Jewish terrorism? Maybe — or maybe not

Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon justified the recent ‘administrative detentions’ of several young Jewish ‘extremists’ in a TV interview last week:

In such situations, any country — most certainly a democracy– must defend itself, including the taking of extreme measures,” Ya’alon said. “But when you have no choice, you have to protect yourself.”

“This draconian step was necessary in this case, because if we hadn’t taken it, we would have seen a string of attacks against Arabs,” he said.

The defense minister said he was confident that suspects in custody are connected to last month’s deadly arson attack on a Palestinian home blamed on Jewish extremists.

“I have no doubt we are holding the correct people in administrative detention,” he said of Jewish detainees such as Meir Ettinger, the 23-year-old grandson of assassinated extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the outlawed anti-Arab Kach organization.

When asked if he believed Ettinger was linked to the deadly arson attack, Ya’alon said “Ultimately, in principle, yes.” [my emphasis]

In principle? In other words, we can’t prove that they committed the crime, but they really disliked Arabs a whole lot.

The ‘extremists’ being held without charge are being subjected to ‘aggressive interrogation methods’. Meir Ettinger was arrested on August 3, three weeks ago.

The parents of another detainee, Evyatar Slonim, responded to Ya’alon that their son was with them on vacation in Ma’alot (in northern Israel, far from the site of the arson attack) when it occurred. It should be possible for the police to check this out.

It seems to me that after three weeks of ‘aggressive interrogation’ and – one hopes – intensive investigation of all possible scenarios in the case, including that the fire was set by Arabs involved in a feud with the Dawabshe family, the police should be able to charge the detainees, or let them go.

Unfortunately, the tone for all of this was set by the President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, who announced on the morning after the crime was committed, when security forces were just starting their investigation, that “Jewish terrorists” were responsible for the arson-murder. He didn’t say ‘suspected’. Naturally the media have been even less circumspect.

As I wrote at the time, there are several hypotheses about who may have firebombed the Dawabshe house in the Arab village of Duma. One of them is that it was members of another Arab clan. For several reasons (spelled out at the link) I thought at the time that this was more likely than that ‘Jewish terrorists’ had done it.

Last night another house belonging to a member of the Dawabshe clan burned, this time with no serious injuries. Initial reports claimed that the fire was a result of a firebomb thrown by “the occupation” or “settlers,” but Palestinians later said it was an accidental fire of electrical origin. One could speculate that if there were a feud going on, they would want to divert attention and investigation away from this incident.

Please note that I am not saying that Jews could not have done this. Every nation has its criminals, sometimes remarkably vicious ones. We have to face the fact that the murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Shira Banki were Jews.

I also do not think that the Jewish youth who are being held are innocent of all crimes. Some of them are probably guilty of vandalism and other infractions. They are unquestionably a great embarrassment to the nation if they are responsible for ‘price tag’ vandalism. These incidents, in addition to being morally indefensible, are extremely counterproductive at a time when the Jewish state and the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria are being demonized in world media. The culprits should be punished.

And I can understand the government’s frustration at the incompetence of the police in apprehending the price tag vandals. But the solution is not to use the murder as an excuse for employing administrative detention and aggressive interrogation in cases that don’t warrant such “draconian” (in the words of Minister Ya’alon) steps. It is not to accuse of murder those who are not murderers, just to get them behind bars.

Worse than finding out that the Duma murders were committed by Jews would be to find out that our government and security services were complicit in blaming Jews for murders that they did not commit.

Yes, we need to put an end to the price-tag attacks and similar phenomena. But there are limits, and it seems to me that we are treading a bit too close to them.

Updated [26 Aug 2039 IDT] for style and clarity.

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