In response to:
Looking Over Jordan from the April 28, 1983 issue
To the Editors:
Bernard Avishai [NYR, April 28] decries what he calls the “vigilantism” of Jewish settlers in the West Bank who retaliate against Arab rockthrowers. Avishai singles out for condemnation the “virulent Kach movement of Meir Kahane” which, he asserts, “is thought by Israeli police to be responsible for at least two shootings into [Arab] houses in Hebron.” Since no member of Kach has ever been arrested or prosecuted for shooting into houses in Hebron, it would be most interesting to learn on what grounds the nameless “Israeli police” make such accusations, and, if they have such grounds, why they have brought no one to trial for these acts.
The reason why Jewish settlers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza—including Kach members—retaliate against Arab rockthrowers is that it is preferable to being murdered. The impact of a rock crashing through the windshield of a moving automobile can easily force the auto to swerve off the road. Every Arab who hurls a rock at a Jewish auto knows that. Each such attack is an attempt to murder. Sometimes the attempts succeed as, for example, in the murder by rockthrowing of twenty-two-year-old Ester Ohana last February. The fact that the Arabs who killed Miss Ohana received extraordinarily light jail sentences—several of them will be free within seven or eight years—naturally reinforces the settlers’ feeling that the Israeli Government has not made a serious effort to crack down on Arab stonethrowers. If a man was convicted in the United States of coldblooded murder, and then set free just seven years after the deed, one can imagine the outrage with which the American public would greet the news of his release.
The Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza feel such outrage on a daily basis, as their lives are endangered by mobs of Arab rockthrowers—and then as they are denounced as “vigilantes” when they dare to defend themselves or retaliate against their would-be murderers. A vigilante is one who takes the law into his own hands despite the fact that there is adequate protection by the authorities. Where there is no law enforcement and no adequate protection—such as in Judea, Samaria and Gaza—one must protect oneself with whatever means are at one’s disposal.
Jewish Defense League of Israel, Jerusalem
Bernard Avishai replies:
On the letterhead of the Kach movement stationery on which Mr. Ben-Chaim typed his letter is the logo of a clenched fist on the Star of David. Opposite it is a quotation from the Hebrew liturgy: “U’mee Kamocha Yisrael, Goy Echad Ba’Aretz”—”Who is like unto you, Israel, one nation in the land.” Of course there are two nations in the land, not one. Meir Kahane and his current followers use the traditional prayer as a slogan to justify expelling the West Bank’s Arab residents. Kahane has stated this openly, even on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. When he ran in the 1981 elections, the Kach platform called for jailing Arab men for up to five years merely for having sexual relations with Jewish women. The military government banned Kahane from the West Bank for inciting violence on various occasions; the Israeli civil government has prohibited him from speaking to school audiences because of his openly racist and militarist views.
It is true that Israeli police could not prove that Kach people were responsible for acts of terror in Hebron during March, including the wounding of a four-year-old Arab girl. But this is partly because of the disappearance of a key suspect who is a Kach supporter [Jerusalem Post, International Edition, March 6-12, 1983]. I have not followed the case since, but two Kach people were taken into custody at the time. Others were questioned regarding the murder of the Peace Now activist Emile Greensweig. Another Kach supporter, Eli Guttman, was convicted of the murderous assault on the Mosque of Omar in April 1981, which set off a general strike.
Mr. Ben-Chaim is right to demand that his group not be presumed guilty of crimes until they have been tried for them. Still, it is worth remembering that these demands for liberal fairness come from someone whose movement betrays the spirit of liberalism—it rejects nonviolence, shows little respect for individuals, tolerance, doubt. Ben-Chaim himself does not deny responsibility for violence. Rather, he justifies retaliation against rock-throwers as a means of self-defense.
In what way does retaliation against rockthrowers, which amounts to random assault on nearly any crowd of unarmed Arab teenagers on the West Bank, defend Jewish settlers in a way that the Israeli army cannot? If it is true that the army cannot give reasonable protection to the lives and property of Jewish settlers, then the Kach slogan is even more ominous; the occupation in that case will lead to civil anarchy and growing violence. In fact, the army can protect Ben-Chaim, though many soldiers would rather not have to; and the Likud government would carry out the Kach program by more gradual methods. All that was achieved by wounding the Arab girl was that settlers will now have blood enemies among her brothers and cousins, who previously had been no more than political resisters. But then, much more than an ideology, movements such as Ben-Chaim’s need blood enemies.