Letters from Tel Mond Prison

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Letters from Tel Mond Prison

Excerpts from Letters from Tel Mond Prison: An Israeli Settler Defends His Act of Terror

Written by Era Rapaport
Printed in 1996

"Where did I get the nerve to do what I did? I dislike any type of violence....Here I was doing what I've abhorred."

Certain events in life inspire ordinary people to do extreme things. As Era Rapaport's prison memoirs, Letters from Tel Mond Prison: An Israeli Settler Defends His Act of Terror, attests, a threat against one's home can be one such event. Era Rapaport (1945?–) responded to a perceived threat on his homeland after six Jews were killed by Arabs in the town of Hebron on May 2, 1980. Although it was rumored that Palestinian mayors had given the order to kill these Jews, the Israeli government did not retaliate or punish the Palestinians. Feeling no support from the Israeli government, Rapaport and others planned and executed the bombing of several Palestinian mayors' automobiles on June 2, 1980. The bomb Rapaport planted destroyed the legs of Bassam Shaka, the mayor of Nablus, a town about thirty miles north of Jerusalem.

"How does a nice Jewish boy from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, a gifted social worker, a marcher for civil rights, a loving husband and father, end up blowing off the legs of the PLO mayor of Nablus?" William B. Helmreich asked in his introduction to Letters from Tel Mond Prison. Rapaport struggled with that very question, considering his actions and their consequences carefully in letters and musings he wrote during his two-year prison term for helping plant a bomb under the car of an influential Palestinian leader.

Things to remember while reading excerpts from Era Rapaport's Letters from Tel Mond Prison: An Israeli Settler Defends His Act of Terror:

  • Era Rapaport was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in New York, which impressed upon him a historical faith and devotion to the teachings of the Torah, the Jewish holy scripture. Additionally, his father had been born in Jerusalem, Palestine, and he instilled a great love of that land in his son.
  • Rapaport first visited Israel in 1966 to study at a yeshiva (an Orthodox Jewish rabbinical seminary). But when the Six-Day War of 1967 broke out, Rapaport lent his hand as a medic for the wounded in Jerusalem.
  • Although he returned to the United States to complete a master's degree in social work, Rapaport felt that his future was in Israel, and moved there permanently in 1971.
  • After marrying an Israeli woman, he moved to the West Bank, land Israel acquired during the Six-Day War, to establish the first Jewish settlement on land he considered to be the ancient capital of the Jews nearly three thousand years before. In the settlement of Shilo, his family grew to include six children.
  • Since taking part in the car bombing of Palestinian leader Bassam Shaka in 1980, Rapaport was a fugitive in Israel. In 1983 Rapaport fled to the United States with his family, where he tried to persuade more Jews to settle in Israel. Upon his return to Israel in December 1986, he was arrested for his part in the car bombing. He was tried and jailed in January 1987.
  • Many of the letters in this section serve as a way for Rapaport to recount the events that lead to his time in prison, attempting to explain how he changed from a pacifist fighting for Israeli rights to one who used violence as a way to influence change.
  • While Rapaport wrote most of these letters while serving his sentence in Tel Mond Prison, the first letter was written just after the car bombing in 1980. This letter was never sent but it does capture Rapaport's frame of mind shortly after the violent act.

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What happened next ...

Upon his release from prison in 1989, Rapaport returned to the settlement he had started with eight other families; he eventually served as its mayor. But life in the settlement areas remained difficult, for Jews and Palestinians had yet to solve their differences. Even Jews were divided over the settlements in the Occupied Territories, the areas of land Israel captured during the Six-Day War. Some believed that the Occupied Territories could be used as offerings to the Palestinians in a "land for peace" deal. Rapaport and other religious settlers remained committed to the belief that the Occupied Territories were home to Jews in Biblical times and should remain theirs forever. He and other religious settlers steeled themselves against Palestinian and Israeli attempts to stop their efforts.

In 1992 the editor of Letters from Tel Mond Prison, William Helmreich, contacted Rapaport to arrange for a tour of the West Bank. Rapaport picked up his guest in a car with reinforced windows and an M16 rifle, saying "We don't take chances here." Little had changed by 2005. Jewish settlers continued to revolt against the Palestinians and the Israeli government. But in 2004 and 2005 Jewish settlers rose up in protest against Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's (1928–) proposal to evacuate all the settlements in the Gaza Strip and some in the West Bank by the end of 2005. It remains to be seen if Jewish settlers, Palestinians, and the citizens of Israel can find a compromise that will establish peace in the region.

Did you know ...

  • In 2005 there were approximately 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and more than 140 in the West Bank.
  • Rapaport had been an activist in an underground group known as the Machteret, which used the Bible as its guide as it planned to destroy Palestinian governing bodies and holy places.
  • After the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, twenty-seven members of the Machteret were identified. Israel and the world learned that terrorist acts had been committed by respected members of their society, including establishers of settlements, teachers, and war heroes.

Consider the following ...

  • Era Rapaport writes of loving his family and the pain he would feel without them in jail. Nevertheless he decides that his convictions outweigh the personal pain he would feel without his family. What specific examples does Rapaport use to justify his act of terror? Are they convincing? Explain why.
  • Rapaport writes "We would all prefer to be nonviolent all the time, and that day will come." Explain how his actions helped or hindered the coming of this time of peace. What other means could he have used to reach his objective?
  • Rapaport based his decision to commit a violent act on a belief that the land of Israel belonged to Jews in biblical times and should again be theirs. Did this idea come across in his letters as he explained his actions? Explain using specific examples.

For More Information


Gunderson, Cory Gideon. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Edina, MN: Abdo

Publishing, 2004.

Rapaport, Era. Letters from Tel Mond Prison: An Israeli Settler Defends His Act of Terror. New York: Free Press, 1996.

Web Sites

"Transcript: Troubled Lands." PBS: NOW with Bill Moyers.http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_settlers.html (accessed on June 24, 2005).

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Letters from Tel Mond Prison

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