Jewish Terrorism in Israel by Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger (Columbia University Press. 2009) Reviewed by Cheryl A. Rubenberg

Written by admin on September 15th, 2010

Jewish Terrorism in Israel analyzes most of what the authors have defined as “the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks between 1932 and 2008,” hypothesizing that while acts of terror may result from vengeance, more importantly they occur in the social context of “networks.” To illustrate their thesis they provide charts of detailed networks of the Jewish Underground, the Kahane Network, and the Amir Brothers Network. They are especially concerned with the structures and processes related to terrorism, and state in conclusion: “The case studies investigated in this book illustrate how counterculture communities based on totalistic ideologies are breeding grounds for religious terrorist groups.”

Methodologically the writers have relied on four prominent distinctions to identify an individual or group as terrorist: the use of violence; a political motive that motivates the violence; an intention to strike fear among the victims and their community; and the victims must be civilians or non-combatants. The databases from which their information was gathered included a vast array of official documents, interviews with former terrorists, civil and spiritual leaders as well as “comprehensive surveys of the communities where terrorist groups originated.” Also collected was “detailed information on each of the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks perpetrated in Palestine and the State of Israel between 1932 and 2008.” (Emphasis added.)  Implying that there were 309 attacks in total during those 66 years is a major underestimation and signals a chronic shortcoming of the book when it comes to identifying Jewish terrorist acts; there are nearly as many terrorist attacks in the West Bank every year.

To suggest that Jewish terrorism has existed for all time and to reinforce the perception about the unbroken link between modern Israel and its ancient imagined past, Pedahzur and Perliger devote most of their first chapter to the terrorist groups that fought Hellenistic and Roman rule in Palestine — the Hashmonai revolt, the Zealots, and the Sicarians. Then they jump to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which are covered in a scant page and a half. The second chapter deals mainly with the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang). Some of the operations of these groups are mentioned, overwhelmingly those against the British, although the authors note that Etzel “. . . terrorize[d] Palestinian citizens[sic] in the attempt to sow fear in their communities . .” The assassination of Lord Moyne is detailed and the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte is mentioned. Most of the massacres (e.g. Dayr Yasin) against Palestinians are omitted. This chapter presents Jewish terrorism as part of the struggle against British colonialism in the establishment of a “sovereign and democratic Jewish state” while almost entirely neglecting the terrorism against Palestinians.

Subsequent chapters examine other specific terrorist incidents. The 1980 assassination attempt against three Palestinian mayors was posited as a vengeful response to a Palestinian terrorist attack (i.e., the killing of six yeshiva students in Hebron) but not once do they suggest that a Palestinian attack was revenge for an Israeli action. Palestinian terrorism is presented in a vacuum throughout the text (the Occupation is barely acknowledged) until the final chapter. The authors further argue that the attacks on the mayors were part of a violent campaign by Jewish groups to overturn the Camp David accords and prove to the Israeli government that their opposition was a force with which to be reckoned.

Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of 29 Muslims at prayer is situated in a network of Kahanists and radical rabbis in Kiryat Arba (e.g. Baruch Marzel and Moshe Levinger). The authors essentially adopted the findings of the State Commission of Inquiry that concluded besides Goldstein’s “deep distress and frustration at the implementation of the Oslo Accords,” vengeance was also a motivation because of “continuing Palestinian violence against the settlers, which he saw as a direct result of the peace agreements and the Israeli surrender to Palestinian demands.” Pedahzur and Perliger failed to note, however, that there was a minimum of Palestinian violence against Israelis at the time and Goldstein was a known racist who, when serving as an IDF physician, refused to treat non-Jews. Their main analysis of Goldstein’s massacre involves the Kahanist counterculture, which they detail extensively and of which Goldstein was “a central figure.”

In chapter five the authors shift to Jewish violence against Jewish Israelis and the terrorism of radical settlements plus the Bat Ayin Underground that attacked Israelis and Palestinians. Iconoclastic groups are also discussed, such as the Uzi Meshulam Cult, the Ein Kerem Group, and the Lifta Gang.

In their concluding chapter Pedahzur and Perliger compare Jewish terrorism with Islamic terrorism and to a lesser extent Christian terrorism.  They find commonalities among the three but with one significant distinction:  Islamic based terrorist are “more inclination to inflict mass casualties . . . The only aggression committed by Jewish terrorists that could fall into the category of a mass casualty attack by Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, in which twenty-nine people were killed.” (Emphasis added).

The foregoing statement borders on the absurd. Jewish groups have been engaging in mass terrorism since the beginning of the Yishuv through today. Using their aforementioned four distinctions to identify an individual or group as terrorist, it is clear that terrorism can be perpetrated by a state as well as non-state actors. Palestinian scholars have long documented widespread Zionist violence against Palestinian civilians for political purposes during the 1948 War.  The emergence of the “new historians” in Israel has brought the knowledge of such systematic atrocities to a larger audience. Ilan Pappé tells of how “Israeli troops of all backgrounds, ranks and ages” carried out mass killings of Palestinians as part of a campaign to ethnically cleanse the land of Arabs.  According to Benny Morris, the Israelis were responsible for 24 massacres during the war. Its unsettling that Pedahzur and Perliger fail to even mention these events in their study.

During the Yishuv, terrorism was primarily the purview of the Irgun and Stern Group; after the state was formed, terrorism was perpetrated by sub-state actors such as Unit 101 and the Mossad as well as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Massive retaliatory raids against Palestinian villages in the West Bank and Gaza that began in the 1950s expanded throughout the subsequent 30 years to include whole towns and cities in Lebanon.  These raids purposely targets civilians, constituted collective punishment, and under the authors’ definition, represent terrorist acts.

Pedahzur and Perliger offer useful profiles of individual terrorists and their presentation of terrorist “networks” and how they form and function is particularly insightful.  But their habit of discounting Israeli terrorist violence, be it from irregular forces or sanctioned by the state, greatly limits the book’s pedagogical value.

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Cheryl A. Rubenberg is formerly an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida International University and the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Palestinians in Search of a Just Peace (2003) and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2010)

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