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Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 16:05 UK

Bombed writer fears for democracy

Zeev Sternhell, Israeli left-wing academic injured in bomb attack
Mr Sternhell says he is "not afraid"

An Israeli academic injured in a pipe bombing two weeks ago has told the BBC he fears a "climate of violence" may be threatening democracy in the country.

Zeev Sternhell, a well-known critic of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, said he suspected far right-wing Israelis were to blame.

Mr Sternhell told the Outlook programme he was not afraid, but warned of a "deep divide" in Israeli society.

He was lightly hurt in the attack at his home. No one has been arrested.

Mr Sternhell, said he was "lucky" not to have been more seriously injured and was continuing with his work as usual.

"The very use of violence against somebody who is speaking and writing is something that is symptomatic and scares society as a whole," he said.

"I think many people have been scared much more than I have."

'Wild West Bank'

Police suspect the attack was ideologically motivated, although some right-wingers have said elements of Israeli society have been too quick to blame settlers before those behind the attack have been identified.

Bomb damage at Israeli academic Zeev Sternhell's house
The attack took place outside Mr Sternhell's house

The attack came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators discussed a potential peace deal expected to involve the removal of some Jewish settlers from the West Bank.

Few analysts expect an agreement in the foreseeable future, but there has nevertheless been a rise in violent attacks on Palestinians, police and soldiers by settler activists who are strongly opposed to withdrawals from the West Bank.

Media articles have raised concerns of a "Wild West Bank" where police and soldiers are either unwilling or unable to reign in militant settlers.

"Democracy cannot survive in a climate in which organised groups that are speaking in the name of Jewish history, of God, or of the future of Israeli society are allowed do everything - where everything is legal, everything is legitimate because these acts are in the service of a superior goal," said Mr Sternhell.

Minority

There are thought to be about 270,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem. Mr Sternhells said about 40,000 - 50,000 of those live there for ideological reasons.

Among those were "a few thousand who are ready, more or less for anything, including violence", he said.

"Probably the people who attacked my life were coming from these circles."

Mr Sternhell said he had received no personal threats in the weeks before the attack.

But he said poster had been found in his neighbourhood offering a reward of $320,000 to anyone who killed a member of Peace Now, an Israeli group campaigning against settlement building to which he belongs.

Daniela Weiss, who leads a radical settler movement, has accused the Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet of masterminding the attack in an attempt to turn public opinion against the settler movement, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Mr Sternhell, a Holocaust survivor, is best known for his work on the history of fascism.

Earlier this year, he was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for political science.

The improvised explosive device exploded as he was locking the outer gate of his home in the early hours, causing shrapnel injuries to his legs.




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