bet wouldn’t be involved with this,” he added.

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