The Allure of Lawlessness

Gershom Gorenberg

My new piece on the arrest of alleged terrorist Yaakov Teitel and its context is up at The American Prospect:

The glossy flier was posted on a bulletin border in a small, illegal outpost of Israeli settlers near Nablus in the West Bank when I visited last week. The black print appeared over a soft green picture of olive trees. The West Bank is famed for its olive oil, and autumn is harvest season. For years, it’s also been the season when settlers from the most extreme outposts and settlements clash with Palestinian farmers and vandalize orchards.

Citing religious sources, the flier urged Jews to “harvest” the Palestinians’ olives if they could, and uproot the trees if they couldn’t. Since Judaism forbids not only theft but also the destruction of fruit trees even in warfare, the writer had to use considerable casuistry to make his case. It was, in religious terms, akin to preaching the “obligation” of adultery.

The fact that the flier was anonymous indicates that whoever stands behind it prefers not to be known to Israeli law-enforcement agencies. It was condemned a few days later in a popular right-leaning newsletter, published in a settlement and given away in synagogues. The moderate right is disturbed by such tactics — and the flier was distributed widely enough to become an issue. The flier’s text is testimony to the violence and lawlessness that are part of the ideological atmosphere at the settlement movement’s radical edge. The mayhem isn’t just the work of a few crazed individuals.

Use that as context for understanding the arrest of Yaakov Teitel, announced last Sunday by Israeli police. The list of Teitel’s alleged offenses reads like a brief guide to hate crime: attacks on random members of another nationality, on people he saw as promoting apostasy, on a prominent left-wing intellectual, on police whom he saw as protecting “sodomites.”

At first glance, Teitel might look like the angry man for whom the fury comes first, and the objects of the fury only afterward. He was reportedly seen as a loner on the small West Bank settlement where he lived; he kept a small arsenal in his house; he learned to make bombs from the Internet.

But that’s framing the picture much too narrowly. Even if Teitel is a man driven by his own particular furies, he chose to live in an environment where acting on fury is sometimes treated as acceptable, even as a virtue.

Read the rest here, and come back to SoJo to comment.

14 thoughts on “The Allure of Lawlessness”

  1. An excellent essay. As an American it reminds me inevitably of the lawlessness that pervaded the south before the civil rights era. Whites were able to literally get away with murder on a regular basis if the victim was black. It took national legislation and the blood, sweat, and tears of brave men and women, not the least of whom was Martin Luther King Jr. The mentality that lawlessness breeds gives reign to our darker impulses and give fertile soil to release the furies, as you very well put.

  2. Tamar, most definitely. Each nearby yishuv is informed at least a day before where the locals will be harvesting olives, soldiers come to guard and police are on standby. Most pass by without any problems except in areas where there are land disputes or if recently terror attacks have originated from those groves like in Shvut Rachel two weeks ago.

  3. Once again, we see Gershom attempting to shift the blame off himself from his benefitting from the dispossession of the Arabs in the 1948 War of Independence (his Yedidya Congregation and many of his friends live in what was an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem which the Arabs fled as a result of the fighting) onto the “settlers” who built their yishuvim on state land. By constantly harping on the “settlers” he is hoping everyone will forget about the Arabs who lost their land in 1948 and will focus on what they lost in 1967. But the Arabs won’t forget. (I have no problem with Yedidya being where it is because the Arabs are the ones who started the war with the express intention of comitting genocid) but Gershom is going to be disapointed if he things the Arabs will go along with his distortion of history. And don’t forget , many of the the Israeli soldiers who pushed the Arabs out were not “Bible-quoting religious fanatics”, but mostly “Marx-quoting” socialist atheists. So “religious fanaticism” is not the problem.
    It is the very existence of Israel that irritates the Arabs , and Gershom, as “progressive” as he is as much part of the problem as the Arabs see it as are the “settlers”.
    I suggest you all go see what “progressive” blogger MONDOWEISS says about “progressive” Zionists like Gershom or Bernard Avishai. He says they are racists, all the same.

  4. I enjoy the blog and as part of Y’s unwashed goyem I am informed that hypocracy doesn’t only exist with my brother WASPs, but is pervasive in Israel as well.

    Corrupting,twisting. and contorting history to support one’s alledged position,is akin to the “teabaggers” who really haven’t a clue what the Boston Tea Party was all about.

    There are those of all religions who believe their beliefs give them the right to be the judge and jury over others who don’t share those beliefs and the right to give short schrif to the dictates of that religion when the spirit moves them .Theft is theft and taking from farmers that which they are about to harvest is a criminal act :even if Y doesn’t think so because the Zionists may committed some alledged travesty in the past; ipso facto such logic diminishs you as a person

  5. Pretty pathetic for one Zionist to criticize another for playing the dispossession and hate game too aggressively.

  6. Y. : But the Arabs won’t forget.

    Nor will the Jews forget. Nor are they all expected to forget. But many on both sides want to get on with it and live with the 67 lines. That this does not ever make a dent in your comments as you conflate 48 with 67. It disqualifies your opinion as a distortion of reality.

    Figures that you would ally yourself with a more honest anti-Zionist who lives here in the USA.

  7. My comment to the main article- if the settlers want to seriously claim that this does not represent them or that they do not nurture this kind of lawlessness, then they have to be a lot more vigilant about their own… and a lot more cooperative with the law. I can’t shake the memory of the documentary that I saw a few years ago on our public television station program “Frontline” about settler lawlessness and how the government deals with it.

    You can watch it here online:

    Israel’s Next War?

  8. Suzanne-
    That documentary was made shortly before the Israeli government destroyed Gush Katif and was part of a concerted propaganda effort to discredit the settlers and the “right” before the government sent the IDF and police against them. The idea was to take a tiny fringe group and claim their ideas were mainstream. The fact is that there was no “war”, there was practically no organized resistance to the destruction and virtually no violence, so the doomsday scenario presented there was nonsense.

  9. It is obvious to we outsiders that the Settlers consider Arabs of any stripe non-people not worthy of discussion other than in the bases’terms. Uber Gruppen Fuhrer Heinrich would have really liked the non-person contempt part and Gaza ,for the want of another term, concentration camp.
    I ‘ve seen it Y.
    I believe Israel has the absolute right to exsist and to all the land it took in 1967, which was taken from those large powers before they could strike Israel first.

    Having said the aforesaid that does not excuse the Settlements which are only impositions on a defeated ,somewhat powerless people and an active program of religious intolerance masquerading under the name of “the original Israel we are entitled to”.

  10. Y. Ben-David: “The idea was to take a tiny fringe group and claim their ideas were mainstream.”

    I am struck by this comment of yours as this is was you consistently do about Palestinians.

    FYI- “Frontline” is not an arm of any propaganda machine. They were reporting on an almost totally neglected story, the neglect of which has more to do with with concerted efforts. And no claim was made that this was mainstream but rather that it was mostly apparently tolerated by the mainstream to it’s own detriment. Frontline was shedding some light where little has been shone for American eyes. Now that Israel has shot itself in the foot with regard to Gaza, more are seeing the full story about what Israel is really destroying, beyond Gush Katif.

  11. Y. Ben-David: “The idea was to take a tiny fringe group and claim their ideas were mainstream.”

    ( I meant to write)

    I am struck by this comment of yours as this is what you consistently do about Palestinians.

  12. Perhaps I’m remembering days of my youth with rose colored glasses, but as I recall it was very easy to see the IDF as “white hats” in ’48 and ’67 as they repelled Arab aggression. I don’t remember any waging of war on civilians or uprooting of orchards.

    You can fault the inferences or deflect with “ballerina” metaphors but it’s the Palestinian farmers in the story who have to be protected from Jewish extremists. What kind of people pick others’ crops and uproot olive trees and the livelihoods of others?

    What’s wrong here is that farmers, property owners, the most-likely-to-be-your-friends and least-likely-to-want-terrorists-on-their-land are the ones being punished by Israeli outlaws. The outlaws should be condemned. Arab aggression in ’48 and ’67 doesn’t excuse what’s being done to law-abiding farmers. If Ysrael Medad thinks associating this with more legitimate settlers is not valid, well ok, but he shows very little concern for the “allure of lawlessness” among the extremists around the movement.

    We’re very hard on Arabs who don’t condemn in stronger terms the terrorists who distort and violate their religion to justify harming others. We can have the same expectations of Israelis and Zionists.

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