Tim Butcher
The Telegraph
October 2, 2008 - 8:00pm

Professor Zeev Sternhell knows as much as anyone about the current threat from Jewish terrorism.

His right leg is recovering from shrapnel caused when a bomb, believed to have been the work of right-wing Jewish extremists, exploded outside the front door of his Jerusalem apartment last week.

While Arab-Jewish violence is common, the attack on the 73-year-old historian has shocked public opinion in Israel because all the evidence points to it being intra-Jewish.

"I consider it an act of Jewish terrorism," he said in an interview from the modest apartment where the bomb exploded.

The glass front door is still broken and the wall plaster pitted with shrapnel marks.

His trenchant criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and, in particular, Jewish settlers who make their home there in defiance of international law make him a hate figure for some Israeli right-wingers.

"I have no enemies in the criminal underworld and all the evidence points to the extreme right," he said.

"I was lucky as the inner door protected me from most of the blast but what makes me angry and convinced it was terrorism was that whoever left it had no certainty it was going to hit me.

"It could have been my wife, Ziva, or one of our daughters or even one of my grandchildren who stay here often.

"For that reason it satisfies my definition of terrorism."

There have been acts before of intra-Jewish violence, most notoriously the assassination by a right-wing extremist of the then Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995.

But Prof Sternhell said what is new is a younger and more radical seam of Jewish extremists from the West Bank and a sense of their desperation as the government appears to be coming round to accepting the need of withdrawing from the West Bank and evacuating the settlements.

"Left wingers like me have been arguing this for thirty years," he said.

"But I think the radicals are more ready to use violence now because they feel that new thinking is developing.

"I think those on the West Bank believe our view have been adopted by the political elite."

There has certainly been a shift in the Israeli government's attitude. In 2005 Ariel Sharon, a veteran right-winger who had encouraged the settler movement, turned 180 degrees by ordering the closure of all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank.

Ehud Olmert, the outgoing prime minister who was once a right-wing ideologue, has spoken repeatedly about the need for Israel to withdraw from almost all the West Bank if it wants lasting peace with Palestinians.

"This right-wing extremist violence defending the settlements is a danger to the future of Israel," Prof Sternhell said.

"If you want a state of Jews, with Jews making up a large majority, which is how I and many others envisage Zionism, then keeping to the territory of the 1948 war of independence is the goal.

"If you want to keep the occupied territories then you suddenly have a country of roughly ten million people, split roughly half and half, Jewish and Palestinian.

"That can only lead to one thing where Jews will live in state as a minority.

"There are plenty of nicer places in the world I can think of where I can live in a Jewish minority."

He made the point that of the 250,000 Israelis living in the West Bank settlements, four fifths are there for practical non-ideological reasons because they can buy bigger houses and enjoy a better quality of life than in the more expensive and crowded territory of Israel proper.

He said that left about 50,000 ideological settlers who live in the West Bank out of some sort of belief that it belongs to Biblical Israel and cannot be apart from the modern state of Israel.

He said only a tiny handful of these ideologues, numbering just one or two thousand, have such extremist views that they would resort to violence.

So far the Israeli police have made no progress catching those responsible for the bomb attack on Prof Sternhell.

But they have told him to remain on the lookout for suspicious activity around his home.

His views might have not changed in thirty years but there is a sense that extremist Jewish settlers have suddenly become more of a threat, even to elderly academics like Prof Sternhell.


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