Israel fears growing terror threat by settlers
20 September 2003 | Chris McGreal | The Guardian
Even Israel's pervasive intelligence services are uncertain whether the Infants Underground and its allies are fringe groups of extremist settlers or the stirrings of a Jewish-style Hamas.
But the conviction on Wednesday of three settlers for trying to blow up a Palestinian girls' school in east Jerusalem last year reveals the lengths to which a marginalised, but apparently growing, band of militant settlers will go.
The convicted men - Shlomo Dvir, Yarden Morag and Ofer Gamliel - were caught as they set the timer to detonate a bomb at 7.25am, just as hundreds of pupils were flooding in to class. The judges said many Arab children would have been slaughtered if the attack had not been foiled.
"We'll serve our time in jail," said Dvir. "It's no big deal. Anyway, it's better than being blown up at a bus stop."
The three men come from the Bat Ayin settlement, near Bethlehem. In recent weeks, a dozen other settlers from the West Bank have been arrested for murder or plotting violence against Palestinians. The courts have ordered nine of the 12 released or placed under house arrest while investigators find more evidence.
The Shin Bet security service suspects that the arrests reflect burgeoning, if still highly marginalised, support among extreme Zionists for revenge attacks.
Among those detained is Yitzhak Pas, whose 10-month-old daughter, Shalhevet, was shot in the head by a Palestinian sniper as she sat in her pushchair in the highly controversial Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron and the epicentre of the banned terrorist organisation Kach.
Mr Pas was arrested with his brother-in-law. They had 4.5kg of explosives in their car that investigators say was to be used to bomb Palestinians.
A soldier, Pinchas Miyuhas, was also arrested. The police say a note was found in his house threatening to kill Palestinians in retaliation for a ban on Jews entering the Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem .
"An Arab should know that if he ascends the Temple Mount, he endangers his life and the life of his family," the note said.
Yesterday a resident of an illegal settler outpost, Shahar Dvir Zeliger, was charged with membership of an underground organisation responsible for killing eight Palestinians in revenge attacks.
Shlomi Swisa, of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, said there appeared to be at least two underground Jewish organisations emerging.
"The first is the one convicted for trying to blow up the school in the Arab neighbourhood. Then there is the group in Hebron. I'm not sure there is a connection. We are only just learning who they are and what they have been up to."
B'Tselem has counted 32 killings of Palestinians by Jewish civilians in the occupied territories in the past three years, deaths that go almost unnoticed in Israel, where suicide bombings have killed hundreds of people. The police believe Jewish extremists have killed 15 Palestinian civilians in the past two years. A group calling itself the Committee for Security on the Roads claimed responsibility for shooting Palestinians in their cars.
In April, a group calling itself the Revenge of the Infants claimed responsibility for a hand grenade attack on a Palestinian school near Jenin that injured 29 teenagers, some seriously. It was also believed to be behind a blast near an east Jerusalem school that injured eight children.
There is evidence of links between the various groups through the extremist Kach, which is banned in Israel and the US as a terrorist group because of its support for the Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein after he murdered 30 Palestinian worshippers at a Hebron mosque in 1994. His grave became a shrine for extremist settlers until it was dismantled by the Israeli government three years ago.
Last year, a prominent Kach activist, Noam Federman, was among those arrested for allegedly plotting to bomb the girls' school in east Jerusalem. He is awaiting trial.
Kach has ties to the ultra-rightwing Metzudat Yehuda, which held a number of "summer camps" for teenagers that included training on how to seize hilltops, fight Palestinians and resist interrogation by the intelligence services.