At the Maoz Esther outpost in the West Bank, which has been dismantled several times and rebuilt anew (and will apparently be evacuated yet again within the coming months), Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai recently met with rabbis and residents of the surrounding Binyamin region. Precisely during the period when the disturbances by the so-called hilltop youth following the death of Ahuvia Sandak reached their peak, the Central Command commander decided to reward the rioters and hold a friendly encounter with them – a heart-to-heart chat on the backdrop of an attack on the commander of a patrol near Kedumim in mid-January and an exceptional incident at the end of January in which soldiers arrested four settlers who had broken into an army base.
It’s important to know that alongside bourgeois West Bank communities like Ofra and Kedumim, there are also outposts and towns like Yitzhar, Kumi Ori, Kochav Hashahar, Maoz Esther and others, which pose a great inherent danger. Every couple of days there are reports of extreme right-wing activists who live in these places entering a Palestinian village or town to spray-paint anti-Palestinian slogans or calls for revenge on the walls or vandalize cars. Often the perpetrators even leave a signature – “Regards from the hill in Yitzhar” – on the cars and homes that are damaged.
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Aisha al-Rabi, a mother of nine who lived in the Palestinian town of Bidya, was killed on October 12, 2019 near the settlement of Rehelim by stones thrown at the family car. The suspected stone-throwers were teens studying at the Pri Haaretz yeshiva close to the scene of the attack. The next day, which was Shabbat, Yitzhar activists drove to the yeshiva to instruct the teens studying there on how to deal with the Shin Bet security service. Get it? It’s permitted to violate Shabbat to travel to the yeshiva and clue in the teenagers. What about turning them in? Fat chance.
The “wild weeds” among the settler youth are no longer sparse. They grew in the flower beds of religious Zionism, but have contempt for that community and its leaders; they consider the Gush Emunim movement’s leadership to be outdated. The hilltop youth have built a new alternative: The image of a shepherd or a farmer with a deep connection to the land, who lives in a shack or a tent and makes do with little.
The settler movement’s desire at its start to “settle in the hearts” and be a leader of Israeli society as a whole doesn’t interest them in the least. Their alienation from Israeli society has led them to take example from ultra-Orthodox society – separation and autonomy, with its own laws and rules.
The old model of statesmanship has become obsolete. They don’t even hesitate to throw stones and attack the symbols of the state – the army and its commanders. Along with the “agricultural revolution,” they’ve adopted an extreme nationalist ideology, blatant contempt for non-Jews (particularly Arabs) and violent practices. Many of them aren’t interested in enlisting in the army and the army, for its part, isn’t too interested in drafting them; to give weapons to people with such an ideology is indeed dangerous.
They provide fertile ground for the activities of extreme right-wing groups, the Lehava organization and the remnants of the Kahane movement. Another source of new members are Haredi yeshiva dropouts. Young ultra-Orthodox men who’ve been thrown out of their homes, still with their sidelocks and kippot, find the farms and hills a better place to hide than sleeping in public parks or abandoned buildings. The look of the hilltop youth, with their own long sidelocks and kippot, remind them of what they have in common. It’s been hard for young Haredim to find work and organize their life during the coronavirus pandemic. The move to the West Bank has been suitable for both sides from both a practical and an ideological perspective.
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The Israeli government, the police, the army and all the agencies meant to handle with the issue generally ignore the hilltop youth’s activities. There must be an extreme and public incident for law enforcement to do something, and yet surprisingly, that “something” was a particularly friendly meeting. Let’s hope that at the end of that meeting, Yadai found the tires of his car intact.
Rikki Sprinzak was the editor of “Popolitica” and “Mishal Ham” on Channel 2 News.