In June 1948, David Ben-Gurion, prime minister of the fledgling state of Israel, ordered the sinking of his own countrymen’s ship. The vessel, Altalena, was carrying weapons to arm the Irgun, a Revisionist Zionist militia led by the far-right Menachem Begin. Ben-Gurion understood that a sovereign state could not countenance an independent fighting force acting outside the state’s control.His decisive action against the Altalena cemented the sovereignty of modern Israel and the rule of law within its borders. The Irgun was eventually folded into the Israel Defense Forces and Begin, in one of history’s ironies, went on to become the Israeli prime minister who forged peace with Egypt.Now a radical fringe Israeli settler movement is harassing its neighbors, both Palestinian and Israeli alike in response to the Israeli’s government’s efforts to dismantle illegal West Bank ouposts and it seems as if Israel has decided that the time has come to reassert Ben-Gurion’s principle. This week’s prosecution of five Israeli settlers, reported in the New York Times, is a good start:
Israeli prosecutors on Sunday charged five radical Jewish settlers with tracking troop movements in the West Bank and organizing a raid on an Israeli Army base there last month.The indictment was the first sign of a promised crackdown on settlers whose increasingly provocative actions have been described by some Israeli officials as homegrown terrorism…They were charged with, among other things, operating a hot line to collect reports on troop and police movements in the West Bank, distributing the information and calling on supporters to be at specific locations to thwart attempts by Israeli forces to evacuate outposts.
In the coming days, Israel must be sure to deal similarly with the radicals who attack their Palestinian neighbors. It is a difficult but morally and politically necessary step.