Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for the Bloomberg news service wrote of the December 13 affray between settlers and Palestinians, "The Israeli Defense Forces are increasingly confronting a truth that many Palestinians learned awhile ago: A not-insignificant number of the Israelis who have settled on the West Bank are unhinged zealots who, in their self-righteousness, myopia and contempt for those with whom they disagree, comprise a kind of Jewish Hamas." Goldberg referred to the Hilltop Youth as a "violent band of settlers" who are the children of first and second generation religious settlers. Despising the government of the Jewish state, the settlers have repeatedly had confrontations with Israeli security forces.

Last week, 50 settlers stormed an army base adjacent to the Kedumim settlement in the northern West Bank and threw rocks at both soldiers and Palestinians. The commander of the army's Ephraim Brigade was struck in the head with a rock. The injured officer told local media that he was taunted by his assailants who called him a "nazi."  On December 15, violent Jewish vandals attacked a mosque and set it on fire.

According to Goldberg, "Violent bands of settlers have been throwing rocks at Palestinians, and on occasion defacing their mosques and ripping up their olive trees, for some time. These are known as "price tag" attacks, meant to scare the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of making concessions on settlements." Editorializing, Goldberg added "Many Israelis have been aghast at the notion of Jews behaving like Cossacks, but many others were blithely unaware of these attacks, when they were launched against Arabs. Now, there should be no ignoring these berserkers. The army is sacrosanct in Israel; it is a citizens' army. An attack on the army is an attack on the state itself."

In an opinion column appearing in Ha'aretz, an Israeli daily, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat and founder of the Center for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation also spoke on the significance of the recent confrontation: Speaking as a religious leader, Rabbi Riskin's column - 'A Hannukah Letter to the Hilltop Youth'' is as follows:

From my experience as an educator I know it's hard, impossible actually, to preach to people who believe that they are the holy defenders of the Land of Israel; that they wave the banner of the pure and genuine Torah (Bible); that they are eliminating the conciliatory behavior, the lobbying for favors and the obsequiousness of thousands of years of exile.

"Price tag" rioters who attack Palestinians who have done no wrong, desecrate mosques and set fire to copies of the Koran see themselves as similar to the ancient heroes of Judea, who fought against the Greek-Syrian rabble that desecrated the Temple and forced them to bow down to idols.

And so I say to you:

      You consider yourselves the new Hasmoneans, the Maccabees who do not bow their heads before the Hellenizing priestly establishment, which today, you believe, wears the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. Because you are convinced that all your deeds are for the sake of heaven, you will never admit that you have sinned. And without recognition of sin, there is no repair and no repentance and no atonement.

      I am telling you that you are making a fundamental mistake. If a country can be sacred, if there is sanctity in earth and stones, then isn't it clear that a fortiori there is sanctity in man - whether Arab or Jew - who was created in God's image? Don't you understand that there is no "portion of God from above," as Job described it, in furrows of earth, but that there certainly is in peaceful Palestinians?

      Do you have any idea how great that "portion of God" is in Col. Ran Kahane, the commander of the Ephraim Brigade, and in each and every one of his soldiers, who daily risk their lives to defend yours and those of your families from the terrorists who are working to take them? How do you dare to desecrate these holy people? How did it enter your minds to take on the role of our enemies, the terrorists? How did your love of the land become so distorted that it turned into love of bricks and cement and caused you to forget all the rest?

      You did not throw stones at me, and still you have mortally wounded me. You have stolen from me one of the assets most sacred to me. I love the Land of Israel with all my heart and all my might. I left the United States, my birthplace, to help to build my beloved city of Efrat and to be built up in it.

      Wherever and whenever I speak - and I have had the privilege of appearing and speaking all over the world - I present myself as a "proud settler." And you have robbed this pride from me. You have turned the term "settler" into a dirty word. You have caused me to be ashamed of being a settler, to be ashamed to be called by the same name as those whose love for the land has turned into hatred of human beings.

      The Torah is filled with the praises of the Land of Israel, but it never commands us to "love" the land. It commands us to "love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18). And since the following words, the words that end that verse, are "I am the Lord," the medieval commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra explains that "thy neighbor" in that context is every human being created in the image of God.

      There is a direct and tragic connection between those who perpetrate "price tag" activities against Arabs and those who participate in attacks on the IDF. Shimon and Levi, two of the sons of Jacob, murdered all the men of Shechem, an act of collective revenge that did not distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. They ended up harming their own brother, Joseph, for, according to a midrash, or rabbinic tale, they were the motivating force behind his sale to Egypt.

      Please, change your minds and repent, before it's too late. Don't sell your souls, your portion of God from above, even in exchange for our holy land.



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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