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Beyond the Pale

“Zero tolerance for terrorism, wherever it comes from, whatever side of the fence it comes from, we have to fight it, and fight it together.” These were the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spoken while visiting the members of a Palestinian family injured by a cowardly firebombing attack.

The Prime Minister thus gave voice to the absolute revulsion felt by all but the most marginal sectors of Israeli society at this act of murderous terrorist violence that killed 18-month old Ali Dawabsha in the village of Douma near Shechem. It goes without saying that the ZFA endorses Mr. Netanyahu’s rejection of terrorist violence committed by anyone, anywhere and at any time. We hope that the injured members of the Dawabsha family – the two parents and a four-year-old boy – will recover quickly, painlessly and completely from their injuries as they receive treatment at Israeli medical facilities.

At issue in this incident is the troubling phenomenon of ultra-nationalist Jewish terrorism. And the 2 August 2015 edition of the London & Kirschenbaum programme on Israel’s Network 10 TV provides very useful insights into the Jewish extremist movement that spawned this terrible crime. For the non- Hebrew amongst our readership I’ll synopsise the essence of this report.

The network’s correspondent for Judea-Samaria, Ro’i Sharon, begins with a general description of the Jewish radicals who carry out these so-called ‘price tag’ attacks. Numbering no more than a few score at most, these are zealots are drawn from the ranks of the so-called “Hilltop Youth” movement. These are young men in their teens and early twenties whose worldview is so extreme they go so far as to dismiss the State of Israel as an illegitimate entity because doesn’t conform to strict Jewish law.

Ro’i Sharon goes on to explain how Israeli authorities are well-aware of the price tag vandalism campaign being waged by Hilltop Youth against Arab villages in Judea-Samaria. But while the Jewish Department of the Shabak (Israel’s internal security agency) gathers intelligence data linking individual zealots to particular crimes, the task of obtaining evidence admissible in court has proven much more difficult.

It turns out the Hilltop Youth have been well-schooled in techniques of resistance to police interrogation. They routinely remain silent throughout their 30-day remand period and are usually released because no confession has been forthcoming. And because they’re such a small and cohesive group, infiltration by the Shabak or Israel Police is well-nigh impossible. Add to that the difficulties in collecting DNA from crime scenes within Palestinian-governed areas of Judea-Samaria. By the time Israel Police forensic teams reach Arab villages where price tag attacks usually occur, the crime scenes are often so thoroughly contaminated as to be useless in terms of gathering legally valid evidence.

Ro’i Sharon contrasts this state of affairs with the recent arson attack at the Church of Loaves and Fishes near the Sea of Galilee. Because this particular offence took place within Israel, the crime scene could be effectively quarantined. Police were thus able to collect sufficient admissible forensic evidence to support criminal charges against three young Jewish men who come from these same extremist circles.

Sharon ultimately expressed the view that the only way authorities will be able effectively to combat the problem of Jewish terrorism is by implementing the same sorts of measures employed against Arab terrorism – including administrative detention. And on Monday 3 August the Israeli Government approved precisely this policy. As one unnamed senior Israeli security official said on Israeli Radio: “There’s no choice but to treat suspects of hate crimes against Palestinians the same way as Palestinian suspects of terror.”

Yet there’s no lack of clarity surrounding the atrocity that took place last Thursday at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem.  In this case there is no doubt about the perpetrator nor about his motives. It was pure and simple obsessive hatred that caused Yishai Schissel to pull a knife and stab six participants in the parade. One of whom – 16-year-old Shira Banki – later died of her wounds.

The only incomprehensible aspect of this murderous attack is why Schissel was in any position to commit it. He was released just a few weeks earlier after serving 10-years of a 12-year prison term imposed for precisely the same crime – stabbing three marchers at the 2005 Gay Pride Parade. And he made no secret of his intentions. The Jerusalem Post reported that Schissel was distributing a flyer in his home town of Modi’in Ilit that declared: “it is the obligation of every Jew to keep his soul from punishment and stop this giant desecration of God’s name next Thursday.” The fact that this man wasn’t under close surveillance constitutes a major blunder by the Israel Police.

Our Torah sages teach that the Second Jewish Temple was destroyed because of sin’at hinam – groundless hatred. And it’s incumbent upon all of us – Left and Right; secular and Shabbat observant – to recognise the essential humanity of the other and condemn in no uncertain terms these cowardly attacks against the innocent.

This is precisely what happened at a public rally in Jerusalem’s Zion Square last Saturday night, where Rabbi Benjamin Lau – nephew of former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau – gave an impassioned denunciation of these crimes as being contrary to Jewish law. “In the name of which Tora;, in the name of which G-d; does someone go out and commit murder; do people go out and burn a baby and his entire family? Whose Torah is this?”, asked Lau rhetorically before himself providing the answer. “We must liberate the Torah of Israel from its handcuffs by which it has become bound by people of darkness. The Torah is the Torah of light and Judaism must illuminate the world. And Jerusalem must illuminate the world, Amen.”

Amen indeed.