What to Do With the Most Violent Settlers?

The so-called "Hilltop Youth," which is a kind of romantic-sounding name for settlers in Judea and Samaria who are actually a bunch of thugs, are escalating their campaign to make Israel pay each time its government orders the closing of an unauthorized settlement. They crossed a red line last week when they threw stones at an Israeli army commander. As I've written, these overboard attacks are probably in a perverse way a good thing, because they will remind the average Israeli that these people seek the destruction of their country in the name of Zionist maximalism. But the obvious downside is that they could, through their actions against mosques, in particular, trigger a conflagration. In my Bloomberg View column earlier this week, I wrote about one course of action the Netanyahu government could take: Threatening any and all West Bank hooligans with detention at the prison camp, Ketziot, I wrote about in this book:

The Netanyahu government has said it will take a few new legal measures in response to these incidents, including holding settlers under administrative detention laws and trying them in military courts. But so far it seems only modestly outraged. It doesn't seem to grasp that it is only a matter of time before the price-tag campaign escalates.

These fanatics represent a perverse branch of Zionism. There is a war in Israel between Jews who believe that Zionism is a movement seeking Jewish national equality, and those who believe that Zionism is about the redemption of the lands of the Bible -- all the lands of the Bible, ideally -- in the name of God. This maximalist view, which would be alien to Zionism's founders, is a catastrophe for Israel, Jews and Judaism.

If the Netanyahu government were to announce that it was repurposing Ketziot to accept violent settlers, and that settlers who attack a soldier -- or uproot an olive tree, or burn down a mosque -- would be buying themselves a long-term stay in an unforgiving prison, it would send a clear message. And it would show the world that the Israeli government, and not a collection of racist and extremist rabbis, makes Israeli policy.

There is one other advantage to this plan. The Negev desert is a depopulated place. And Ketziot is near the spot where Moses and the Children of Israel camped during the exodus from Egypt. It is holy soil, and it could use a good Jewish settlement or two.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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