The Israeli Terrorist from Miami: An Appetite for Palestinian and Jewish Victims
He is being called the “Jewish Terrorist” in the Israeli media, this brooding, dark-eyed, alleged killer who was known as Jack Teitel, who lived in Florida for most of his life before immigrating to Israel nine years ago. Here he went by his Hebrew name of Yaakov and is suspected of launching a murderous spree even before he formally made Israel his home (begging the question of how he was allowed to immigrate, but that’s another story …)
First hearing the news I thought: another American-born terrorist in Israel?
My immediate association was with Baruch Goldstein , the Brooklyn-born doctor who gunned down 29 Muslims worshippers in the middle of morning prayers in Hebron in 1994. I remember hearing first word of the attack while sitting in the dining hall of the kibbutz where I was then living and studying Hebrew. At first there was no word that Goldstein was American, but the crime seemed so out of place, even in this violence-soaked region. It seemed so, well, American, I thought to myself, in that “going postal” shooting up nameless, faceless strangers kind of way.
Teitel, 37, is suspected of two murders of Palestinians and string of other murder plots, including placing bombs near the homes of a prominent Jewish Israeli left-wing professor and a Jews for Jesus family. He allegedly carried out his first attack – the murder of a Palestinian taxi driver - during a visit to the country in 1997 , and now authorities suspect he may behind other unsolved crimes. Caught pasting leaflets praising the deadly shooting attack in August at a gay and lesbian center in Tel Aviv, he is being investigated for possible links to that crime as well, although he is not considered a prime suspect.
Living in a West Bank settlement, the father of four children, Yaakov has allegedly busied himself amassing an arms cache in his yard and creating a makeshift bomb-making facility inside his house.
Back to the American riddle — true, the sense that there are disproportionate amount of American-born Jews active in the most radical fringes of right-wing Israeli circles is hardly substantiated. But it was the arrival of the American rabbi Meir Kahane to Israel in 1971, an ultra-nationalist who advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and whose political party was banned by the Knesset for being racist, who helped plant the ideological seeds of the extremism we see today.
Goldstein, for example, was a devout student of Kahane. And Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburgh, considered one of the more extreme ideologues in today’s ultra-nationalist scene, immigrated to Israel from St. Louis. (He even spent some time in jail after cheering on Goldstein’s murderous act in Hebron in an essay). He features in a series I wrote about Jewish extremism.
Granted, it’s only a hunch, but there is the feeling, speaking to some of the more hard-line American-born settlers one encounters in the West Bank, that they have possibly transferred some of their American-nurtured prejudices to the Israeli-Palestinian landscape. There is the sense that some have cut-and-pasted memories of tensions with African-Americans they may have experienced growing up in the streets of New York City, for example, with their newfound Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank. In Hebron I even remember seeing grafitti once on a stone wall that read, “Arabs = Blacks”.
Arriving to the isolated West Bank settlements amid terraced hills of olive groves and sweeping views, it is not only American-born Jews who get bitten with fever that they are part of some grand, historical and even mystical scheme. It’s a feeling shared by native-born Israelis too who move there too. But I cannot help but think that American born and raised Jews find especially appealing the image of the Messianic Marlboro Man, tsit-tsit (religious fringes) flapping under a flannel shirt, a gun slung over their backs. They feel empowered by the sense that they are no longer the pale-faced Jews of the Diaspora but are now something akin to the “Lords of the Land” (to borrow the title of a recent book on the settlers).
This Jack/Yaakov Teitel is being described as someone who acted alone in his attacks and planned attacks. But in an interview with Israel Radio yesterday, Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service (basically Israel’s FBI), said that even such loners need a spiritual or ideological base in order to thrive.
“The term ‘errant weed’ is very problematic because even errant weeds grow where they have water. They grow where the temperature and humidity help them grow,” he said, noting that Teitel lived in an ideological West Bank settlement where messianic ideas are embraced even if violence is not. “Terror grows in a place where ideologically it has a source of food.”
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