Jewish extremist youth violence fed by religion or disillusionment?

A spate of attacks on Palestinians and churches and mosques in Israel in the last year has put the spotlight on the growth of extremism among Jewish youths, reports a Religion News Service-based article in the Washington Post (Jan. 20). Both religious Zionists and secular Jews were shocked by reports of youths in the Zionist settlement communities of the West Bank accused of fire bombing and murdering members of a West Bank Palestinian family and vandalizing and attacking mosques and churches, including a Benedictine Catholic community in Jerusalem, last summer. All of the suspects, who were indicted last month, are called “hilltop youths” and had spent time at unauthorized Zionist settlements. Even Israel’s right-leaning politicians called the cases Jewish terror attacks. Leftists accuse the settlers of turning a blind eye to extremist rabbis who are fanning the flames of violence, but religious Zionists say the situation is more complex.


One moderate rabbi says these extremist youths “reject religious Zionist leadership, their teachers, their parents and their rabbis.” He compared them to gang members disillusioned with authority, particularly their elders, for not resisting the 2005 Gaza disengagement, the Israeli campaign to uproot 10,000 settlers from their homes. Kimmy Kaplan, an expert in Jewish extremism at Bar-Ilan University, said young Palestinians and Israeli extremists are products of the same conflict and violent environment, especially if they are backed by imams or rabbis associated with militant groups. The youths’ former rabbis are reported to be cooperating with the authorities, urging their former students to obey the law, though with little success.