The Israel Defense Forces, the country's binding institution, recently set up a unit to combat, not Palestinian terror or a regional threat, but violence by the country's own citizens - specifically Jewish settlers in the West Bank against both Palestinians and fellow Israeli Jews.
You'd think it was Purim, the topsy-turvy Jewish holiday where nothing is what it seems and behavior often runs to excess. Except the Purim spectacle is all in fun and is limited to one single day in which you drink until you can no longer tell Mordechai, the good guy, from the Haman, the villain.
But you don't have to touch a drop to see that in Israel and the West Bank things have been stood on their heads.
There's Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, speaking at a prestigious Israeli policy conference. Since Fayyad took office, the West Bank economy has grown 7 percent a year, investment is up, the rule of law is being strengthened and Palestinian terror has dropped. Fayyad is the un-Arafat. But although the Palestinians finally have a leadership that Israel can do business with, it has been impossible to create the conditions that will pave its way back to the negotiating table and peace talks are frozen.
At the same time, the Israeli military has had to establish its first unit specifically to respond to right-wing violence against men and women in uniform. At the evacuation of illegal West Bank outposts, extremists have kicked officers in the face, thrown firebombs at military jeeps and placed spikes on roads used by military vehicles.
Some rabbis of government-funded yeshivot are calling on troops to disobey orders to remove illegal outposts and some soldiers are following their rabbis' instructions.
This defiance of the state is beginning to worry even some leaders of the settlement movement. In January, Pinchas Wallerstein resigned as director of the settlers' Yesha Council after 35 years as a settlement activist. In a parting shot, he criticized IDF recruits who had raised signs to protest against the evacuation of outposts.
If soldiers demonstrating against their orders represent a nonviolent threat to the rule of law in Israel, Yaakov Teitel showed the murderous end the extremists' ideology can lead to. The U.S.-born Teitel was arrested last fall and charged with murder and a string of murder attempts that lasted more than 12 years.
One of his alleged victims was professor Ze'ev Sternhell, an activist with Israel's Peace Now movement. In 2008, Sternhell was lightly injured when a pipe bomb exploded outside his home. Nearby, police found fliers offering a bounty for anyone who killed Peace Now members.
Teitel told police investigators that he had also intended to murder Yariv Oppenheimer, Peace Now's secretary-general. While Teitel has never served in the Israeli military, Oppenheimer, who is fully committed to a two-state solution and therefore opposes Israeli settlements, nevertheless guarded those same settlements when serving his annual reserve military duty. To the settlers who demanded his removal from their midst, Oppenheimer responded, "I am carrying out my duty as a citizen of the state."
When it is time to dismantle settlements, will those on the right be as patriotic as thousands on the left who, in Oppenheimer's words, "continue to carry out orders and instructions that contradict their views"?
Fortunately, the topsy-turvy visions of the messianic extremists are not the only visions circulating in Israel. There are also the pragmatic, patriotic views of Yariv Oppenheimer and his Peace Now colleagues. They fight every day to secure the viability of a two-state solution that will guarantee Israel's future as a secure, Jewish and democratic state.
Most Israelis know that peaceful solutions are reached through negotiation and compromise, and that viewing the world topsy-turvy is best done only one day a year. In the sober light of day, we all know a Mordechai when we see him. He's the one not giving in to excess.