After the double murder in the village of Duma last week, people no longer condone the activities of the so-called “hilltop youth”, especially not the “price tag” group operating in their midst, which attacks Arabs and their property. The agency responsible for dealing with this group, namely capturing its members and bringing them to justice, is the Jewish Division of the Shin Bet. Recently, since the arson at the church on the Sea of Galilee and the burning of the Dawabsheh home, the division was given broad powers, including virtually unlimited use of administrative detention orders, which are considered controversial in most countries. In recent days such orders were issued for three activists: Meir Ettinger, Eviatar Slonim and Mordechai Meyer. All three are thus imprisoned without trial for six months.
But that’s not the point. If only that was the only crime of the Jewish Division of the Shin Bet. Not only does its modus operandi not restore quiet to this area and prevent crime, it fans the flames. It also has a part in pushing the youth to more extreme and lethal activities. Its interference is destructive.
What is it doing that is so bad? The situation on the ground was not so bad three years ago. After the terrible murder of the Fogel family, when two Arabs infiltrated the settlement of Itamar and killed five family members, the “price tag” youth went out and torched cars in a nearby Arab village. Since then, the Shin Bet decided that the hilltop youth, and especially members of the “price tag” group, are an almost existential threat, and that all its resources must be focused on them.
The resulting pressure on these same elements is enormous. They are arrested day and night, the outposts where they live are destroyed regularly by security forces, and they are constantly harassed by police and investigations. Administrative restraining orders that keep these activists away from Judea and Samaria are frequently issued. Once an administrative restraining order was a means of crime prevention and was used sparingly. Today they are handed out like tissues at a funeral. Every 14-year-old boy who refuses to answer questions put to him by Shin Bet interrogators is expelled from the West Bank for nine months. That is a fact.
These measures have, indeed, reduced the number of “price tag” attacks, but increased their threat level. These youth, caught between the heavy hand of the security agencies and the scourge of Arab terrorism, with youthful rebellion burning within – are pushed into a corner. As far as they are concerned, since they are constantly being harassed and punished, they may as well be doing something “significant” – setting fire to a church or school,rather than just spray graffiti onto a mosque or Arab owned car, as they did in the past. Their squads are now more sophisticated, completely compartmentalized, and their operations are run in the most secretive militaristic way.
The second, terrible mistake of the Shin Bet was the closing of the “Od Yosef Chai” yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar. In the Israeli media this yeshiva is known as the mother of all sins. Its head was Rabbi Ginzburg, one of the area’s extremists, who wrote a controversial book. This yeshiva was undoubtedly the most radical institution, and as such attracted the most extreme youth. So, apparently, the Shin Bet did well when it shut it down.
But it did not take into account the consequences of its action: since then, these youths are scattered, and some were involved in price tag attacks. The yeshiva, as extreme as it was, was a moderating factor. There was a little guidance. It was able to contain these destructive powers and channel them to a little less destructive place. There was a rabbi, there was a leadership, there was an address. The closing of the yeshiva and the pressure exerted on these young people (most of which, incidentally, come from the center of the country, from the towns of Ra’anana and Bnei Brak, as an act of youthful rebellion against bourgeois parents, but that is for another article) created a sense of enormous instability, and without this guidance – these boys are carrying out criminal acts such as the burning of a family.