What to Do With the Most Violent Settlers?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/12/what-to-do-with-the-most-violent-settlers/250149/