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Israel's enemy within: A rising militancy from the Jewish settlements

Part 1: Jewish terror from the Biblical lands of Israel

JERUSALEM — The terrorist walked up the quiet alleyway, police say, and went down nine steps and found himself hidden from view in the stone vestibule outside the famous Holocaust survivor’s apartment.

More than a half century ago the Nazis hadn’t been able to kill Ze’ev Sternhell, who would live to become Israel’s foremost expert on fascism and a long-time peace activist. But the terrorist who was now on his door step, whom police allege was a fellow Israeli from the militant settlement movement, was determined to succeed in just that. He attached the bomb, hidden inside a plant, to the doorknob and left.

Sternhell was inside the apartment in West Jerusalem. It was Sept. 25, 2008 and he and his wife had returned from a vacation in Paris the previous day. The hallway leading to the front door was still clogged up with their bags. It was late, a few minutes after midnight, and just like he does every night, Sternhell went to close the metal gate at the entrance of the vestibule that is meant to keep unwelcome guests from breaking and entering. The obstruction in his hallway forced Sternhell to turn sideways, the right side of his body facing outside, as he opened the door to the apartment.

There was a huge noise and something pushed him back. He saw the flash of an explosive. His right leg and thigh stung with pain and began to bleed. He was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. Doctors told him later that if he had not been sideways to the blast, his abdomen would likely have been pierced by the bomb’s shrapnel. He could have died.

Israeli settler Jack Teitel in police custody
Israeli settler Jack Teitel after being arrested in the West Bank settlement of Shvut Rahel.
(Israeli Police Handout)

Police who came to the scene found leaflets scattered nearby. The fliers offered a reward of $300,000 to anyone who killed a member of Peace Now, Israel’s best known peace movement. “The State of Israel has become our enemy,” the fliers said. Police officers immediately went to guard the home of Peace Now’s most-prominent figure, general secretary Yariv Oppenheimer.

I interviewed Sternhell in his home this January. The police had made no arrests back then, but Sternhell was convinced that fellow Jews had tried to kill him. “This,” said the 73-year-old, whose mother and sister were killed by the Nazis when he was 7 years old, “was an act of pure Jewish terror.”

He was right, according to Israeli prosecutors.

Last week an American-born Israeli settler named Jack Teitel was indicted in a Jerusalem courtroom on 14 counts, including the attempted murder of Sternhell and the murder of two Palestinians.

When he arrived in handcuffs at Jerusalem District Court on Nov. 11, the 37-year-old Teitel, who was born in Florida, said: “It was a pleasure and honor to serve my God. God is proud of what I have done. I have no regrets."

Teitel’s arrest and indictment have reminded Israelis of a long-held national fear: that beyond the conflict with the Palestinians there is another enemy, the enemy within that is the extreme wing of the settler movement, many of them originally Americans.