Israel’s Uvdah TV news magazine, Israel’s 60 Minutes, ran a segment last May featuring a woman, Ronit Chem, who’d been a confidant and key conspirator in Itamar Ben Gvir‘s settler terror network. For some reason, this story hasn’t been reported outside Israel and appears to have made barely a ripple in Israeli media.
As a young activist, he stole the Cadillac hood ornament from Yitzhak Rabin’s car and promised ominously that just as they got to his vehicle, so they would get to him. And so they did. Only months later a far-right assassin did get to him.
Her relationship with him began when she was a troubled teenager, who’d grown up in a Haredi family, deep in the heart of fundamentalist neighborhoods like Geulah and Meah She’arim. She was one of ten siblings of whom she was the youngest She rebelled and refused the life of a Haredi woman: to be married at a young age and bear as many children as possible.
She was drawn to the Kahanist movement, which she found provocative and exciting. At a settler protest at the President’s House, the equivalent of the White House, she met Ben Gvir for the first time. He cultivated her and peppered her with questions about her background. Now an MK, and possible minister in the next Netanyahu government, he was the figure who brought her into this world and served as a kind of patron.
After her first arrest, her parents berated her. They asked how she could become involved with such lawlessness. They argued, and she decided to abandon her home. She was desperate with nowhere else to go and telephoned the only person she knew and could trust, Ben Gvir. Though she didn’t know him well, she told him she had nowhere else to go. He invited her to his home in the heart of Hebron’s Jewish enclave.
Falling in with the wrong crowd: Hilltop Youth
There she came to know the “disciples,” the Hilltop Youth. The narrator of the Uvdah program, Ilana Dayan, calls it the Cult of Kahane. Every Shabbat Gvir would take out one of Rabbi Kahane’s books and deliver a sermon based on them (Jewish sermons are always based on sacred texts from the Bible or Talmudic sources). She remembers he told her, based on Kahane’s theocracy of vengeance, that though it is impermissible against Jews, it is admirable when it targets non-Jews, i.e. Palestinians. He added that these views did not originate with him, but with his rebbe, Kahane.
In the video below, Ben Gvir draws his pistol and threatens a Palestinian parking attendant and videographer filming the incident:
חבר הכנסת איתמר בן גביר שולף אקדח לעבר עובדים ערבים בחניון גני התערוכה בתל אביב. הצדדים התעמתו סביב חנייה. בן גביר טוען שהעימות החל בגלל שהם קיללו ואיימו על חייו. בתיעוד נוסף אחד מהם נשמע אומר: “אם אתם גברים תבואו כולכם בלי נשק, אני מזיין אתכם, כולכם פה” pic.twitter.com/eSjFutSyvl
— רן שמעוני Ran Shimoni (@ran_shimoni) December 22, 2021
Chen told Dayan that Ben Gvir was like a cigarette: he was always there during the difficult times. And like a cigarette, he calmed you. This was easy for him to do because, she said, you were always in crisis, always troubled. Nevertheless, he called her the top Hilltop Youth girl, the sharp spear of every outbreak of violence.
Later, after she left the settler movement, she wished that instead of going to Ben Gvir, someone would have brought her to the child welfare office and told them that she needed help and support. Instead, she became a ward of Ben Gvir.
Eventually, she came to understand that he wore a mask and that the caring personality he cultivated never existed. He was nothing but a con man who was drawn to the TV cameras like a man dying of thirst begging for water. In fact, he called the media his personal “bullhorn.”
Grooming of a Jewish terrorist
Roni Chen recounts, in the Uvdah program, that Ben Gvir spoke to her in code. He said Chana [her birth name, which she abandoned when she left “the life”] it’s time to ‘get to know the neighbors.’ He meant that it was time to engage in acts of incitement against the Palestinian community. They then traveled to the Hebron Kasbah and said quietly to the nearest Palestinian: “Mohammed was a pig.” She hoped it would incite a riot in which the Palestinians would be blamed. Though she knew there were surveillance cameras, she also knew that they could not pick up what she said. The result was a riot in which settler Jews would assault the residents, throwing stones and toppling the vegetable stalls in the market.
Chen says that many times Ben Gvir was arrested along with his dog, which he brought along purportedly because “he was afraid of Arabs.” One time, she and settler comrades set the dog loose on a group of Palestinians. They let loose his leash to menace them, though they held it so he couldn’t attack them.: “We incited the dog against the Palestinians.” After such events, Ben Gvir would congratulate them, laugh, offer them a meal, and engage in camaraderie.
Chen says that these attacks were revenge for long-ago pogroms against Jews during the pre-state period and the Holocaust, Dayan suggests to her that these attacks on Palestinians were similar attacks to those against Jews: a pogrom. Chen agrees with her.
Other acts she led or participated in were planned in Ben Gvir’s home. On May 15, 2011. a Palestinian vehicle was set on fire in front of Givat HaAvot, in Hebron. The arson was part of Price Tag operations: making Palestinians “pay a price” via revenge settler terror attacks against them. Now, Chen confesses in front of the camera, that she was the one who carried out this arson, and reveals that she planned and carried it out while she was under house arrest at Ben Gvir’s home. He is the very person appointed to monitor her on behalf of the court.
While under house arrest at Ben Gvir’s home, she contacted her “friends” and invited them to go to a “bar mitzvah”…code for a price tag operation. The code for an attack on a mosque was “wedding.” They all gathered at Ben Gvir’s house when he was not at home. From there, they left in the dark towards the Palestinian vehicle. “The three of us go in the direction of the red vehicle. We find a tire and push it under the vehicle. I soak the cloth in the gasoline so that the tire will ignite, and throw away the match.” Immediately after the arson, Chen and her friends returned to Itamar Ben Gvir’s house and drink a beer.
“Around 10 AM, Itamar arrives…and he begins to get upset. But only as a ruse. Chen describes Ben Gvir mock-scolds her for the attack– for fear that his house is bugged. But signals to her with a thumb’s up that he approves the attack. He also understands, apparently, how the arson was carried out: “He saw the bottle, there was another drop of petrol in it. He took the bottle, opened the door, and poured out the remaining petrol.” Later, he went to work in Jerusalem and took the bottle with him. This, it needn’t be said, is destruction of evidence of a crime.
Chen says: “Yes. I was shocked. He went to work in Jerusalem. He left his house with the bottle, taking it with him. In the evening he came back and took me outside for a talk, where there were no phones or any listening device and said: “Are you serious? Burning a car in front of my house? Burn it in Hebron. You know you’re under house arrest.” Ben Gvir was frightened that his disciples would be interrogated and his role would be exposed. She continues: “Then he asked me, who else does he need to talk to about the attack on the IDF base? I told him–talk with the soldier. “ He then advised Chen and the soldier how to deal with the police investigation and to remain silent. They did so to protect him.
When she faced a seven-month sentence for assaulting an IDF officer, Ben Gvir came to her and suggested that he offer the court a sentence of house arrest which would place her in his home. He did this over the objection of Chen’s mother. But the court approved Ben Gvir acting as guarantor of her good behavior. It had the effect of throwing a lit match on a can of gasoline.
Despite his criminal past, Ben Gvir studied law and became a lawyer. The Shin Bet tried to prevent him from receiving a license to practice law. But the legal community approved his license despite his multiple arrests and incitement to violence. His law practice is almost solely the defense of his terrorist friends and securing their release from detention. This legal work allows him to remain in the public eye and continue to grab headlines as the defender of settler youth.
Taking it to the army
In another case, she led a group which brazenly attacked a West Bank military base by infiltrating it and destroying vehicles and other equipment. It was the first full-scale violent attack on the IDF by settlers. She recounts how these operations were planned, and how she managed to recruit an IDF soldier to conspired with them.
“We were at Ben Gvir’s on Saturday, and I met a soldier there. I went to visit him several times at his base. I asked him: ‘Listen, when are you here? On what nights?’ He told me ‘in two more days’. I asked him about cameras, what is functioning and what isn’t, and which cameras near the vehicles did not work. I told him, if you see a police car whistle. If not, everything’s fine.“
“He brought us aerial photos. I saw where there were gaps in the fence. He gave me as much information as possible, and I started to surveil the base.” Together with another settler comrade, she cased the base for many weeks and learned the base routine. “You find out that at 5AM someone jogs, and you record that. I wrote everything. I burned on the night of the operation so it could not be used as evidence against us.”
That night, she and her friend changed into IDF uniforms, donned masks, and slipped into the base through the fence. “We got into the jeeps and vandalized them,” she recounts. We poured sugar into the gas tanks of the D9. You want to convey a message.“
Ben Gvir was pleased with the attack on the IDF base and told her he admired “whoever did it.” He said:
“Whoever did it has balls. She corrected him: you meant female balls. And we both laughed”
Even the Jewish unit of the Shin Bet, including its most experienced officers were later shocked by their audacity,
As for her recruitment of soldiers to help with the terror operations, none of this is surprising. The army itself acts as the enforcer for the most violent settlers. It doesn’t prevent violence, rather it promotes it and protects the perpetrators.
In another bloody incident, she joined a group of settlers who smashed in the skull of a 10-year-old Palestinian boy. After learning of this, her mother called her and said she was coming to the illegal outpost where she lived. When she arrived, she begged Chen to come home. But the young girl refused. Despite this, her mother paid her bail each time she was arrested and remained devoted to her daughter. To this day, it breaks her heart that she caused her mother such suffering.
Chen finally broke from the terror militia after she was recruited to join a new secret group, The Rebellion (a reference to the Judean revolts against the Romans in 70 CE and 130 CE). It was not satisfied with the low-level attacks that involved mere property damage and beating up Palestinians. Instead, this group wanted to do something decisive and dramatic.
They planned to take over the Temple Mount [Haram al Sharif] and occupy it. They saw themselves as Judean rebels striking a blow against the alien invaders. They were even prepared to kill anyone who stood in their way: “If we break into the Temple Mount and Jews try to stop us – the price is they will die.” They called it the “final solution”: inciting the ultimate war between religions, during which Islam would finally be defeated and the Jews triumphant. Dayan asks her if they intended to destroy the holy mosques there. She replied: “how else would the Temple be rebuilt?”
Ben Gvir has said many times in interviews that he supports the incendiary goal of building a Third Temple. In fact, the wall of his living room features a picture of mass murderer, Baruch Goldstein, with the toppled tower of a mosque. It symbolizes the destruction of Al Aqsa mosque. As Chen noted, it would be necessary to destroy the Muslim holy site in order to rebuild the Temple.
The Rebellion cell never carried out such a plan. Nevertheless, the plans for mass violence and taking a human life shocked her. Murder was a red line she was not willing to cross. As a result, former conspirators distanced themselves from her.
Chen asserts a few months after she abandoned the Hilltop Youth, the same terrorist cell murdered the Dawashe family in an arson attack on their home. By then, she had already gone to the police to inform them about its capacity for violence. Either the police suppressed her testimony or they transferred it to the Shin Bet, who never acted.
When she learned about the Dawashe murders, she was living with family. She was devastated. But she had a sense of who was capable of such cruelty. She immediately thought of Amiram Ben Uliel, and believed it was likely he was the murder-arsonist. Though there were other suspects arrested, neither Dayan nor Chen mention them.
Her mother, who did not know the extent of her involvement in the terror movement, said to her: “It is lucky you weren’t there.” Of course, the reformed terrorist felt anguish warning had been ignored and felt guilt that, as she was absent, there was no one among the conspirators to stop the heinous act.
Ben Gvir, for his part, says that the youthful terrorists are “lovers of Israel” and that he admires them. When an interviewer asks whether he would support “Jewish terror,” he replies tellingly, “there is no such thing.” In other words, those who are terrorists in the eyes of most of Israel and the world, are actually idealists seeking messianic redemption.
Over a year after she left the Hilltop Youth, the Shin Bet approached her and interrogated her about what she knew. She decided to tell them what she knew about Ben Gvir. “I was a direct witness,” she explains. They responded: ‘Itamar is a politician, we are not in Russia, Itamar can do whatever he pleases and we are not allowed to touch him or hear about things that he did.’ When I told them about the bottle, which directly connected him to the terror attack. they did nothing. Then I realized he did not interest them.”
This makes one wonder how seriously the security agency takes Jewish terrorism. Yes, they can arrest, and even convict and imprison the lower-level grunts who do the dirty terror work. But they refuse to cut off the movement at the head. How much is a purportedly democratic country worth which cannot root out terror in its midst and whose state apparatus even joins in the attacks?
An Israeli security source confirms that the Shin Bet rejected Chen’s information and declined to pursue it. On the other hand, a former Shin Bet officer denies Chen account on camera. He claimed that if such information reached them they would never ignore it. My source disagrees. Which do I trust more? A Shin Bet official protecting the reputation of his agency, or an independent source with no ax to grind?
Despite the miserable failure of our own US domestic security system, which permitted the January 6th insurrection during Trump’s presidency, at least our Justice Department has charged and prosecuted nearly 600 participants. You will never find such mass arrests by the Shin Bet. They pluck a few apples and leave the tree intact. How many Ben Gvirs, Benzy Gopsteins and Michael Ben Ari has the Shin Bet arrested, tried and convicted? Not one.
Uvdah did not delve much into the psychology of the Ben Gvir terror cult. Leaders of terror groups like him must recruit to the cause True Believers willing to sacrifice themselves. In many cases, young people are the ideal recruits because their personalities have not fully developed and they can be molded into whatever terror groups wants. Also the most receptive youth come from troubled backgrounds. They are rebelling against family, seeking a new identity. Communities like the Hilltop Youth offer a young person membership in a group that features excitement and danger. These are tremendous elixirs for youth. It even sparks a sense of altruism, belief that they are sacrificing themselves for their people when, in fact, they are endangering Jews by provoking vengeance by Palestinian victims. In this case, and possibly others, Ben Gvir groomed Chen to become a terrorist. She even says that he “exploited” her and “was at the top of the list” of those who did.
Ben Gvir’s response, offered at the end of the Uvdah segment, doesn’t dispute any of Chen’s central claims. He attempts to impeach her by focusing on the time gap between the events she describes and when she came forward.
One element of his defense rings true: Israeli politics always brings out the dirt before elections. The most explosive scandals are saved by opponents for political gain. No doubt that is true in this case. Someone persuaded Chen to come forward. Their goal was to discourage potential voters for his Jewish Power party. Any seats he wins could put Netanyahu over the top and enable him to put together 61 votes and the next government. The group with the most to gain from airing this segment is one of the center-right parties in the current government.
Ben Gvir responds to Uvdah:
The [Uvda] investigation reported events that happened 14 years ago , The interviewee at age 14 ran away from home and was homeless. I offered her a place with my late mother, who treated her like a daughter. My mother and my righteous wife, Ayala opened our house to her, gave her food, clothes and a warm bed, so would leave the streets. All with the full knowledge of her parents and the rest of her family, who kept in constant and continuous contact with me and thanked me.
“It’s no secret that..a certain source approached Chen and the former Hilltop Youths and sought them out for interviews against me. Clearly intended for one purpose: to harm me politically.
If what the woman, who is now 28, said was true why wasn’t she questioned by the GSS about burning the car at that time? Why didn’t they agree to her testifying against me in exchange for closing the case against her.
This is a lie. I wonder why all of a sudden, when she was 28 (ten years after she was a minor), she remembered events long-past; just when my popularity is at its peak and the Left and Hamas decided Ben Gvir must be taken down (it is a common trope of the far-right red-bait and terror-bait center-right political parties as dupes of Hamas), otherwise he will be the Minister of Internal Security.
It is a rather pathetic performance. But his followers will undoubtedly see him as a martyr on the altar of the Jewish people. Ben Gvir has set his sights on becoming the next Interior minister in a Netanyahu government. This would give him control of the security apparatus and effectively end any state monitoring of Jewish terror.
Ben Gvir announced that he will sue Uvdah and Chen for 1-million shekels. It will be yet another in a long line of threatened lawsuits against figures who have angered him. More bravado from a bully who thrives on igniting matches and setting off conflagrations.