Jewish terrorism in Israel /

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Main Author: Pedahzur, Ami.
Other Authors: Perliger, Arie.
Format: Book
Published:New York : Columbia University Press, c2009.
Series:Columbia studies in terrorism and irregular warfare.
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View this excerpt in pdf format | Copyright information Chapter 5: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995, an act carried out by a network of young religious Zionist Jews, marked the divorce of Jewish terrorism from both the established Jewish settlement movement and the Kach movement in its many incarnations. The Jewish terrorism accompanying Israel into the twenty-first century was a younger and different version and, in addition to the terrorists' motivations discussed in previous chapters, for the first time was committed blatantly in defiance of the State of Israel itself. The first signs of the transition began to appear immediately after the signing of the Oslo Accords, which were the source of a great crisis for religious Zionists and settlers alike. The Vengeance Underground The first episode began on the evening of December 10, 1993, when Sa'adi Abdul Mahdi Fatafta, twenty-seven, his brother Mahmoud Abdul Mahdi Fatafta, and their cousin Iskhak Mahmoud Fatafta, both twenty-five, left their workplace in Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, and set off for their home in the village of Tarqumiya. They were stopped at an improvised roadblock on a narrow dirt road near the village of Hares. On the side of the road was a vehicle with Israeli license plates. The occupants of the car fired automatic weapons at the men, and all three were killed on the spot. Several hours later, Israel public radio received an anonymous call taking responsibility for the attack. It was described as retaliation for the murder of two settlers a few days earlier by Hamas operatives in Hebron. Despite a painstaking investigation, more than ten months passed before General Security Service (GSS) agents finally made the breakthrough that pointed them in the direction of several suspects. In early September 1994, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer by the name of Oren Edri was arrested on suspicion of supplying explosives and firearms to a group of settlers from the Hebron area who were involved in terrorist attacks on Palestinians. The GSS investigators concluded that this group, known as the Vengeance Underground, was responsible for the attack against the Fatafta family and that they were also planning a high-profile attack on one of the Arab villages near Hebron. Despite the exhaustive investigation and subsequent arrest of several prominent Kiryat Arba settlers suspected of membership in the group, including Avraham Tibi, Rabbi Ido Elba, and Elyashiv Keller, the only one brought to trial was Edri. He was sentenced to a two-year jail term for stealing IDF explosives. Apparently, the group did not carry out additional operations. Even today, there still seems to be a shroud of secrecy surrounding the way the group was formed, its modus operandi, and its membership. However, it seems that all the elements of our theoretical model were manifested in the characteristics of the group. It is clear that, similar to earlier terrorist groups, this was a network composed of friends and neighbors from Kiryat Arba. Group members had suffered from Palestinian terrorism and were influenced by the tense and bitter atmosphere prevalent in their community after the Oslo Accords. An additional factor was the internal escalation typical of social networks involving members in distress, a process that apparently led the group to adopt and implement violent tactics. In the wake of the Vengeance Underground undercover investigation, the GSS found out that two other settlers were planning to assault Arabs. These were the brothers Yehoyada and Eitan Kahalani, both in their twenties and residents of Kiryat Arba. In the summer of 1994, they decided to launch a terrorist campaign against Palestinians in the West Bank. The intention of the Kahalani brothers was to inflame the region and forestall the execution of the terms of the Oslo Accords. On September 2, 1994, their inaugural attempt met with failure when they tried to ambush Palestinians on a dirt road leading from Jerusalem's Malkha Shopping Mall to the nearby village of Batir. The two brothers had stolen M16 rifles from the armory at Kiryat Arba and were waiting for an unsuspecting victim. At approximately 3:00 p.m., they espied Ziad Shami, twenty-two, who was riding to the village on his bicycle. While Yehoyada returned to their car in preparation for a quick getaway, Eitan approached Shami and asked him in Arabic whether he had any money. Before Shami could answer, Eitan raised his rifle and pulled the trigger. But instead of gunfire, there was only a dull click. Stunned, he ran to the car, and the two fled the scene. A few miles later they were stopped by the Border Police and GSS agents. It turned out that the weapons had been made inoperable by GSS agents who had discovered their plans. In the months that followed, resistance to the Oslo Accords by members of the religious Zionist stream and settler community intensified. They became increasingly radical as the leaders of these countercultures responded severely to the gradual implementations of the accords. For them, the Oslo process was a real threat to the vision of a Greater Land of Israel and ultimately the realization of a Jewish religious state. Thus, a long line of rabbis attacked not only the agreements themselves but also the legitimacy of the Israeli government as a source of authority. They pointed a finger at the heads of the administration, accusing them of being traitors to Zionist ideas and endangering the existence of the Jewish state. Some of them did not even hesitate to spell out the response they felt was necessary. For example, Elyakim Haetzni, one of the prominent leaders of the settler community, compared Rabin's government to the Petain government in France during the Nazi occupation: "A government that is responsible for the death of Jews needs to know that its members may stand trial for treason, the same as in France when Nazi collaborators were sentenced to death." Even Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, who is still considered one of the more moderate leaders of the Gush Emunim movement, declared, "There is no more moderate way -- just brutal force brought the Palestinian all their achievements. . . . We must clarify to Shimon Peres and his people that we can disrupt the normality of life in this country." In mid-1995 the rhetoric used among the religious Zionist and settler communities regarding the Oslo agreements was ratcheted up another level. A growing number of pamphlets appeared in synagogues all over the settlements debating whether the Halakhic rules of din rodef and din moser could be applied to Rabin. The first din, or "judgment," refers to a Jew who is willing to endanger the lives of other Jews, and the second refers to a Jew who is willing to hand Jewish property over to gentiles. According to the Halakha, the sentence for both transgressions is death. Moreover, in many of the pamphlets rabbis morally approved revenge attacks on Palestinians, even glorifying acts such as the Goldstein massacre. Finally, in September 1995, shortly before the actual assassination of Rabin, another group of rabbis from various settlements in the West Bank published a Halakhic rule enjoining IDF religious soldiers to disobey any order that dictated the evacuation of settlements and the implementation of the Oslo Accords. In view of this intense process of catastrophic framing taking place inside the settler and religious Zionist communities, it is hard to be surprised at the emergence of the Yigal Amir group. The Yigal Amir Group The rally that took place at Kikar Malkhei Yisrael (Kings of Israel Square) on the night of Saturday, September 4, 1995, was regarded as a great success by its organizers. The city of Tel Aviv had not seen such an enormous assembly of supporters for ages. Some claimed it was the largest turnout of Israeli citizens at a political rally since the mass demonstration after the massacre of Palestinians in the Lebanese Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. After two years in which the Israeli right wing had "ruled the town squares" and led a cascade of protests against the Oslo process, the Israeli left had proved that it still had some fight in it. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had his doubts before the rally regarding both its necessity and its chances of success, was in buoyant spirits when informed that attendance was estimated at 150,000. This was a number that to a fair extent represented wide sectors of the Israeli public backing the political process he led. "Finally," he said to his associates, "here is the unbeatable answer to all our critics. . . . The people support the peace process." The atmosphere at the rally was also energized, and the crowd's elation surged still higher when, near the end of the event, Rabin and the leaders of his coalition government appeared on stage to sing the anthem of the peace camp, "Shir Lashalom" ("A Song for Peace"). At the close of the rally, the crowd was slow to leave the square, basking in high spirits and heaping praise on the prime minister as he continued to watch his supporters. At that moment, none of the participants could conceive that in just a matter of seconds, a young Jew would aim his Beretta and shoot the prime minister dead with three bullets. Of all the threats made against the Israeli prime minister, also leader and proponent of the Oslo process, the scenario that unfolded was the least probable. Rabin's assassination was the result of a bond formed between young people who were poles apart from the established protest movements. Their motivations were a combination of a desire to retaliate against Palestinians who carried out terrorist attacks, a desperate ambition to halt the transfer of West Bank land to Palestinian sovereignty, and a deep-seated hostility toward the country's institutions and leaders. Yigal Amir, twenty-five, a law student at Bar-Ilan University, had spent the hours before the assassination at his home in the Neve Amal neighborhood of Herzliya. Friday evening, he worshipped at the Etz Hakhaim (Tree of Life) Synagogue and then joined his family for the traditional Sabbath dinner, where the conversation quickly moved to politics. His parents weren't especially concerned when their son once again repeated the mantra he had been propounding for some time: "Rabin has to be destroyed. . . . He is the one responsible for the disaster that has fallen upon us with this false peace." On Saturday morning, Amir returned to the synagogue, this time accompanied by his brother Hagai. During the break between prayers, Yigal told his brother of his plans to assassinate Rabin at the rally. Hagai wasn't surprised; he only asked him to use a sniper rifle when carrying out the deed. He was afraid that if his brother shot Rabin at close range, he would be killed by the prime minister's security detail. Despite Hagai's pleas, Amir decided to stick to his original plan: go to the rally, wait for an opportunity, and then get close enough to shoot the prime minister. At 7:45 p.m., Yigal Amir boarded bus number 247 to Tel Aviv carrying a Beretta 9-millimeter short caliber pistol. Before he left his house he took out two types of bullets from his desk drawer: regular and hollow point. His brother had prepared the special hollow point bullets for him. He arranged the bullets in two separate rows and alternately loaded them in the magazine. When he finished, he cocked the weapon and loaded a bullet directly in the barrel so if the gun jammed, he would at least be able to get off one shot. "I was always afraid the gun would jam and nothing would happen. I would get caught and like an idiot, I'd spend the rest of my life in prison." When he arrived at Tel Aviv, he got off the bus at Arlozorov Street and removed the black skullcap he always wore, afraid it would attract the attention of the security forces. At the square, he stood with the rest of the people in front of the stage where the prime minister would soon appear. He had expected to be able to shoot Rabin from his place in the packed crowd, but realized he was out of range. The fact that the police had formed a barrier between the crowd and the stage gave him further reason to change his plans. He walked over to the Tel Aviv City Hall northern parking lot, next to the square. The stairs descending from the stage ended there, and Amir saw Rabin's and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres's official limousines waiting for them. At first, Amir was afraid the security detail would notice him and ask him to leave the area, but he soon realized that confusion reigned at the scene, and the security forces were not coordinated: "There was bedlam, police, bodyguards. . . . I realized the right hand had no idea what the left hand was doing." To lower the risk of getting caught, Amir tried to draw as little attention as possible and acted as if he were one of the security officers. Some of the police even thought he was one of the drivers and asked him to stand next to his car. After waiting about forty minutes, Amir saw the minister for foreign affairs, Shimon Peres, descend the stairwell with only one bodyguard accompanying him. Peres approached the bystanders and waved. There were only 10 feet between him and Amir. However, the latter decided to wait for Rabin, his original target. Before entering his car, Peres asked the prime minister's driver where Rabin was; the driver answered that he was on his way. Peres waited a few moments but then thought better of it and instructed his driver to leave. A few minutes later, the prime minister appeared at the top of the stairs with four bodyguards. His wife, Leah, and the head of the GSS personal protection unit were behind him. They saw the prime minister make his way toward the open doors of his car. At the same moment, Amir got up from the large concrete flowerpot he was sitting on. He saw that one bodyguard was in front of the prime minister, and a second one was moving toward a barrier that kept the crowd away in order to block a gap that had opened there. This left only one agent, who was guarding him from behind. Amir took advantage of the breach; he quickly closed the distance until he was 9 feet from Rabin, raised his arm across the back of the guard, and began to fire. Only 8 inches separated the barrel of the gun from Rabin's back. Two bullets hit Yitzhak Rabin. The head of the security detail, Yoram Rubin, took a bullet in his arm when he tried to cover the prime minister with his own body. Amir threw the gun away at once to avoid being fired upon. Security personnel and officers pounced on him almost immediately. They dragged him away and held him up against the parking lot wall. But it was too late. Rabin was rushed to the nearby Ichilov Hospital, where he arrived with no pulse or blood pressure, taking his last breaths. The two hollow point bullets had caused extensive damage. The first caused pulmonary embolisms and tore into his right lung; the second ripped through his spleen before hitting the left lung. After more than forty minutes of resuscitation efforts, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was pronounced dead at 10:30 p.m. The director of the Prime Minister Bureau, Eitan Haber, addressed the journalists and citizens crowded around the hospital entrance and made the announcement that became etched into the memories of so many Israelis: "The Government of Israel announces with shock, great sorrow and deep grief, the death of Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an assassin tonight in Tel Aviv. May his memory be blessed." The Plot Yigal Amir hails from an Orthodox Jewish family that emigrated from Yemen. He studied in the state religious school system and then at the Hayishuv Hakhadash Yeshiva, an elite religious high school in Tel Aviv. After graduating, he joined a hesder yeshiva at Kerem D'Yavne, where his brother Hagai had studied several years earlier. He served in the Golani Brigade, one of the select infantry units of the Israeli army. During his military service, Amir began to espouse views that combined religious fanaticism with hatred of Arabs and the Israeli left. During his service, a large part of which he spent in the West Bank, his positions became even more extreme and were manifested in the harsh way he treated the Palestinian population. After his release from the army in the summer of 1992, he was sent to Russia by the Nativ organization, which had been employed by the Israeli government to collect covert intelligence in the Soviet Union. By this time, the organization had turned to the task of trying to persuade young Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel. After about a year, he returned to Israel and began his studies at the prestigious Faculty of Law at the Bar-Ilan University. As could be expected of one who grew up and was educated in the religious Zionist counterculture, Yigal Amir was highly influenced by the very negative attitudes and teachings of religious Zionist rabbis toward the Oslo Accords. He quickly adopted the stance that the accords were a threat to the continued existence of the Jewish state and that activities for their preclusion should be the highest priority for any Jew. Therefore he rapidly became one of the most prominent political activists to voice his objection to the agreements at Bar-Ilan, the only religious university in Israel. Amir persistently initiated mass demonstrations of students against the Oslo process and the Rabin government. However, most of his efforts were devoted to a project he had thought up himself, whose goal essentially to get students to visit the settlements. He did this by organizing weekends of worship and lectures for university students in the West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements. Every Friday morning, Amir appeared at a different settlement leading such a group. His charismatic personality already drew dozens of students, but before long the numbers swelled. During the last trip he arranged, the weekend before the assassination, 550 students paid a visit to Netzarim in the Gaza Strip. During these visits, Amir never hesitated in voicing his belief that something must be done about Rabin and that his government must be deposed. Few then had any idea that behind his declarations were concrete intentions. But Yigal Amir was in fact very serious. By late 1993, he and his older brother Hagai began amassing arms and ammunition. Their goal was to form an underground group that would put a stop to the implementation of the Oslo Accords. They discussed the idea of murdering the prime minister, and assassination quickly became their preferred option. Amir began to collect historical and professional material dealing with the assassinations of political leaders in the past, while his brother dealt with the more practical question of how to get close to the most heavily guarded person in the State of Israel. Formation of the Network Several months after they began plotting, the Amir brothers decided to share their secret with Dror Adani. Yigal Amir and Dror Adani had met when they studied together at the Kerem D'Yavne Yeshiva, and they became close while serving in the IDF. In 1993, Yigal brought Adani home to introduce him to his sister. Although nothing ever developed between the two, Adani and the two brothers continued to see each other. They spent many hours in a small shed behind the nursery school run by the brothers' mother and developed a common philosophy regarding the steps that were necessary to halt the Oslo process. The constant interaction between the three intensified their militancy, and after a short while they decided to act on two separate fronts. On one hand, they would try to kill Prime Minister Rabin, and on the other they would act against Palestinian police officers and civilians. Their objective was to precipitate a crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that was grave enough to stop the peace process. Adani was very creative in devising ways to carry out the assassination. One of his plans was to booby-trap the prime minister's official car. To evaluate that option, the Amir brothers went to Rabin's neighborhood carrying a package of explosives and explored the possibility of placing it next to the car. To their disappointment, they discovered it was always parked in a secure location. Adani didn't give up. He suggested detonating a car bomb on the route between Rabin's home and the Tel Aviv--Jerusalem highway. The brothers rejected this plan because they were afraid of injuring passersby. Hagai Amir suggested launching an anti-tank missile at Rabin's car, but despite his optimism, they were never able to obtain one. Probably the most imaginative of their schemes was to insert a chemical substance -- nitroglycerine -- into the water system of the apartment building where the Rabin family lived in northern Tel Aviv. The three had first thought of introducing poison in this manner, but Adani refused because of the danger to the other residents. He therefore suggested placing explosive nitroglycerine in the pipes. In order to test the feasibility of the plan, the brothers returned to the prime minister's neighborhood. Yigal Amir was able to reach the building's entrance and inspect the water pipe juncture. He even located the pipe leading to the Rabin apartment. However, they realized that they would need a compressor to drill a hole in the pipe. Again, a plan was frustrated because of their inability to get hold of the necessary equipment. At the same time, Yigal Amir tried to secure the rabbinical authorization for killing the prime minister. How successful was he? The question remains unanswered, although most signs indicate that he received a positive response. Some figures in the religious Zionist camp claim that although the issue was debated, not one rabbi was found who would approve the assassination. Other prominent figures from this camp, such as Rabbi Yoel Ben-Nun, insisted that Amir did receive authorization. Moreover, in his testimony to the police immediately after the assassination, Amir himself declared that he would never have taken on the assassination without rabbinical approval and without being sure that more people were behind him. Whatever the answer is, there is little doubt that the debate in the rabbinical circles of the religious Zionist stream regarding the application of din rodef and din moser to Rabin, and the fact that at least some rabbis did not reject the use of these terms in describing Rabin's policy, had an important role in persuading Amir that the blood of the prime minister was not only on his own head. As he himself declared during his trial, "I acted according to din rodef. . . . It was not a personal act, I just wanted him to be removed from his position. If he would have remained paralyzed, it would have been the same for me." Although inspired by Adani's bold ideas, the Amir brothers understood that in order to execute them they would need additional operatives. Adani had reservations. He was afraid that by widening the circle, they also would be increasing the danger of infiltration by the GSS. Yigal Amir, the driving force behind the network, ignored his warning and set out to conscript likely candidates from among his fellow demonstrators at Bar-Ilan University. Most of the recruits were persuaded to participate in anti-Palestinian operations; few were involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Rabin. Only a fellow law school student, Margalit Har-Shefi -- resident of one of the most prestige settlements, Beit El, and daughter of settler nobility-was let in on the finer details of the plan. Amir first approached Avishalom Weinberg, a friend of his from the kolel (yeshiva for men) at the Bar-Ilan University. He suggested they form a cell of ten operatives that would mount violent assaults on Palestinians. Eric Schwartz, another friend of Amir, was appointed the task of procuring arms and explosives. Like Amir, he had served in the Golani Brigade and studied at the Kerem D'Yavne Yeshiva. After the police uncovered his connection to the Amir brothers, they found detonators, grenades, explosives, and more than 2,400 bullets in his possession. Amir also recruited Ohad Skornik, a law student who had come under Amir's influence, and Margalit Har-Shefi. Amir had met Har-Shefi during their studies in the Faculty of Law, and they had become close friends. This relationship was uncommon in their Orthodox Jewish social circle, which followed strict rules of separation between the genders; Amir apparently hoped the relationship would develop into a romantic one. He trusted her completely and soon told her of their plans to assassinate the prime minister, asking for her help. Among other assignments, she looked into the practicability of breaking into the Beit El settlement armory and also tried to obtain a Halakhic authorization to kill Rabin. Because of their close relationship, Har-Shefi was aware of almost all of Amir's activities that were related to his efforts to assassinate Rabin. The last one to be recruited by Amir was Michael Epstein, a student in the Department of Computer Science at Bar-Ilan. Epstein, who lived in the Dolev settlement, was taken on apparently for practical reasons. One of Amir's plans was to take out Rabin with sniper fire, which meant he needed a marksman's rifle. Hagai Amir took this task upon himself; he pretended to be a settler and put in a formal request to the IDF for a weapon of self-defense. The IDF refused. As a result, Yigal approached Epstein, who, as a resident of Dolev, had been issued such a rifle by the army. Epstein agreed to lend it to Amir. The next stage in the plan was to scout for a suitable place to stage the firing. At first, Amir hoped to shoot directly from the street into the Rabin family apartment, but he discarded this option when he found out that Rabin lived on the fifth floor. That left him with only one scenario: a close-range hit. However, this idea was rejected by Hagai Amir because he was uncertain his brother would be able to penetrate the security cordon surrounding the prime minister and was also afraid for his brother's life. In the summer of 1995, Hagai's opposition weakened and eventually dissolved. Yigal Amir, for his part, did not bother to hide his intentions. For instance, that summer during a demonstration at Givat Hadagan in Hebron, he proclaimed, "If someone should turn up and kill Rabin, I would salute him and say, 'well done.'" During the same period, he began to bring the subject up during family meals. After the assassination, his father, Shlomo, disclosed the following: "For the past four or five months, my son said that the prime minister should be killed because a din rodef was issued against him." Imbued with faith in his mission, Amir attempted to execute the plan. He tried twice to shoot the prime minister but failed both times. He attempted to get close to Rabin on the latter's visit to the Beit Lid Junction after the suicide attack there and then during the dedication ceremony at the Kfar Shmaryahu Interchange. In both instances, he was not successful in penetrating the security shield surrounding Rabin's entourage. When he heard a peace rally had been set for November 4, he was determined not to miss another opportunity. At first he thought he would be able to mount a sniper attack with Epstein's M16. To this end, he visited Ohad Skornik's student apartment close to the square, hoping for an unobstructed line of fire. When he saw that the angle from the windows and terrace was not suitable, he decided to stage the attack from close range -- the consequences be damned. After Yigal Amir was captured, the activities of the network ceased and all members were arrested. Amir was sentenced to life imprisonment plus sixteen years. His brother Hagai was sentenced to sixteen years, and Dror Adani to seven years. Margalit Har-Shefi was convicted of failing to prevent the murder and sentenced to eighteen months in jail. Apart from the reverberating shock felt after the Rabin assassination, the act marked a historic watershed for Jewish terrorism in Israel for two reasons. First, the assassination was carried out by a network of anonymous young people who belonged neither to any known terrorist group nor to the two most important ideological and sociopolitical organizational frameworks of the Israeli radical right: the Gush Emunim and Kahanist movements. Second, in contrast to Jewish terrorists who in the past had avoided direct challenges to government institutions and political leadership, Amir's network was completely alienated from Israeli democracy. Its members believed that the government of Israel was acting in diametric opposition to the interests of the people of Israel. A number of years later, this worldview was adopted by the hilltop youth and manifested in the terrorist activities of the Bat Ayin Underground, whose activities are discussed in the next chapter. Despite these noted differences, however, the radicalization process undergone by Amir's group and its structure resemble those of previous groups and correspond with the premises of the theoretical model we presented. External events that were perceived as catastrophic, communal framing, intragroup socialization, and the individuals' social distance from the majority culture were main factors that led to the emergence of the group and its slide into violence. *** COPYRIGHT NOTICE : Published by Columbia University Press and copyright © 2009 Columbia University Press. Translation copyright © 2009 Columbia University Press. All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. For more information, please e-mail or visit the permissions page on our Web site. Excerpted from Jewish Terrorism in Israel by Ami Pedahzur, Arie Perliger All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.