Hilltop Youth (Hebrew: נוער הגבעות, No'ar HaGva'ot) is a term commonly used to refer to hardline, nationalist youth who establish outposts without an Israeli legal basis in the West Bank. They have been compared to a Jewish form of ISIS. In their view, Palestinians are "raping the Holy Land" and must be expelled. According to Ami Pedahzur, their work in establishing illegal outposts was not simply the result of individual initiatives, this was 'a myth cultivated by the Yesha Council', and in fact forms part of a wider multifaceted settler strategy The term "hilltop youth" is regarded by Daniel Byman as a misnomer, since the movement was founded mostly by married people in their mid twenties.
On 16 November 1998, in what was viewed as a declaration intended to thwart peace talks, and in particular the implementation of his political rival Benjamin Netanyahu's Wye River agreement with the Palestinian National Authority, the then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon urged settler youth to "grab the hilltops", adding
People proceeded to heed his exhortation and outposts proliferated, in a practice often called "creating facts on the ground", but many would later feel betrayed by Sharon when the Israeli West Bank barrier he devised in 2005 cut off many of the illegal communities from the expanded Israel Sharon envisaged at that time.
The example of figures like Netanel Ozeri, who moved his family out of the safety of Kiryat Arba's perimeters to build an outpost, Hilltop 26, on nearby Palestinian land, was also important: Ozeri was later shot dead by Palestinian gunmen.
According to terrorism expert Ami Pedahzur, ideologically hilltop youth espouse a Kahanist worldview, favouring 'deportation, revenge, and annihilation of Gentiles that posed a threat to the people of Israel'.
The youth are influenced by religious Zionist ideals, which include a dedication to building and farming the land as well as devoting time to learning Torah. Many have studied in the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva under extremist Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, who developed the metaphor comparing Israel to a "nut" which had to be cracked in order to allow the fruit, the people, out. In addition to basing their ideals on the teachings of prominent rabbis such as Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Rabbi Shmuel Tal, some regard Avri Ran as a spiritual leader, or 'father' of the movement, though he does not see himself as such. The philosophy of some in the movement is expressed by a mixture of distrust of the Israeli government and a desire to re-establish the Ancient Kingdom of Israel.
About the groups
The Hilltop Youth are a "loosely organized, anarchy-minded group", of some several hundred youths around a hard core of scores of violent activists often noted for establishing illegal/disputed outposts outside existing settlements. Their numbers (2009) are estimated to be around 800, with approximately 5,000 others who share their ideological outlook. They completely dissociate themselves from Israeli institutions, and identify themselves with the Land of Israel. In their view those who support Israel are “Erev Rav,” meaning they have the appearance of being Jews but are in fact endowed with the souls of Gentiles, who are the enemy. They settle on hilltops in areas densely crowded by Palestinians. Members linked to the group have been accused of engaging in Israeli settler violence, including vandalism of Palestinian schools and mosques, the rustling of sheep from Palestinian flocks and the extirpation of their centuries-old olive groves, or stealing their olive harvests. This last practice was endorsed by Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu on a visit to a hilltop outpost, Havat Gilad, where he issued a rabbinical ruling that,"the ground on which the trees are planted is the inheritance of the Jewish people and the fruit of the plantings was seeded by the goyim in land that is not theirs." They seize land not by any official method: they claim a hilltop by setting up an encampment, and then claim the land nearby, whether under Palestinian cultivation or not, or by uprooting Palestinian trees and shooting in the air if any Palestinian comes near to the new outpost.
Settlers have long been accused of carrying out what are called "price tag attacks", a term used for targeting Palestinian property in revenge for outposts demolished by the Israeli military, although no one as yet has actually been convicted of having been involved in such vandalism.
Many of the hilltop youth feel that the mainstream settler movement has lost its way, opting for cheap housing close to major cities, built by local Arab labor, with tall fences and no space between their homes. The Youth often engage in organic farming and shun Palestinian labor in favor of 'Avoda Ivrit' - Hebrew labor. Much of Israel's organic produce is cultivated by the hilltop youth.
The Hilltop Youth has been condemned in the past by figures within Israel's government, with Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak referring to the group as unacceptable "homemade terror, Jewish-made terror".
Meir Ettinger (23), the son of Tova Kahane, daughter of Meir Kahane and Mordechai Ettinger, a rabbi at the Jerusalem yeshivot of Har Hamor and Ateret Cohanim. His militancy, from the Ramat Migron outpost, and later at the Givat Ronen outpost near Har Brakha, includes violent price tag attacks on Palestinian properties, and has attracted many youthful followers. He was arrested for the "spy affair," when settler youths were accused of maintaining an "operation room" to monitor IDF movements and warn outpost settlers of impending evacuations, and was convicted and sentenced to 6 months on conspiracy charges. He opposes Christian church building, and has stated that, 'the Land of Israel is dominated by a government that is not loyal to the laws of Torah and the commandments.' He has been arrested in March 2015 on suspicion of arson of a Palestinian home on November 23, 2014, but released for want of evidence. The alleged attacker in the ongoing investigation of the Duma arson attack, Amiram Ben-Uliel, is reportedly a close friend of Ettinger.
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- Erica Chernofsky (18 August 2009). "Hilltop Youth push to settle West Bank". BBC. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- Hillel Gershuni, 'A Jewish ISIS Rises in the West Bank,' Tablet magazine 11 January 2016
- Daniel Byman, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, Oxford University Press, 2011 pp.291f.
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- Chaim Levinson, Israeli 'hilltop youth' accuse their former hero of stealing settlers' land, at Haaretz, 31 January 2013.
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- Laura King (13 July 2004). "Audit says Israel funded settlements". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
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- Chaim Levinson (14 December 2011). "Israel Police scrambles to stop mosque arsonists from striking again". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
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- Samantha M. Shapiro, 'The Unsettlers,' New York Times, 14 February 2003.
- Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (9 January 2012). "Israel Cracks Down on Radical 'Hilltop Youth'". NPR. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- 'Israel’s Religious Right and the Question of Settlements,' International Crisis Group Middle East Report N°89 – 20 July 2009 pp.8-9.'Many hilltop youth farm organically, and maintain autonomous self-defence groups.(p.9).
- Dafna Arad (April 24, 2012). "Farming in the West Bank: Organic paradise, thorny reality". Haaretz. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- Oded Shalom and Elior Levy, 'West Bank inches closer to boiling point,' Ynet 8 August 2014.
- Elisha Ben Kimon, 'Amiram Ben-Uliel: The handyman accused of Duma murders,' Ynet 3 January 2016.