Revolt Network Foments New Brand of Jewish Terror in Israel – Isabel Kershner/The New York Times
MAALE SHLOMO OUTPOST, West Bank — A high school dropout, Mordechai Meyer, 18, has spent the past few years camping out with his teenage friends in the rolling hills in and around Jewish outposts like this one in the northern West Bank.
The teenagers “wanted to live simply, to build their own things and to commune with God,” said Mr. Meyer’s father, Gedalia Meyer.
That is not how Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, describes the younger Mr. Meyer. According to Shin Bet, he belongs to a Jewish terrorist network, some of whose members have been charged with grave crimes, including the July arson attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents in the West Bank village of Duma.
The two suspects in that case also spent time in these hills. Shin Bet has identified Baladim, a tiny encampment on the edge of Maale Shlomo, and Geulat Zion, to the north, as bases where the activists formulated their radical agenda and from where they set out for attacks.
The existence of the network, known as the Revolt for the title of its manifesto, emerged into the public spotlight about six months ago after the arrest of several suspected members. This latest manifestation of Jewish terrorism is the creation of young, angry extremists rebelling against what they view as the inertia and constraints of the Israeli political and religious establishment, and it has fermented in the lawless environment of the unauthorized outposts dotting the occupied West Bank.
Shin Bet says the group poses a continuing danger of violence, and the authorities have used extraordinary methods against suspected members and perpetrators, tools that have mostly been reserved for Palestinians accused of terrorism. The crackdown has included administrative detention orders, a draconian measure that allows for imprisonment without charge or trial, as well as for preventing suspects from meeting with lawyers, in some cases for the maximum three weeks.
But the attacks have not halted. One night last month, suspected Jewish extremists threw two tear gas canisters into a small house in the Palestinian village of Beitillu, according to the Israeli police. The owner described almost choking as he escaped with his wife and child. Hebrew graffiti on a nearby wall read “Revenge” and “Regards, the detainees of Zion.”
The Duma attack and the revolt have roiled the pro-settlement establishment of religious Zionists, and threatens to drive a new wedge into Israeli society. The settler leadership vehemently condemned the attack and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Allegations by the suspects’ lawyers of harsh interrogation methods and forced confessions have persuaded some in the settler camp that Shin Bet might have exaggerated the risk posed by a few dozen uneducated youths, perhaps to magnify its own achievement. And they fear that Israel’s liberal, secular forces will exploit the episode to discredit the entire settler movement.
“In criminal terms, it is a terrible thing,” Yisrael Harel, a veteran leader of the settlement movement, said of Duma and the shadowy network exposed by Shin Bet. “In terms of significance, it is something that will disappear with the passage of time.”
Mr. Harel described the Revolt as “a metaphorical ticking bomb, not from the terrorist standpoint but from a sociological one, for our public because it hurts a whole community.”
An estimated 30 to 40 activists ages 15 to 24 make up the “hard core” of the Revolt, according to Shin Bet, many of them hailing from the radical fringe of settlers known as hilltop youths. Working in secrecy, in squads of two or three people, they have typically resorted to weapons like fire bombs and spray paint.
Five months ago, Mordechai Meyer was placed in administrative detention after the authorities suspected him of involvement in arson attacks on two churches, but did not have enough evidence to charge him. Days later he was joined in detention by two high-profile activists in their early 20s. One was Meir Ettinger, a grandson of Meir Kahane, the slain American-Israeli rabbi considered the father of far-right Jewish militancy. Shin Bet has identified Mr. Ettinger as the leader of the Revolt, although it says the network has no strict hierarchy.
Mr. Meyer was abruptly released on Jan. 3, after the Israeli authorities charged other suspects in the church arsons.
“From the beginning, I said that it was a lie,” Mr. Meyer said in a brief interview in his lawyer’s office in Jerusalem, accompanied by his parents, who immigrated from the United States with seven children about 16 years ago.
Wearing jeans, a large crocheted skullcap and long, flowing side locks in the fashion of the hilltop youths, Mr. Meyer added: “Until the end, it was all lies. Like the police, the court listened to all the lies.”
“He was in jail for nothing,” said his lawyer, Itzhak Bam, from Honenu, a right-wing legal aid organization. “He did nothing wrong.”
Shin Bet said the basis of Mr. Meyer’s detention was the danger he posed as an active member of the terrorist network. He remains under house arrest at nighttime and has a restraining order barring him from the West Bank beyond the urban settlement of Maale Adumim, where his family lives.
Asked about his suspected involvement in the Revolt, Mr. Meyer responded angrily, “Not answering.”
The suspected extremists of the Revolt advocate fomenting unrest to bring about the collapse of the state of Israel, with its democratic government and courts, and replacing it with a Jewish kingdom based on religious law, according to the group’s manifesto. They also call for the expulsion of all non-Jews.
Shin Bet has made public a manual that it said had been written by another activist, Moshe Orbach, and found stored on a mobile device in a car. It included instructions on how to set fire to buildings like mosques and Palestinian homes.
The Revolt is a more extreme outgrowth of an older generation of hilltop youths, who, with the tacit backing of some radical rabbis, pioneered an aggressive doctrine known as the “Price Tag.” That called for attacks in the West Bank against both Palestinians and their property and the Israeli military, largely to avenge or deter army or police action against illegal building in settlement outposts and also Palestinian assaults.
Shin Bet says the founders of the Revolt began formulating their ideas in the fall of 2013. The Price Tag movement began adopting more dangerous tactics, and there was a new focus on attacks on Christian churches, which did not seem to have anything to do with deterring curbs on settlements.
From November 2014, as the Revolt evolved, its extremists moved from arson attacks against empty houses to homes with families sleeping inside, according to Shin Bet.
Several suspects come from respected families that represent the core of religious Zionism. Mr. Meyer’s father is a rabbi who teaches adults; his mother, Sara, works with older adults. The main suspect in the Duma case, Amiram Ben-Uliel, 21, is the son of a rabbi and educator from the settlement of Karmei Tzur.
The so-called Jewish Underground of the 1980s, which killed and maimed Palestinian mayors and students, was made up of educated army veterans, mainly fathers in their 30s. The members of the Revolt, by contrast, are largely high school dropouts, whom the army prefers not to draft.
“I think what we are dealing with is a case of juvenile delinquency that got out of hand,” said David Haivri, a veteran settler activist and a once-militant follower of Meir Kahane. He said he hoped Duma would serve as a “wake-up call for parents and educators,” but he added, “I don’t think that a group of delinquents who don’t believe in taking showers are going to overthrow the country.”
According to the charge sheet, Mr. Ben-Uliel and a minor accused of helping plan the Duma attack said they had been acting to avenge the murder of an Israeli man, Malakhi Rosenfeld, 26, who was fatally shot by Palestinians as he rode in a car in the West Bank the previous month.
“They are very, very angry with Israel,” Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a prominent voice in modern Orthodoxy, said of the hilltop youths. They do not feel that the state or the army does enough to protect Jews from Palestinian terrorism, and they have become an authority unto themselves, he said.
“They do not even listen to the most extreme rabbis,” he added.
On a recent weekday, donkeys stood at the entrance to Maale Shlomo, an unauthorized cluster of about two dozen trailers perched high on a stony ridge. The religiously orthodox residents of the outpost shun television, and one of the trailers serves as a small synagogue. Testy teenagers with long side locks milled about.
Yisrael Ben-Shlomo, who left New York 11 years ago, tended to the frisky lambs in his sheep pen, whose metal frame the younger Mr. Meyer helped to weld a year ago. Mr. Ben-Shlomo, who described Mr. Meyer as “the funniest kid, a good and wholesome kid,” weighed his words carefully before giving his views on the Revolt.
“The Jewish people are in an era of redemption after almost 2,000 years in exile,” he said. “The Arabs are not going to kill our civilians and expect that no young kids are going to want to react and give them a taste of their own medicine.”