‘Terror,’ tigers and tabby cats

January 7, 2019 by Martin Sherman - Mida via JNS
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This was a week in which there was much for the citizens of Israel to be concerned about.

Martin Sherman

The bulk of the headlines was taken up by reports of the appalling behavior of the nation’s elected politicians, proving beyond doubt that few, if any, are deserving of the public’s confidence in their ability to lead the country and probably raising once heretical doubts in the minds of more than a few young Israelis on the eve of their induction into the Israel Defense Forces.

But that was not the only thing that should have perturbed the public.

On Sunday, three Jewish minors were arrested on unspecified charges of terror and detained without access to counsel. The initial court proceedings were not open to the public and a gag order was imposed on the investigation. Accordingly, we do not know what transgressions the detainees are alleged to have perpetrated—other than, according to incessant media reports, they are purportedly “grave.”

However, one thing we do know. There has been no large-scale attack by Jewish “terrorists” that has caused any multiple loss of life or wide-scale damage to property. So that cannot be the reason for their incarceration. Most of the rumored misdeeds seem to range from scrawling offensive graffiti, through damaging property of non-Jews, to the puncturing tyres of Arab vehicles. However deplorable such acts might be, even if motivated by ideological fervour, none of these seems to rise above the level of vandalism.

There is, of course, one tragic case of loss of life, in which Aisha al-Rawbi, a 47-year-old Palestinian-Arab woman, was killed when her car was hit by stones, thrown—according to reports, as yet unsubstantiated— by “settlers.” But if there was credible evidence that the detainees were complicit in this admittedly grave misdeed, why were they not charged with homicide and allowed access to defence counsel?

‘Terror is terror. Whether … from Arabs or Jews’

 So perhaps the detainees are being held in “preventative detention” in order to preempt some future planned offences, rather than on suspicion of those already committed. But accepted legal practice does not usually allow incarceration for yet-to-be-committed crimes.

After all, there are many malignant phenomena that might threaten the fabric of Israeli society, most of them far more prevalent and tangible than any alleged menace supposedly posed by Jewish ideological extremists—for example organized crime, drug trafficking, high-level corruption, to name a few. But, as a general rule, one cannot be arrested for contemplating the commission of a crime.

Accordingly, if extra-judicial measures are considered acceptable for dealing with teenage Jewish zealots to prevent the commission of a possible offence, why not for suspected crime bosses, drug traffickers or senior officials suspected of being prone to corruption? Or potential rapists? Or known paedophiles? Or abusive husbands?

In Israel, the use of such detention without trial is almost universally limited to security-related offenses—in particular, terrorism.

Indeed, that this was the rationale for the incarceration of the minors this week was confirmed by State Prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, just after an Israeli district court extended the remand of the three Jewish minors on suspicion of involvement in a Jewish terror plot. Addressing a conference following the court decision, Nitzan proclaimed: “Terror is terror. Whether it comes from Arabs or Jews.

Stray tabbies are not Bengal tigers

In his misplaced endeavour at even-handedness, Nitzan—together with most of the Israeli political establishment, including much of the “right-wing”—has apparently fallen prey to the mendacious mantra of political correctness that Jewish hate crimes, vandalism and hooliganism are the equivalent of Arab terrorism, and hence equivalent extrajudicial measures must be used to combat them.

Indeed, even if one accepts the loosely framed definition of “terror” as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” any attempt to draw a semblance of equivalence between the two—and the appropriate measures to deal with them—is wildly misguided and misconceived.

Moreover, to attempt to lump together the actions of scrawny, ideologically driven Jewish teenagers, on the one hand, and the activities of Arab-Muslim terrorist organizations on the other, under the same undifferentiated heading is no less misleading than claiming that because stray tabby cats and man-eating Bengal tigers are both undomesticated, striped feline carnivores, they pose similar threats and must be dealt with in the same manner.

After all, unlike Arab terrorist organizations, alleged Jewish “extremists” have no equivalent of Iran to equip them or Qatar to finance them; they have no international offices with communications and supply infrastructures spanning the globe. Accordingly, the security forces need to be provided with powers to deal with Arab/Muslim terrorist organizations that they do not (or at least, should not) require to contend with Jewish radicals.

Indeed, to adopt this “even-handed” approach is both a dangerous and detrimental distortion for the issue is one that goes beyond mere semantic sophistry.

It blurs what should be a crucial qualitative distinction between two very different manifestations of “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”:

    • The one, blatantly conducted by the Arab and Muslim world against Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; the other, purportedly conducted by a handful of Jewish fringe elements, against a hostile Arab population, largely supportive of the violence conducted against Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
    • The one, overtly conducted by non-state actors with quasi-state capabilities, supported, equipped and funded by sovereign governments, with communications, supply and financial infrastructures deployed across international borders; the other, allegedly conducted without any backing from foreign states, with no international infrastructure to provide it with ordnance or finance;
    • The one, conducted with the virtually unanimous endorsement of the society within which it operates, the other, with virtually unanimous condemnation.

To suggest that any two phenomena so starkly different should be considered even vaguely similar, let alone identical, that they both constitute a similar danger to Israel—and that they should, therefore, be combated by means that are commensurately similar—is wildly disingenuous by any objective criterion.

Counterproductive ‘even-handedness’

But there is another caveat which those hand-wringing, moralistic mea culpa circles should heed. For although they may think that mindlessly reciting “terror is terror is …” somehow affords them the moral high ground and that their “even-handed” outrage enhances Israel’s standing abroad, quite the opposite is true.

Indeed, those who strive to equate Arab terrorism, and the terrorist organizations that perpetrate and propagate it, on the one hand, and the ideologically motivated crimes of renegade radical Jews, on the other, do a massive disservice to the country and its international standing.

By blurring the qualitative difference between the two, they gravely undermine Israel’s ability to accurately convey to the world the nature, scale and scope of the threat it faces and the danger the Arab terrorist organizations pose. By so doing, they severely sabotage Israel’s efforts to generate international understanding for the policies it needs to adopt to contend with them—precisely because of the nature, scope and scale of the peril one poses and the other does not.

So, whether motivated by genuine, but misguided, concern for Israel’s international image or by visceral opprobrium for strange-looking fellow Jews, the attempt to equate Arab terrorism against Jews with Jewish “terror” against Arabs is playing right into the hands of Israel’s most vehement detractors.

Cause for concern

But there is an additional, and possibly sinister, cause for concern.

Since the 2015 arson in the Palestinian-Arab village of Duma, in which three members of the Dawabshe family were burnt to death, there has been a series of extra-judicial incarceration of Jews, including minors. These have raised considerable doubts as to the integrity of the investigative process and the conduct of the security services and police.

The arson was attributed to “Jewish terrorists,” despite the fact that there have been numerous other (previous and subsequent) cases of arson in the same village, attributed to inter-clan feuding. After about six months, it was announced that arrests of several Jews had been made, including the alleged adult perpetrator, Aviram Ben-Uliel, and several minors, as alleged accomplices. A gag order was placed on the investigation. Subsequently, it was reported that Ben-Uliel had confessed to the arson. However, not only was his confession highly improbable, it was totally incompatible with all the eye-witness accounts given at the scene of crime.

Unsurprisingly, Ben-Uliel later retracted the confession, claiming it was extracted under physical duress—a claim the court partially accepted.

Moreover, the court also nullified confessions from the minor, accused of being Ben-Uliel’s accomplice in planning the Duma attack.

A sense of apprehension

Significantly, two-and-a-half years after the defendant’s arrest and an extended period of “enhanced interrogation,” the Supreme Court ordered him to be released to house arrest, despite an appeal by the prosecution, which claimed that he was still dangerous and should not be released before the end of the trial.

Indeed, adding to the sense of unease is the fact that several other youths detained without trial and access to counsel were also later released without charge—see here, here, here, and here—raising grave questions as to why they were incarcerated for months in the first place.

And just this week, a district court  threw out a confession given by an Israeli minor, detained as part of a far-reaching investigation into Jewish terrorism, on the grounds that it was extracted by unlawful means and under duress. In dismissing the confession, the judge described the behaviour of the police as “unfair, to say the least, as well as offensive and threatening.

In light of the harsh treatment and long periods of detention without trial or access to counsel, this series of judicial censure cannot but arouse a sense of acute apprehension as to the impartiality and equity meted out to certain sectors of the population.

Indeed, one cannot but think that if another country treated Jews, wearing kippahs and peyos, the way the Jewish minors, accused of “terror” are treated in Israel, it would surely be engulfed in a wave of outrage and condemned for blatant anti-Semitism.

I confess that I have a strong personal bias in favour of Israel’s security forces and little empathy for the “hilltop” youth, neither for their theocratic political doctrine, nor their purported modus operandi for its implementation.

I would like nothing better than to feel I could place blind faith in the Shin Bet’s determination of guilt and the authenticity of the case brought against Jewish detainees.

Sadly, this is not the case.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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