Gilad Sade, in white, with Itamar Ben Gvir, left, during Gvir’s visit with alleged recruits during a trial in 2004. All minors were convicted. Credit: Ilan Mizrahi.
  • by Karlos Zurutuza (Gypsy)
  • Interpress service

“I was first imprisoned when I was thirteen and would return to prison many times. During those years, Itamar Ben Gvir and I were thick and thin, Sade told IPS from Rome, Italy.

Itamar Ben Gvir is Israel’s newly appointed Minister of National Security.

His party, Jewish Power, won six seats in the November 2022 parliamentary elections. Today, it forms a far-right government considered the most extremist in the country’s history, led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Raised in a family of secular Jewish immigrants from Iraq, Ben Gvir, 47, joined the Kach movement – an ultra-Orthodox organization designated as a terrorist group in the 1990s by Israel, the US, the EU, Canada and Japan – as a teenager. In 1995, he became famous for threatening then-Prime Minister Isaac Rabin three weeks before he was assassinated.

“When he first moved out of his family home, he hung a photo of Barouch Goldstein in his new residence in Kiryat Arba, 110 kilometers southeast of Tel Aviv,” Sade recalls. Goldstein, also known as the “Butcher of Hebron”, was a New York doctor who murdered 29 Palestinians with an assault rifle in 1994.

Sade remembers that as a child he was often in Ben Gvir’s care. He was in primary school when he got his first assignment.

“We used to hand out leaflets calling for the expulsion of the Arabs from Israel or the demolition of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Ben Gvir asked me to hide them under my shirt. As a child, the police didn’t look for me.”

At the age of 14, Ben Gvir asked him to bring a ski mask and gave him a wire cutter to break into the UN compound in Jerusalem to vandalize UN cars and spray anti-UN graffiti on walls.

“He would never take risks. I could easily get into trouble or even be killed while he was waiting in his car listening to Hasidic music,” says Sade

Ben Gvir, he explains, recruited young people from broken families. “He bragged about keeping them off the streets and drugs but actually paid them cash to commit this type of crime. The boys sought the group’s approval by spitting on the Palestinians, pushing them to the ground, pepper spraying them,” he recalls.

Contrary to what one might think, Sade says that there was no room for improvisation. “They trained us to deal with all kinds of situations: from occupying a Palestinian family’s home to dealing with a police interrogation,” explains Sade.

In a interview with Israel’s Channel 7, Ben Gvir said he had been arrested “hundreds of times” – the first time at 14 – and boasted of having been charged “on only eight occasions.” At age 18, his criminal record exempted him from military service.

Before starting his political career, he was convicted for “incitement to racism and support for terror”, by calling for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.

“Today he has moderated his speech, at least in public, to reach Parliament. But everyone knows he’s still the same racist influencer he’s always been, says Sade.

Sade left the extremist movement at the age of 21.

“It was a very long and painful process to be able to overcome, among other things, the hatred towards myself for the damage inflicted,” he admits. He also regrets that many of his former colleagues “failed to break the walls of the mental prison”.

Sade would become an adventure travel guide and his penchant for photography would open the doors to journalism. As a freelance reporter working for both Israeli and international media, he works in places like Nagorno Karabakh and Kosovo. Part of his job, however, has focused on exposing those who, he insists, ruined his life and the lives of hundreds of young people.

But the price to pay was exile. The frequent target of threats, he cannot return to Israel. Especially today, when those who were his mentors are in power.

Itamar ben Gvir’s spokesman declined to answer questions sent by IPS. He told this news agency that all allegations of hate crimes against the minister are “not serious” and “just jihadist propaganda.”


Last November, weeks before the new government was formed, officials from the Palestinian Authority warned that Itamar Ben Gvir’s appointment could have a “potentially catastrophic impact.”

Their concerns seem to have been well founded. In a Report released by Amnesty International on February 1, the London-based NGO condemned the deaths of 35 Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces in January alone.

“The death helps maintain the Israeli apartheid regime and constitutes a crime against humanity as well as other measures such as administrative detention or forced displacement,” the Amnesty report said.

On January 27, seven people were killed in a synagogue and a dozen were seriously injured in two attacks on Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. Two weeks later, two Israelis, including a child, were killed in a deliberate car-ram attack in Jerusalem.

The latest violence under the new administration continues a worrying trend. In its World Report 2023Human Right Watch points to “a policy of maintaining Jewish Israeli dominance over Palestinians” under a new government that, the New York-based NGO underlines, “includes Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has been convicted by an Israeli court of incitement to racism and support for a terrorist organization.”

For Alberto Spectorowsky, a Uruguayan-Israeli citizen and professor of political science at Tel Aviv University, the current climate of violence in the country is related to corruption allegations against the prime minister.

“There is a conflict being unleashed between those who defend a democracy with liberal institutions and those who want to take away the power and independence of the court,” Spectorowsky told IPS from Tel Aviv by phone.

The current prime minister was sworn into an open trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. “Without this ongoing trial, Netanyahu would be another defender of liberal democracy,” the political scientist claims.

As for Ben Gvir, Spectorowsky points to “an open scenario”:

“Netanyahu has no interest in setting fire to the Middle East, and that is why he is trying to restrain Ben Gvir. However, the latter announced that he will leave the coalition if they take away his authority,” the expert underlines.

In a interview given to Israel’s Channel 12, on February 4, the senior minister gave the government a period of three months to implement measures such as the death penalty for terrorists or the creation of a security body made up of armed civilians.

– As long as I continue to have influence, I will not overthrow the government, said Ben Gvir. His latest action has been to increase the number of gun permits that can be granted monthly by 400%.

Sade believes that Ben Gvir is trying to create his own armed militia.

“Now he wants to arm everyone to stop these attacks, which, however, have increased since he took office,” he adds. “What can you expect from a country whose national security minister asked me and others to commit hate crimes?”

Israel has become a trap, he says, “not only for the Palestinians, but also for anyone who thinks differently.”

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service