Israel must decide if it will lead or be led by radical settlers

Opinion: Extremists wanted to exact a price on Palestinians over deadly terror attack, so they staged their own Kristallnacht in Huwara, while Smotrich and Ben-Gvir watched, reminiscing about their not-so-dissimilar youth

Nahum Barnea|
One of Israel's main highways, stretching from Be'er Sheva in the south to Nazareth in the north, passes right through the Palestinian town of Huwara.
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  • Most of the time, there is traffic flowing in and out: Palestinians heading to Nablus, Jews en route to nearby settlements, security vehicles on patrols, etc. The diversity on this highway is also reflected by its rest stops, gas stations, and car garages where Arab and Jews work or purchase side by side. But behind the scenes of this apparent coexistence, something sinister is lurking.
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    מתנחלים הציתו אש בחווארה בעקבות הפיגוע
    מתנחלים הציתו אש בחווארה בעקבות הפיגוע
    Settlers riot in Palestinian town after terror attack
    Hillel and Yagel Yaniv were the brothers who were killed Sunday afternoon, when a Palestinian terrorist walked up to their car and shot them from point-blank range. This was murder for the sake of murder, in broad daylight, in the middle of a bustling road, which cost a family two sons.
    What went down afterward is to be carefully spoken about, because the full aftermath of the events is still unclear and the blood of the victims is still warm.
    A group of young Jews went out to seek revenge in Huwara and other close villages near the site of the attack. Dozens of houses and cars were set on fire, residents were shot. This is all part of what they call a "price-tag" campaign, in which settlers attack Palestinians in retaliation. In other words - an eye for an eye.
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    האחים הלל מנחם ז"ל ויגל יעקב ז"ל
    האחים הלל מנחם ז"ל ויגל יעקב ז"ל
    Hillel and Yigal Yaniv
    This time, the settlers felt the Palestinians must pay a heavy price. At least one Palestinian was shot dead, others were rescued from their homes by security forces, moments before their homes burned to the ground. Kristallnacht was relived in Huwara.
    The events illustrate the abnormality and deviance of the West Bank.
    The security forces will locate the murderous Palestinian terrorist soon enough. If he turns himself in, he'll spend the rest of his life in prison, and if he opens fire, he'll be shot on the spot.
    The young settlers who raided the villages knew that the hands of the security forces would be tied, and that they would, at most, be arrested for a night or two despite the extent of the chaos they inflicted. They see themselves as immune to the law. They do not fear the state because its laws do not apply to them.
    This mindset is reflected in the current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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    בצלאל סמוטריץ' ואיתמר בן גביר
    בצלאל סמוטריץ' ואיתמר בן גביר
    Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, two leading ministers, responded to the terror attack with belligerence. Smotrich demanded that the IDF "mercilessly strike the Palestinian cities with tanks and helicopters." Ben-Gvir took pride in the death penalty legislation he had advanced in the government earlier that day.
    The settler delinquents see these political figures' rise to power as moral justification for their actions. It is true that Netanyahu asked them not to take the law into their own hands, but they can allow themselves to tune out his requests, opting to hear only the voices that reinforce their beliefs.
    This government needs to make up its mind: Will it act as a sovereign body in the West Bank? Will it be determined to impose law and order on Arabs and Jews alike? Or, will it continue cleaning up the settlers' mess over and over again?
    The IDF also has to check itself. So far, the military has managed to control neither Palestinian nor Jewish terrorism.
    Smotrich and Ben-Gvir likely see a bit of themselves in the delinquents in Huwara. When they were young, they acted the same way. Have they matured? Perhaps, but not enough.
    They are under a looking glass, scrutinized by all of Israel, as well as the world. On the one hand, this government demands more and more power for itself, more authority and more maneuverability. On the other, it shows a concerning trait of weakness in matters in which it already has power.
    What went down last night in Huwara was a test for the government, and the results aren't looking good.
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