Reviewed by Rebecca L. Torstrick (Dept.Sociology and Anthropology, Indiana University South Bend)
Published on H-Levant (March, 2011)
Commissioned by Amy A. Kallander (Syracuse University)
Violence in the Name of God
The religious roots of much recent terrorism have led some analysts to posit direct links between religions and political violence, whereas others view terrorism as rooted in secular struggles for resources, territory, or political power. Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger note that neither approach is able to provide a satisfactory explanation for the links between religion and political violence in general and certainly not the links between religion and fundamentalist terrorism in particular. Their study of Jewish terrorism in Israel aims to provide an alternative analysis of this phenomenon.
Studying terrorism poses unique methodological challenges. The available documents for review--either produced by the terrorists themselves or by the governments that oppose them--are inherently biased. If one is lucky enough to be able to interview the perpetrators, it can be difficult to conduct those meetings in a neutral setting where the individual can be free to discuss his or her actions, rationales, or life stories. Pedahzur and Perliger seek to overcome these challenges by basing their analysis of Jewish terrorism on ten years of research that incorporates the review of thousands of official documents (largely court protocols); interviews with politicians, spiritual leaders, police officers, and twenty-five former terrorists; and six comprehensive surveys of the communities where terrorists came from (with over 4,800 respondents). They developed three databases--the first detailing every Jewish terrorist attack in Palestine or Israel from 1932 to 2008; the second profiling the biographies of 224 people who had taken part in these attacks, and the third laying out the ties between the members of each of the identified Jewish terror networks. It is the third database that allowed them to map the “pathways to terror,” exploring how individuals were recruited into networks, and how these networks were built and maintained.
Pedazhur and Perliger’s theoretical framework for terrorism locates its roots in a close and spatially bounded counterculture that absolutely divides humanity into two mutually exclusive categories. They posit that in order to turn to terrorism, this community must experience a catastrophic external event that threatens the community or its values and that is framed by community leaders as catastrophic. Individuals who have a high degree of identification with the community and its values, and weak connections to others outside their community so that they spend most of their time in a homogenous ideological context, are those most likely to radicalize. As their feelings of obligation to their community deepen, they become further alienated from the external world, thus allowing them to further demonize their perceived “enemies.”
The heart of the book’s chapters lay out the trajectory of Jewish terrorism beginning with the well-known examples of the Irgun (Etzel) and Lehi (Stern Gang) in Mandate Palestine; Gush Emunim; the Kahanist movement; and the settler hilltop youth of the West Bank in the present day. For each generation, the authors carefully examine the details of specific actions and groups, developing their argument that Jewish terrorism was a loose social network of alienated individuals--not a coherent, disciplined underground that was hierarchically controlled by a single leader or set of leaders. Individuals moved into and out of the centers of these interlinking networks, carrying out the violent actions or providing weapons, intelligence, or other forms of support. The groups coalesced around particular individuals (the authors refer to these people as “hubs”) who were able to secure the allegiance of friends, family members, or neighbors and to knit together the necessary resources and personnel needed to take action.
While characterizing the Irgun and Lehi as nationalist terrorist organizations, they point out their goal of ending British occupation to claim all of the territory on both sides of the Jordan River for the Jewish state, and that despite connections to rabbis they did not operate out of a religiously motivated framework. Eventually “deactivated” with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, more devoted members of the two groups went on to pursue new targets--diplomatic institutions for Eastern European countries who were seen as persecuting their Jewish residents and even Israeli state institutions (such as the Ministry of Education), targeted because they were secularizing Jewish immigrants from North Africa. Two notable examples were the “Kingdom of Israel Underground” and “Brit Hakanaim” (Covenant of the Zealots), composed of friends and neighbors, including youth from ultra-Orthodox families for the Brit and youth from Revisionist families for the Kingdom. These groups felt they were under attack (by secularizing Israeli government ministries and East European governments, respectively) and resorted to violence in an effort to restore the balance. Israeli secret services eventually infiltrated the Brit, while the Kingdom was exposed when police officers apprehended two young men who were behaving suspiciously near the church where the Ministry of Education was located. After these initial spurts of activity, terrorism disappeared from the Israeli political scene, only reappearing after the 1973 war.
The cases of the Jewish Underground (1980) and the Kahanist Movement (early 1970s) provide the first examples of terror networks based in religious frameworks. They illustrate the importance of intragroup socialization and include all the elements outlined in the authors’ framework: radicalization in the face of threatening external events, leaders who portrayed these events as violating the community, and social networks that loosely linked together different groups who resorted to violence. The Jewish Underground found its ideological home and justification in the political stance of the Gush Emunim Movement, the messianic movement founded after Israel’s victory in the 1967 war brought East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip under Israeli control. Closely affiliated with the National Religious Party, Gush adherents believed that Jews had to settle all of the territory of Greater Israel. While Gush Emunim stayed distant from Meir Kahane and his movement, Kahane’s followers were able to build upon and increase their terrorist activities because of the support they received from the members of the settler movement in the West Bank.
The Oslo Accords accelerated the sense of threat felt by religious Zionist youth who feared that their vision of a Greater Israel was less likely to come to fruition. Religious Zionist rabbis began to debate whether Prime Minister Rabin should be treated as a traitor to the Jewish people and therefore subject to the sentence of death, contributing to Yigal Amir's assassination of Rabin in 1995. These youth were not part of any organized movement and yet their radicalization and extremism resembled that of preceding generations. Since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, the authors posit that a new, large, counterculture collective is forming among settlers in the Occupied Territories. “[T]his collective is gradually detaching itself from the state, alienating itself from its symbols, heritage, and institutions, even willing in times of crisis to act against its legitimate proxies.... [W]e estimate that soldiers and police who will be sent to evacuate settlements in the future will run into a level of violence that the State of Israel has not yet seen” (pp. 136-137).
According to Pedahzur and Perliger, the model for explaining Jewish terrorism in Israel can just as easily be used to illuminate other forms of religious terrorism such as Christian terrorism in the United States or Muslim terrorism in the Middle East or Southeast Asia. These groups share the flexible social network structure evinced by the Jewish groups in Israel. The model the authors have developed and tested using the case of Jewish terrorism in Israel suggests that efforts to halt terrorism will fail if analysts continue to view terrorism as just another organizational form. Instead, attention needs to be paid to the contexts in the world that create countercultural movements haunted by a deep sense of existential threat and validated in those beliefs by their moral leaders. It is in this soil that terrorists are born. Leadership is loose, networks coalesce and disintegrate, and individuals are pulled into terrorism not through rational thought but through emotion, hatred, or a desire for revenge. While these are rooted in religious belief systems, they could also arise out of a secular context.
This work is a solid addition to recent works dealing with terrorism. It provides rich, detailed exploration of a form of terrorism often little noted within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--that of Jewish religious groups against Palestinian civilians and children. The authors validate the accounts given by these ordinary Palestinians who have suffered at the hands of the religious settler movement with little to no relief provided by the Israeli authorities. The theoretical framework also could be tested against other cases of terrorism--both religiously framed and more secularly oriented--in other parts of the world. As Pedahzur and Perliger note in closing, while the conflict with the Palestinians has to date provided the threat, it would be wrong to assume that Jewish terror would disappear if the conflict were resolved. Peace itself might be the threat that would drive some social network to launch the ultimate conflagration.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-levant.
Rebecca L. Torstrick. Review of Pedahzur, Ami; Perliger, Arie, Jewish Terrorism in Israel.
H-Levant, H-Net Reviews.
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