by Nina Dworschak
July 2015: in the middle of the night, while Riham, Sa’ad, the four-year old Ahmad and his 18 month old brother Ali were sleeping, their house was firebombed. While most of the family escaped the flames, baby Ali was evidently left behind and burned alive. The rest of the family suffered burns all over their bodies, of which Riham and Sa’ad died shortly afterwards in the hospital. The offenders were young Israeli settlers who wanted revenge.
“What does a youngster hear about revenge, why is a young Israeli burning a church and what is Jewish about Jewish violence”, are the questions journalist Natan Odenheimer raises at a forum organized by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) on the 16th of February in the Djanogly Hall In West Jerusalem.. The event, which was entitled “Violence, Revenge and Redemption”, was held to discuss the reasons behind radical Jewish acts of force against Palestinians. Those who participated included Tehila Friedman-Nachalon, a senior fellow at Shaharit and director of “Movilim” at Kolot, who describes herself as a religious Zionist, Perle Nicolle, a PhD candidate at the Hebrew University researching Jewish radicalism and Pnina Pfeuffer, an ultra-Orthodox woman who tries to raise awareness about national politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Haredi community.
(Left to right) Tehila Friedman-Nachalon, Natan Odenheimer, Perle Nicolle and Pnina Pfeuffer
The origin of revenge
In the beginning Odenheimer focused on the origin of revenge and whether it is seen as a messianic goal or just a rabbinical concept to receive the Jewish kingdom, with the graffiti on the streets as his fingerprints. Tehila Friedman-Nachalon explains that, according to the religious Zionist view, messianic means “taking part of the big story of Jewish people coming home.” Redemption, therefore, is the gathering of the exiles in a big nation. The Oslo Accord broke this picture for the religious Zionists. In politics the dispute between left and right grew, while terror attacks spread over the country. According to Friedman-Nachalon, many religious Zionist people asked themselvesback then, what the point of having a state was if it did not protect them? To them, the solution was obvious: We have to protect ourselves in a very primitive way, like revenge. The emergence of Jewish radicalism was not initially recognized as a serious problem by mainstream Zionists. It was only after violence spread that they distanced themselves and declared that such acts were the acts of murderers and had nothing to do with the Tora. “We are educated to be the chosen ones, but that doesn’t mean we have more rights, it says we have more duties to fulfil”, explains Friedman-Nachalon. For her the most imported factor to act against radicalism is education, help for youngsters to interpret their religion in the right way. “More moderate voices have to be strengthened to stop the radicalization of our narratives.”
Tehila Friedman-Nachalon wants stronger moderate voices
The story of the Ultra-Orthodox
As a member of the Haredi community, Pnina Pfeuffer first makes clear that ultra-Orthodoxy does not equal anti-Zionism. She asserts that, in fact, the ultra-Orthodox attitude towards the state is ambivalent right now. The existence of Israel changed the broader opinions. There is the anti-Zionist faction, that still considers the state as evil, but the mainstream recognizes the state, without knowing how to deal with it. Their idea of redemption is religious and not related to the state. But there is a notable difference between generations. The older people still feel as though they are in exile, but for the younger generation Israel is their home and they have to create their own Israeli identity. The closest model for them seems to be a national religious community, which must protect their homes. In this identity-building process, youngsters can get on the wrong path. “I think the process of changing how we think in our community about others isn’t finished”, says Pfeuffer. More social work needs to be done.
Pnina Pfeuffer is member of the Haredi community
The story of Eli Bitan, now Editor at Behadrei Haredim and Local Call, demonstrates how easily young people can get acquainted with radical groups. When he was seventeen years old, he was kicked out of his parents’ house and he found himself in Jerusalem’s “Cat Square” (Kikar Hahatulot) where people offered him free drinks to come to a settlement. Perle Nicolle volunteered for three years in the Cat Square, where she met the first group of hilltop youth, a radical religious nationalist youth that builds up outposts in the West Bank without the permission of the state. “They see themselves as the elite of the elite, the pioneers of the settlers”, describes Nicolle, adding that they are just one part of the community at the Cat Square. Another group is coming from the lowest point of the Israeli society and gets easily attracted by radical groups, that offer them their identities. “Hate is always something that holds you in (a group)”, says Nicolle, knowing that it pushes youngsters to a stream of radicalism. She adds that the pull out of Israeli settlers from Gaza 2005 marked a key event in the history of violence. For many religious Jews it was the un-holiest act that could have been done – to expel them from their land. Since then, a wave of violence has swept through the country, having been justified in various ways, mostly by self-protection.
We have to get to the source
Another influence to focus on are Rabbis like Yitzhak Ginsburg, who preach that non-Jews are not allowed in Israel and that a Jew killing an Arab should be tolerated in society. Nicolle says that violence against Palestinians can be indirect. It is a message to the state and Arabs are the victims, not the target. It is necessary to get to the source, be that in religious communities or in the settlements themselves. Nicolle concludes: “It is very hard to say where the treatment has to start.”