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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

Flouting U.S. President Barack Obama’s request to halt settlement expansion, Israel this week announced it intended to build an additional 900 units in an area on the fringes of Jerusalem. The move “dismayed” Washington, as the White House spokesman put it, and it outraged the international community. For the settlement movement it was an important sign of support from the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But many Israelis worry that their government’s continuing construction of homes for Jews in the occupied West Bank may also embolden the militant Jewish settlers who are increasingly turning to violence against not just Palestinians, but fellow Israelis to fight for what they see as a Biblical right to land.

The attempted murder of Sternhell, who writes a newspaper column in which he regularly criticizes the Israeli settlement movement, caused an outcry in mainstream Israel. It was “a nationalist terror attack apparently perpetrated by Jews,” said Avi Dichter, then the country’s Public Security Minister. Then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went further: “A bad wind of extremism, hate, evil, violence and contempt for state authorities is blowing through certain sectors of the Israeli public and threatening Israeli democracy … The security agencies have been ordered to deal with this case, investigate it and act with the utmost speed to bring to justice what appears to be another underground.”

Olmert was referring to the Jewish Underground, a group of radical, messianic settlers who, in the early 1980s, attacked Palestinians with car bombings and shootings. They also planned to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest and oldest sites. The group’s members were arrested in 1984.

It remains unclear if there is, as Olmert feared, an organized, coherent new Jewish underground. Teitel, prosecutors say, was working alone throughout an extraordinary spree of alleged violence, during which he has been accused of trying to poison the residents of a Palestinian village, smuggling a gun on board a flight from the U.S. to Israel, shooting dead a Palestinian taxi driver who had picked him up and shooting dead another Palestinian who was helping him with directions. Even though Teital seems to have been operating independently, both Israeli and Palestinian sources, from inside and outside the settler movement, agree that there is unquestionably a rise in radicalism within the community and a greater willingness to use violence against Palestinians or the Israeli Army than ever before.

After Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967 and took control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — Palestinian areas that had been held by Egypt and Jordan, respectively — religious and right-wing Jews quickly began pushing for the establishment of communities on what they considered land promised them by God. At first the Israeli government refused to let them build on occupied territory, but as the years went by, homes and businesses started popping up. There are now more than a quarter of a million Jewish settlers living among almost 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and another more than 200,000 living in settlements in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government has poured billions of dollars into building the settlements and now considers the communities important bargaining chips with the Palestinians and crucial territorial buffers between Israel and the Arab world. The Palestinians, and most countries in the world, say that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is illegal under international law.