A settlers’ ‘guardian’ seeks support in America
Israeli trains, arms teams in West Bank in ‘rapid response’
Israel Danziger says he eats at his desk and operates on about four hours sleep a day. You can see why. Aside from having eight children (though most are grown) and being in the process of starting up a solar energy business, the American-born Israeli engineer is heavily involved in providing what he sees as crucial security for Israelis — and Jews worldwide.
He is director of operations for the Israeli organization Mishmeret YESHA, an organization that trains rapid-response teams at places like settlements and yeshivas to counter terrorist attacks. It also has its own people manufacturing protective military equipment like bullet-proof vests, which it supplies to those teams, and it provides emergency medical care.
Danziger is in the United States for a few weeks to rally support for his organization. He will discuss what it does and the dangers facing Israel — from outside and from within — at the Union County Torah Center in Westfield on Sunday, April 18, at 7 p.m.
The talk, which is open to the community, is being organized by Gary and Sharon Goldner of Scotch Plains. They met Danziger in Hebron while on a mission to Israel last year with the right-wing group Americans for a Safe Israel. They said they were extremely impressed with his knowledge of the “facts on the ground.”
Danziger made aliya from the United States in 1972 when he was 19, and served with the Israel Defense Forces for several years, before going on to become an engineer. He remains, by choice, an army reservist. In 1988, he and 11 other people founded Mishmeret YESHA. Mishmeret means “guardian”; the second word is an acronym for the Hebrew words Yehuda (Judah), Shomron (Samaria) and Aza (Gaza).
On the day he spoke with NJ Jewish News from a borrowed office in Manhattan, he had just been on the phone to Israel for four hours, trying to deal with various issues before the beginning of Shabbat. “Every hour, there is a different surprise,” he said. On this occasion that included having to reorganize a training session for a yeshiva’s rapid-response team, because an arrangement to use space at a military base had fallen through.
Mishmeret YESHA has its critics in Israel, especially among opponents of the settlement movement who don’t think the government should condone armed, extra-military security forces in so sensitive an area.
In the past, Danziger said, the organization had more assistance from the Israeli government, and the military has supplied some arms and other equipment. There is less support these days from the Ministry of Defense, led by Ehud Barak, and the Netanyahu administration. But they do get support from the brigade commanders on the ground, he said.
“To rise in the ranks, they have to serve at least a year in Judea and Samaria,” Danziger said. “The bottom line is that the situation is very volatile and could spiral out of control very quickly. They don’t have the manpower to deal with it, and they don’t want that on their record. We take a big load off their minds.”
He rejects the notion that things have been “relatively quiet” on the terrorism front. He said that — as always — the roads traveled by the settlers are an ongoing target of attacks by Arab militants. He lives in Efrat, and his children grew up traveling those roads and still hitchhike on them. Despite the fears, “you have no choice, so you live with it,” he said. And the violence against Jewish settlers continues on a daily basis.
Within two years, he predicted, there will be a “serious confrontation, a third Intifada.” And the sooner the better, he said, “because [pro-Palestinian] forces in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and Judea and Samaria are only getting stronger,” fueled by military and ideological support from Iran.
He asserts that the Obama administration’s support for the “roadmap” toward a two-state peace plan — initiated, he pointed out, by the Bush administration — is making that confrontation all the more likely.
He cited as further cause for concern a kind of unilateral assumption of statehood by the Palestinians, who are developing their own security forces as well as other governmental institutions. While Western diplomats and many Israeli commentators consider this a positive development, Danziger demurs. “They say it is to improve law and order, but that is how Yasser Arafat justified training his forces,” he said.
Danziger asserts that it is not only Israelis who are at risk, but the Jewish people as a whole, and he is appalled when people draw reassurance from the “relative quiet” of recent years, overlooking such things as the get-together in February of the leaders of Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, and of Hamas and Hizbullah, all explicit in their determination to obliterate Israel.
That threat needs to be taken very seriously, he said. If the United States took military action against Iran, that country has weapons ready in Lebanon to fire at Israel, and “the following day” Jews would be attacked all over the world.