At second blush, it seems the work of a lunatic fringe. First blush, of course, is the actual explosion of the pipe bomb that lightly wounded Professor Ze’ev Sternhell, an internationally renowned political scientist and a winner this year of the Israel Prize. That happened around midnight on Thursday, September 25, just outside Sternhell’s home on Shai Agnon Street in Jerusalem.
The second blush: Nearby and also scattered throughout the neighborhood, a flier. “A prize of 1.1 million shekels is offered to anyone who kills a member of Peace Now,” the flier stated. “The State of Israel has turned into our enemy. The time has come to establish a Halachic state in Judea and Samaria! It is time for the Kingdom of Judea!”
The mind reels: The State of Israel is their enemy? A reward for dead Peace Now members? A halachic kingdom? Surely, then, a lunatic fringe.
Or maybe not. As the saying goes, to every blush there’s a context.
Shall we start with the pogrom of September 13? (“Pogrom” is not my word; it is Prime Minister Olmert’s.) On that Saturday morning, a series of confrontations began when a Palestinian man entered the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus. He torched a Jewish home that was unoccupied at the time and then stabbed a 9-year-old child. Settlers responded by storming Asira al-Kabaliyahe, the nearby Arab village where the attacker was presumed to live. They stoned cars and windows and fired at passers-by, several of whom were wounded. A villager captured the rampage on a video that showed Israeli troops looking on without intervening.
Both the police and the army initially disclaimed responsibility and blamed each other. Olmert got it right at a Cabinet meeting the next day: “There will be no pogroms against non-Jewish residents in the State of Israel.”
Or shall we come forward, to the New York Times report of September 26? “Hard-core right-wing settlers have responded to limited army operations in recent weeks by blocking roads, rioting spontaneously, throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles and burning Palestinian orchards and fields all over the West Bank, a territory that Israel has occupied since 1967. They have also vandalized Israeli Army positions, equipment and cars.”
There have been hundreds of such incidents over the years, and they have become more frequent lately. The uprooting of ancient olive groves owned and worked by Palestinians, the creation of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, the maiming and killing of Palestinian villagers — and the very light reprimands and sentences given the small number of Jewish settlers who have been detained for taking the law into their own hands (and twisting it beyond recognition).
Or how about Rabbi Israel Rozen, who wrote back in August about the controversy regarding Migron? Migron is yet another Jewish settlement built on Palestinian land. According to Rabbi Rozen, the Palestinians themselves were unaware that the land was theirs until Peace Now’s “settlement watch” program so informed them. “Such tale-bearing,” the rabbi said, “is known in Hebrew as ‘moser’ [informer]… Individuals who have sunk to this lowest level of behavior were despised and shunned [in Jewish tradition]. They are considered worse than heretics or apostates.” According to Halacha, he observed, the punishment for such tale-bearing was death.
Some of us well remember the name Emil Grunzweig, a Peace Now activist who was killed by a hand grenade while attending a rally in 1983. Now we learn, according to Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest newspaper, that Emily Grunzweig, age 24, niece (and namesake) of Emil, has been receiving threatening phone calls. She is a law and political science student, and was until recently an organizer in Peace Now. “At first there were violent and threatening phone calls in the style of: ‘You are traitors and criminals,’” she told the paper. “When my full name appeared on the Peace Now statements, the phone calls became much more blatant, threatening and specific. The anonymous people who made the threats promised me that my end would be the same as Emil’s, if I don’t stop my activity in Peace Now. I receive a threat at least once every two days.”
In other words, the attempted murder of Professor Sternhell did not take place in a vacuum. It did, at least, elicit widespread condemnation from all sectors of the Israeli political echelon. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, was especially eloquent: “We are returning to the dark spectacle of pipe bombs that are aimed at people, in this case against a very gifted person who never shies away from expressing his opinion. We won’t let any elements, from any dark corner of Israeli society, harass people who let their clear, lucid, unique voices, like that of Ze’ev Sternhell, be heard.” What makes this especially noteworthy is that Sternhell, a Holocaust survivor and a combat veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, is a very vocal critic of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and of its failure to act effectively against the settlements — in particular, the illegal settlements that Israel has repeatedly promised to remove.
But here is the problem: Ehud Barak has been minister of defense for 14 months now, and he is a central part of that failure. It is the IDF that is directly responsible for the safety of the Palestinians in the West Bank, to say nothing of confronting the thefts of Palestinian land. And it is Ehud Barak who is responsible for the actions — and the inactions — of the army.
Ze’ev Sternhell: He’s the subject of a fascinating recent interview by Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit (just Google “Shavit on Sternhell”). It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring. And there is this, in a Ha’aretz interview on September 29, after Sternhell’s release from the hospital: “The politicians must declare war on the extreme right and occupation — that’s the swamp where those mosquitoes breed.” One hopes Barak et al will read it.