YITZHAR, West Bank — A young man calling himself Yehudi Tzadik — "righteous Jew" — picked up a rock and rolled it around in his hand, as if considering pitching it at a police car parked nearby.
Within sight was a mosque in Jerusalem that was torched and defamed Wednesday with graffiti that included, "Death to Arabs." Tzadik claimed he knew some of the group that was responsible for the attack, though he added that he wasn't there when it happened.
"The state of Israel has lost its moral code. It has forgotten what is at the heart of the Jewish nation. ... We are reminding them," said Tzadik, who gave his real name only as David.
A spate of attacks this week by Jewish right-wing extremists has called into question Israel's definition of the word "terrorist," and has prompted security officials to acknowledge the separate rules of engagement they've created for Jews and Palestinians.
Those rules were highlighted when a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Brigadier Yoav Mordechai, was asked whether a soldier should open fire on a Jewish person who was throwing rocks, as soldiers routinely do with rock-throwing Palestinians. Mordechai answered, "I assume ... you wouldn't expect the brigade commander to open fire at a Jew standing in front of him. I am certain you didn't mean that."
Palestinians routinely are arrested and convicted of stone throwing, one of the most popular forms of resistance to Israel's presence in the West Bank. According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, over the past five years Israel's military has detained more than 800 Palestinian youths and children after they pelted rocks at Israelis soldiers, jailing and interrogating many of them.
While there are relatively few known cases of Jewish settlers throwing rocks, Israeli military officials in the West Bank acknowledge that they're on the rise. One young woman was arrested Tuesday after throwing rocks at a Palestinian vehicle, and several men were detained on suspicion of throwing rocks in the southern West Bank.
Yet Israeli officials said that few of the arrests had led to indictments or court judgments. Earlier this year, a half-dozen residents of the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar were arrested in connection with attacks on Palestinians. They were ordered to remain outside the West Bank, but they weren't brought to trial.
On Thursday morning, Israeli soldiers destroyed several structures in a small outpost adjacent to Yitzhar. Israeli officials had ordered the buildings demolished because they'd been built on private Palestinian land, but their demolition had been delayed repeatedly.
Jeremy, a resident of Yitzhar who wouldn't give his surname, said he viewed the demolition order as a declaration of war by the Jewish state.
"What is it if not war? It's a declaration of war against the settlements and what we stand for," he said. "How would you feel if they came and kicked you out of your home in the middle of the night? Would you not want to defend your home?"
Yitzhar, which is on a hilltop adjacent to the Palestinian city of Nablus, is widely considered the heart of the "price tag" movement, a name given to the practice by right-wing settlers of exacting retribution against Palestinians or Israeli authorities for policies that target the settlement movement.
On Thursday, graffiti was sprayed across a military base and popular bus stop down the road from Yitzhar. The graffiti read in part, "The military are pigs," "IDF are Nazis" and "Yitzhar will live on forever."
Outside the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah, police blamed right-wing Jewish extremists for an arson attack on a mosque — the second attack on a mosque in as many days, after the one in Jerusalem.
Several Israeli public figures expressed their outrage at the recent wave of violence, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying that Israel should classify the perpetrators as terrorists.
"These things both endanger human life and distract from the Israel Defense Forces' main mission," Barak told Army Radio. "In terms of their conduct, there is no doubt that this is the conduct of terrorists — terrorism, albeit Jewish."
Israel's Justice Ministry announced that it had convened a meeting Wednesday to discuss its classification of terrorists, and some officials are urging that Israel broaden its meaning of the word.
Former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Israeli soldiers "clearly" should open fire on stone-throwers, branding them as terrorists regardless of religion.
Settler leader Danny Dayan condemned the attacks but took exception to the use of the word "terrorist."
"It's a grave phenomenon that has to be battled, but I don't know if it's terror," he told Army Radio.
Tzadik bristled at Dayan's remarks, saying Dayan didn't represent "all the settler movement."
"We don't care about punishments because we have the support of our true leaders," he said, referring to religious leaders.
He pointed to a "manual" recently published on the Hebrew website Jewish Voice, which presents, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, a list of possible steps to sabotage the Israel Defense Forces: "The engines of vehicles, especially armored vehicles, are highly sensitive to sand or sugar. The same is even more true about the vehicles' oil and gas tanks. Carelessness about that could do serious damage to the unit's ability to carry out destruction, just because of a little inattention, wouldn't it be a pity?"
Tzadik said the manual was nothing new, but he acknowledged that opposition from "righteous Jews" was becoming better organized and more popular.
"We are a huge number, and our supporters live in every city. Soon the state apparatus will realize it is better not to cross us because we represent the true Israel," he said.
(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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