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Hilltop Youth

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Hilltop Youth (Hebrew: נוער הגבעות‎, No'ar HaGva'ot) is a term commonly used to refer to hard-line, extremist[1] religious-nationalist youth who establish outposts without an Israeli legal basis in the West Bank.[2] The ideology of the hilltop youth includes: the Palestinians are "raping the Holy Land", and must be expelled.[3] 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",[4] and, in fact, forms part of a wider multi-faceted 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.[3]


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,[5] the then-Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon urged settler youth to "grab the hilltops", adding,

"Everyone that's there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that's grabbed will be in our hands. Everything we don't grab will be in their hands."[6][7]

People proceeded to heed his exhortation and outposts proliferated, in a practice often called "creating facts on the ground",[8] 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.[5]

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.[7][9]


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".[4]

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.[10] Many have studied in the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva under Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh,[11] who developed the metaphor comparing Israel to a "nut" which had to be cracked in order to allow the fruit, the people, out.[11][3] In addition to basing their ideals on the teachings of prominent rabbis such as Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Rabbi Shmuel Tal,[11] some regard Avri Ran as a spiritual leader, or "father", of the movement,[3][12] 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.[13]

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.[11][14] Their numbers (2009) are estimated to be around 800, with approximately 5,000 others who share their ideological outlook.[3] They completely dissociate themselves from Israeli institutions, and identify themselves with the Land of Israel.[11] They settle on hilltops in areas densely crowded by Palestinians.[3] Members linked to the group have been accused of engaging in Israeli settler violence, including vandalism of Palestinian schools[15] and mosques,[16] the rustling of sheep from Palestinian flocks and the extirpation of their centuries-old olive groves, or stealing their olive harvests.[3][17][18] 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."[19] 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.[20]

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.[11][21]

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[22] and shun Palestinian labor in favor of "Avoda Ivrit" - Hebrew labor. Much of Israel's organic produce is cultivated by the hilltop youth.[23]

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".[21]

Parallel with ISIS

According to Hillel Gershuni there is a deep affiliation between the outlook of Hilltop Youth and that of the militants of ISIS. Both are anti-state movements, and the hilltop youth are dedicated to the destruction of all of Israel's institutions. Like ISIS the appeal is to a fundamentalist vision that endows those who join the group with a sense of authencity in revolt.[11] They advocate retaliation against non-Jews and the use of terror in order to establish a "pure form of Jewish existence". They believe their acts form part of a process of geula, or national redemption.[11] A key difference is that unlike ISIS, the hilltop youth is not a mass movement, but limited in numbers, and, secondly that it does not believe that the Jewish religion should be spread by the sword.[11]

Notable exponents

Meir Ettinger (born 4 October 1991), the son of Tova Kahane (daughter of Meir Kahane) and Mordechai Ettinger, a rabbi at the Jerusalem yeshivot of Har Hamor and Ateret Cohanim. He previously resided at Ramat Migron outpost, and later the Givat Ronen outpost near Har Brakha, was subsequently deported, by administrative order, from the West Bank and Jerusalem, taking up residence with his family in Safed. He has attracted many followers and in addition to public speaking, he has published a blog at the pro-Hilltop Youth website "The Jewish Voice" (Hebrew: הקול היהודי). 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. After violating his house arrest terms, he was held in jail until the end of his trial, in which he was convicted following a plea-bargain for conspiring to gather military intelligence and sentenced to time served, approximately 6 months.[24][25] In August 2015, following the arson at the Church of the Multiplication in June and the Duma arson attack,[26] he was placed under administrative arrest for 6 months, which was extended by an additional 4 months.[27] During his incarceration, he staged a hunger strike. In June 2016, following his release, he returned to reside in Safed, and is barred by administrative order from entering the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Yad Binyamin. In addition, he is forbidden, by administrative order, from contacting 92 people.[28]

See also


  1. ^ 'Ex-Shin Bet chief: Government does not want to deal with Jewish terror,' Ynet 8 August 2015.
  2. ^ Erica Chernofsky (18 August 2009). "Hilltop Youth push to settle West Bank". BBC. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Daniel Byman, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, Oxford University Press, 2011 pp.291f.
  4. ^ a b Ami Pedahzur, The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right, Oxford University Press, 2012 pp.135-137.
  5. ^ a b Isabel KershnerBarrier: The Seam of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Macmillan, 2014 pp.184-185.
  6. ^ Adam T. Smith, The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities, University of California Press, 2003 p.6
  7. ^ a b Anton La Guardia, 'NS Profile - The Israeli Settlements,' New Statesman 26 May 2003
  8. ^ Deborah Campbell This Heated Place: Encounters in the Promised Land, D & M Publishers, 2009 p.89.
  9. ^ https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/israel/etc/script.html Israel's Next War Frontline, Produced and Directed by Dan Setton PBS 2005.
  10. ^ http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137825/daniel-byman-and-natan-sachs/the-rise-of-settler-terrorism?page=show
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hillel Gershuni, 'A Jewish ISIS Rises in the West Bank,' Tablet magazine 11 January 2016
  12. ^ Chaim Levinson, Israeli 'hilltop youth' accuse their former hero of stealing settlers' land, at Haaretz, 31 January 2013.
  13. ^ Ben Caspit, 'Who are Israel's Hilltop Youth?,' Al-Monitor 15 December 2015.
  14. ^ Laura King (13 July 2004). "Audit says Israel funded settlements". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  15. ^ Tovah Lazroff (21 October 2010). "Palestinians blame 'hilltop youth' for school arson". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  16. ^ Chaim Levinson (14 December 2011). "Israel Police scrambles to stop mosque arsonists from striking again". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  17. ^ Lila Perl, Theocracy, Marshall Cavendish 2007 p.128.
  18. ^ Daniel Gavron,The Other Side of Despair, Rowman & Littlefield 2004 p.194.
  19. ^ Uri Ben-Eliezer, Old Conflict, New War: Israel’s Politics Toward the Palestinians, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 p.189.
  20. ^ Samantha M. Shapiro, 'The Unsettlers,' New York Times, 14 February 2003.
  21. ^ a b Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (9 January 2012). "Israel Cracks Down on Radical 'Hilltop Youth'". NPR. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  22. ^ 'Israel’s Religious Right and the Question of Settlements,' Archived 2011-09-04 at the Wayback Machine 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).
  23. ^ Dafna Arad (24 April 2012). "Farming in the West Bank: Organic paradise, thorny reality". Haaretz. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  24. ^ 3 Months imprisonment for accused in "spy affair", Arutz7, June 2013
  25. ^ Plea Bargain and Light Sentences for Right Wing Activists who Tracked IDF Forces, Ha'aretz, December 2012
  26. ^ Elisha Ben Kimon, 'Amiram Ben-Uliel: The handyman accused of Duma murders,' Ynet 3 January 2016.
  27. ^ Oded Shalom and Elior Levy, 'West Bank inches closer to boiling point,' Ynet 8 August 2014.
  28. ^ Jewish extremist freed after 10 months behind bars, Times Of Israel, June 2016

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