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Jewish Terrorism in Israel

New book provides theory and history of Jewish terrorism

Posted: December 11, 2009

Jewish Terrorism in Israel, the latest book from Associate Professor Ami Pedahzur and co-author Arie Perliger, has been released by Columbia University Press. The book offers a theoretical framework for understanding terrorism rooted in analysis of the conditions that contribute to the radicalization of communities and socialization processes among peers that eventually lead to the formation of terrorist cells.

Terrorism involves the use of violence activated by a political motive with the intention to strike fear in civilian or non-combatant victims and communities. Terrorist cells begin with a counterculture, an external event that poses a potential threat to the counterculture community or its cherished values, and the subsequent framing by leaders of that event as catastrophic. Radicalization occurs among members of the counterculture with extremely high levels of identification with the community and commitment to its values, and aggression or the threat of aggression against the community’s values or an adherent justifies violence. Terrorism is driven by despair, personal and communal crisis, hatred, revenge, and religious vocation.

Jewish terrorism is bred within high-density social networks within communities. The networks are often based on family ties or close friendships. Network members share a common physical space and engage in intensive interaction that bolsters communal commitment, develops a collective mindset, and facilitates the slide into extreme activities. There are typically central figures within the networks who act as hubs, providing the motivating and organizing force behind action, and who are supported by peripheral collaborators. There are many similarities between Jewish terrorism and the Salafi jihad networks in Europe. Both are marked by individuals belonging to segregated communities and alienated from the majority culture, and non-hierarchical social networks that preceded involvement in violent activities whose members underwent a process of radicalization accelerated by intra-group social dynamics.

Pedahzur and Perliger compiled three databases for the study. One brings together detailed information on each of the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks in Palestine and Israel from 1932-2008. The second is a biographical dataset of the 224 people who have participated in terrorist attacks, and the third is a descriptive database of the ties between members of each of the Jewish terrorist networks. The book provides a historical overview of political violence in Jewish history, post-1967 terrorist groups, and Jewish terrorism in the 1990s, including the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, followed by analysis of more recent times and the hilltop youth who have settled the occupied territories.

At the individual level, more than 90% of Jewish terrorists are men, 51.3% unemployed, 56.9% single, and 82% under the age of 27. Members have experienced a sense of crisis, typically a personal loss of loved ones or close peers, loss of status in their community or peer group, a crisis stemming from a perceived assault on the person’s or community’s beliefs and way of life, and they respond with a sense of moral imperative that the community must be protected and defended. The authors expect that far from ending terrorism, resolution of territorial conflict between Israelis and Palestinians would usher in a new era of terrorism, as Jewish terrorists would likely turn to even more extreme objectives, such as removal of mosques on the Temple Mount.

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