American Settler in Israel Accused of Hate Crimes, Bombings
An American-born Israeli settler described by authorities as "unstable" has confessed to a multitude of bombings and hate crimes, including some he did not commit.
Among the hate crimes for which he took responsibility but that police say he was not responsible for, 35-year-old Yaakov Teitel said that he carried out the shooting last summer at a GLBT youth center in Tel Aviv.
But though authorities say that Teitel was not responsible for the Tel Aviv shooting, which killed two people, the settler did target police for protecting gay and lesbian participants in Pride events.
A Nov. 1 ynetnews.com article provided a list of crimes for which police say the Florida-born Teitel is a suspect, including smuggling weapons into Israel, bombing the home of a Jewish family that embrace Jesus as the Messiah, murdering a cab driver in Jerusalem, and either bombing or attempting to bomb various neighborhoods and buildings.
The article said that Teitel moved to Israel in 2002, but his crimes began as early as 1997 with weapons smuggling and at least two killings. The article also noted that Teitel had been arrested as a suspect in the 1997 killing of a Palestinian, but he was later released; he is once again a suspect in that murder.
Police took the suspect into custody Oct. 7 in Jerusalem. He had reportedly been seen disposing of a bag that was deemed "suspicious." Authorities found the bag and discovered that it contained two guns. At the time of his arrest, Teitel was putting up anti-gay posters that offered praise to the Tel Aviv shooter.
A search of Teitel’s home yielded more weapons, a bomb, and bomb-making supplies, the article said. Also present in the suspects home were anti-gay tracts.
The suspect’s parents said they did not know why police had arrested Teitel. Said Mordechai and Elisheba, "[We have] no idea why Yaakov was arrested... [We] are still trying to find out what he is suspected of. We’re worried about him. We don’t know anything."
At a court appearance, Teitel informed the court that he did not recognize its authority, the article said.
A Nov. 1 article in The Jerusalem Post reported that Teitel had, in the past, been wanted in the United States in connection with violent crime.
The article also noted that one of the bombs Teitel allegedly planted was placed in a police station as a warning, Teitel said, to authorities not to protect Pride participants in Jerusalem. The bomb was discovered before it detonated and was deactivated.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced Teitel and all extremists, whom Netanyahu called a "marginal minority," reported Haaretz.com in a Nov. 1 article. Netanyahu said in a statement that, ""There is still among us a minority that is not prepared to accept democracy and are not prepared to accept the rule of law.... They do not represent the majority of the nation. They are a small and marginal group, but we have already seen the strength and damage of one murderer. We must continue to condemn the use of violence and to use all legal power against any attempt at violence."
One purported target on Teitel’s was Professor Ze’ev Sternhall, who was supposedly the subject of a bomb attack due to his critiques of Israel. Said Sternhall, "I’m pleased that the great effort put in by the police and the Shin Bet in pursuing the alleged criminal culminated successfully.... This is an important day for democracy."
Added the professor, with reference to the attack he survived, "The attempt last year to severely hurt a man and his family simply because of his views and stances was a dangerous phase in the deterioration of civil rights and the right of the individual to affect Israeli society.... I hope the law enforcement system will treat this terrorist in the same way it does with any terrorist, Jew or Arab."
Teitel claimed that God was instructing him to carry out the acts of terrorism, and said that he feared God would strike him dead if he did not comply, according to a Nov. 1 article in The Jerusalem Post.
Teitel’s lawyer, Adi Keidar, implied that his client’s mental state might have accounted for his willingness to implicate himself in the long list of killings and bombings. Said Keidar, ""All we know at this stage is that he tied himself to many of the suspicions against him. I don’t know how real these confessions are.... What should be clear to any person is that my client is, in the best case, mentally unstable, and believes he has been sent by God. He saw signs, he had dreams, and became motivated to act. He told his interrogators could not refrain from doing it.
"He has many strange theories that were interlinked. It all seemed logical to him," the lawyer added, going to accuse Israeli security agency Sin Bet of "trying to solve all of its outstanding cases" by pinning them on his client.
Police say that Teitel knew too many details about the crimes to have been falsely taking credit for them, despite authorities having said that Teitel’s confessing to the Tel Aviv shooting was not credible.
Teitel is married; he and wife Rivka have four children. Rivka Teitel was also questioned, but police say that Teitel kept his violent actions a closely guarded secret and that she was not aware of his activities.
Though police say that Teitel was not the gunman in the shooting that killed two people last August at the GLBT Youth Center in Tel Aviv, that act of terrorism is still very much on the Israeli radar. The mother of one of the fatally wounded youths, openly gay Nir Katz, was quoted in a Nov. 2 ynetnews.com article as reacting to the news of Teitel’s arrest with a plea for compassion and understanding. "How can people like this, whose entire goal is to hurt people who are different, walk around freely? What we are missing in this country so much is compassion and love of the other," said Ayala Katz.
"There are people here who are driven by an ideology with the goal of destroying the other. For this they use religion or faith, but as far as I understand, this is not the essence of the Jewish religion. They commit the most serious religious offenses--like ’Thou shall not kill’ and unfounded hatred," continued Ms. Katz, who went on to warn against any escalation. "We must not reach a situation in which one sector fights another sector. This is the exact opposite of what Nir would have wanted to see."
Added the bereaved mother, "I have no hopes for comfort or relief when the real murderer is caught. I will have a feeling of closure, but my child is gone."
In an effort to help stem the tide of hate and violence that often targets gays and lesbians, a group of Israeli youths plan to visit the United States and learn how American GLBTs organize outreach and education efforts to combat anti-gay prejudice.
A Nov. 2 EDGE article quoted Israeli Gay Youth Organization Tel Aviv’s Noa Raz as saying, "The attacks [last AUgust at the Tel Aviv youth center] were disturbing, not just because of the tragic deaths, but because the sense of a safe place, of home, was lost. How do you deal with this kind of hate?"
Added Raz, "One of the things we realized after the attack was that we need to educate against homophobia at younger ages. The gay-straight network in California is fantastic and we want to learn about it. We want to learn how people in the states deal with homophobia."
Added Raz, "I’m 30 and I came out 13 years ago when I was 17. I didn’t know any other gay person. I didn’t even know what to call it. Now the kids have so many positive role models: singers and writers and celebrities who are openly out. I didn’t have youth groups when I was a child. I wish I had."
Raz noted that the Israeli government "is very tolerant. We can adopt, we can have domestic partnerships, we can have health care, and the army is tolerant. We’ve had major, major change.The problem is within society, within schools.... We don’t have the Ku Klux Klan, but there are some homophobic groups operating here. There are some homophobic public figures who speak out against gay [people]. So there’s work to be done here."