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How Extremist Settlers Took Over Israel

By the early 1980s, the settler movement had begun to gain some traction within the Knesset, but it remained far from the mainstream. When Kahane himself was elected to the Knesset in 1984, the members of the other parties, including Likud, would turn and leave the room when he stood up to deliver speeches. One issue was that the continual expansion of the settlements was becoming an irritant in U.S.-Israel relations. During a 1982 trip by Begin to Washington, the prime minister had a closed-door meeting with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to discuss Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that year, an effort to force out the P.L.O. that had been heavy with civilian casualties. According to The Times’s coverage of the session, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, then in his second term, had an angry exchange with Begin about the West Bank, telling him that Israel was losing support in this country because of the settlements policy.

But Israeli officials came to understand that the Americans were generally content to vent their anger about the issue without taking more forceful action — like restricting military aid to Israel, which was then, as now, central to the country’s security arrangements. After the Jewish Underground plotters of the bombings targeting the West Bank mayors and other attacks were finally brought to trial in 1984, they were found guilty and given sentences ranging from a few months to life in prison. The plotters showed little remorse, though, and a public campaign swelled to have them pardoned. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir also made the case for pardoning them, saying they were “excellent, good people who have erred in their path and actions.” Clemency, Shamir suggested, would prevent a recurrence of Jewish terrorism.

In the end, President Chaim Herzog, against the recommendations of Shin Bet and the Justice Ministry, signed an extraordinary series of pardons and commutations for the plotters. They were released and greeted as heroes by the settler community, and some rose to prominent positions in government and the Israeli media. One of them, Uzi Sharbav, now a leader in the settlement movement, was a speaker at a recent conference promoting the return of settlers to Gaza.

In fact, nearly all the Jews involved in terror attacks against Arabs over the past decades have received substantial reductions in prison time. Gillon, the head of the Jewish Department when some of these people were arrested, recalls the “profound sense of injustice” that he felt when they were released. But even more important, he says, was “the question of what message the pardons convey to the public and to anyone who ever thinks about carrying out acts of terror against Arabs.”

In 1987, a series of conflicts in Gaza led to a sustained Palestinian uprising throughout the occupied territories and Israel. The First Intifada, as it became known, was driven by anger over the occupation, which was then entering its third decade. It would simmer for the next six years, as Palestinians attacked Israelis with stones and Molotov cocktails and launched a series of strikes and boycotts. Israel deployed thousands of soldiers to quell the uprising.

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Nathan
Nathan

Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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