In the early morning hours of July 31 this summer masked men torched two houses in the West Bank village of Duma. One of the houses was empty. In the other, the Dawabsheh family lay sleeping. Saad, his wife Riham, and their four-year-old son Ahmad were severely injured as flames spread through their bedroom. Eighteen-month-old Ali burned to death, and Saad died a week later of his wounds. A year ago three Jewish extremists kidnapped sixteen- year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir outside his East Jerusalem home. They drove him to a forest where, after beating him, they poured gasoline over his head and burned him alive.
Execution by fire has always been about more than just killing. It carries a message. The masked men who threw the Molotov cocktail into the Dawabshehs’ bedroom made their message explicit, leaving graffiti of a Star of David with NEKAMA! (Hebrew for revenge) sprayed on the wall.
This brand of Jewish terrorism is not new. In 2002 a clandestine group of Jewish settlers attempted to blow up a Palestinian girls’ school. In 1994 an American-born Jewish settler gunned down twenty-nine Palestinians while they were praying in Hebron. A decade earlier a number of loosely connected underground cells carried out terrorist attacks against Palestinian targets, including the Islamic college in Hebron, public buses, and West Bank mayors.
The roots of contemporary Jewish terrorism lie in the radical movements and individuals who roamed Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s. Two new books, Bruce Hoffman’s Anonymous Soldiers and Patrick Bishop’s The Reckoning, explore these roots.
While I was in Jerusalem I heard nine bomb explosions not far from my hotel. The immigration offices of the Palestine Mandate at Haifa and Tel Aviv were blown up, and two Palestine policemen were murdered. There are three extremist groups, all illegal military organisations. They have Fascist manners and Fascist uniforms, and are storm troopers.
This is how a Reader’s Digest reporter, Frederick Painton, described his encounter with Jewish terrorism early in 1944.1 The bombings Painton heard were the opening shot of the revolt against the British Mandate announced on February 1 by the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization, also known by its Hebrew acronym, Etzel). Eleven days later members of the Irgun, under the direction of their recently appointed leader, Menachem Begin, bombed British immigration offices in Palestine’s main cities.
Begin, who had emigrated from Poland in 1942, belonged to the Revisionist faction of the Zionist movement, formed by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Its aim was to revise the Zionist Labor movement’s “practical Zionism,” which was primarily concerned with building national institutions and cultivating a Jewish society in Palestine. “Jabotinsky’s grand ‘Revisionist’ Zionism put the Jewish state first,”…
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