Gush Emunim: The Tip of the Iceberg by Ehud Sprinzak

Gush Emunim:
The Tip of the Iceberg


Ehud Sprinzak


The Jerusalem Quarterly

Number 21
Fall 1981


GUSH EMUNIM has been a source of controversy in Israel ever since its founding; however, both its supporters and its opponents take it to be a serious phenomenon and there is no disputing the fact that it is the most dynamic movement in the country today. That being the case, it is astonishing how little the public knows about Gush Emunim. In articles that have appeared in academic and semi-academic publications Gush Emunim has been presented as the great demon of Israeli politics. After following Gush Emunim systematically for the last few years we can now provide a better description and explanation, which, it is hoped, will contribute towards its demystification.

Ever since its formal founding in the spring of 1974, Gush Emunim has been marked by its extra-parliamentary style. The Gush was not prepared to confine itself to the framework of the law and the accepted rules of the Israeli political game. From the outset it adopted an extremist style of political action that included demonstrations, protests, unauthorized settlement and the like. Two major questions arise in this context and we shall try to answer them as fully as we can. What is the political "profile" of Gush Emunim as an extremist extra-parliamentary group? Why did Gush Emunim succeed more than any other known extra-parliamentary group in achieving its political goals?


Gush Emunim was formed at a founding meeting held early in March 1974 at Kfar Etzion, with about two hundred people participating. It was at that time declared to be an organized faction within the National Religious Party (NRP). The founding meeting was preceded by informal discussions in which a decisive role was played by former students of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the spiritual leader of Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav, among them Rabbi Moshe Levinger (the leader of the Kiryat Arba settlers), Hanan Porat (one of the revivers of Jewish settlement in Gush Etzion), Rabbi Chayim Drukman (educator and one of the leaders of the Bnei Akiva religious youth movement, now a member of Knesset), Rabbi Waldman, Rabbi Yohanan Fried and other young people of similar background. After a short period of intra-NRP existence, the Gush Emunim people left this party in the spring of 1974 and declared their movement to be an independent body. Ever since, they have refused as a group to identify automatically with any Israeli political party and have gained a unique political status on their own account.

From the beginning the Gush Emunim people — most of them yeshiva graduates, rabbis and teachers — launched a vigorous dual founding of the Gush, but not until the Yom Kippur War was there a sufficient motivation to organize politically. Against the background of the gloomy public mood and the first territorial concessions in the Sinai Peninsula (in the framework of the first disengagement agreement with Egypt), Gush Emunim's founders felt it their duty to set up a barrier capable of stopping unnecessary territorial concessions. They were particularly wary of the official lukewarm position of the NRP, which was then a partner in the Labor coalition, concerning the future of Judea and Samaria. They also felt that it was necessary to promote Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria in an organized and vigorous way, and to bring about the extension of Israeli sovereignty to those territories. They regarded extra-parliamentary demonstrations and mobilization of their sympathetic public as effective means to counter the American pressure for concessions.

From the beginning Gush Emunim launched a vigorous information campaign to explain their position. They carried their campaign to all parts of the country, including kaffee klatsches, schools, meetings in yeshivot, and so on. At the same time they began forming core groups of people who would populate the settlements the Gush planned to set up in the future. The spearhead of Gush Emunim's settlement movement, the Elon Moreh group, was already in existence in 1973. A step of major importance was the decision in which all the founders accorded that there would be no formal membership in Gush Emunim, no membership cards would be issued and that its people and potential supporters would not be called upon to carry out any particular concrete task which would set them apart from the rest of the nation. This was a very wise decision, for it meant that Gush Emunim could always claim that it had a very large number of members, and there was no official means by which that claim could be refuted. Similarly, many sympathizers could participate in specific activities of the Gush with which they identified without feeling any obligation to support other activities or to identify with any broad platform. Nor would the opponents of Gush Emunim suffer from this decision. They could always contend that the Gush is nothing but a small marginal group of fanatics who are making a lot of noise.

During the Rabin government (1974-1977) Gush Emunim operated on three planes: it organized protests and demonstrations against the interim agreements with Egypt and Syria and against the political and diplomatic activity related to these agreements; it promoted attention-focusing activities in Judea and Samaria to underscore the Jewish attachment to those parts of Eretz Israel; it carried out settlement operations in the occupied territories.

The protest activity of Gush Emunim began with the active support it gave to the hunger strike of the leaders of the Greater Israel Movement, which started on Independence Day in May 1974, outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem. This line of activity was continued in repeated protests against Henry Kissinger during his visits to the country as part of his shuttle diplomacy. The participation in these demonstrations, which continued sporadically until the fall of 1975, ranged from the tens of people who blocked traffic on Ruppin Road, a main thoroughfare in Jerusalem, thereby obstructing the advance of the official motorcades, to the thousands who filled Jerusalem's Zion Square and clashed there with the police. Forms of symbolic protest added a special and colorful dimension to these demonstrations; calves were brought to the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem and the placards that were waved read "The Rabin Government is Leading Us Like Lambs to the Slaughter" and "Kissi, Don't Milk Us, We're Not Cows." On several occasions the Gush Emunim demonstrators took up position opposite Dr. Kissinger's suite in the King David Hotel. shouted through loud-speakers, howled and hooted in order to disturb the diplomat's sleep. This activity reached a peak in October 1974, when a mass rally was held in Tel-Aviv's Malkei Yisrael Square for the recognition of Judea and Samaria as an inseparable part of the country. The rally was also an occasion to note that 460,000 people had signed a petition to that effect. After the signing of the interim agreement with Egypt and the end of Dr. Kissinger's visits to the country, the large protest activities by Gush Emunim ceased. Only small flareups, demonstrations opposite the Knesset building or the Prime Minister's office, remained in evidence that the Gush had not forsaken this avenue of activity in principle.

Attention-focusing activities by Gush Emunim, to stress the Jewish attachment to Judea and Samaria, began with Operation Go-Around, which took place in October 1974. As part of this operation, in which an estimated two thousand people participated, the participants managed to get past army roadblocks and spread out across Judea and Samaria to those points where the Gush maintained that settlements should be established. Since the operation was meant for publicity purposes, the participants did not get into a serious collision with the army and when requested to leave those points did so without much ado. A similar action was conducted on Hanukkah (December 1975), when many supporters of Gush Emunim spread out across mountaintops in Judea and Samaria in a candle-lighting operation. During the Passover holiday in 1976 a tradition began which has since become an annual custom, the Eretz Israel Ramble. Between twenty to thirty thousand people took part in a mass hike across Samaria. The participants in this march, as in the others that followed, did not come only from peripheral circles, but included also major establishment figures such as Menachem Begin, Yigal Hurwitz and Geula Cohen. Gush Emunim has always invested a tremendous effort in organjzing these marches, for the extent of participation in them became the number one barometer for assessing public support of the movement and its ideas. On the basis of the participation in these marches the leaders of Gush Emunim claimed that a mass movement was arrayed behind them.

The power, importance and public influence of the protest actions and the publicity-seeking activities never for a moment obscured for Gush Emunim its deep commitment to the idea of settlement beyond the Green line. The government of Israel, being pragmatic and subject to pressures from all sides, was not enthusiastic about initiating settlement. Its hesitancy was mostly marked during the period of the negotiations on the interim agreements with Syria and Egypt, talks which were conducted under heavy American time pressure applied by Dr. Kissinger. Gush Emunim did not let up on this matter and its inside pressures, which are unknown to the public, were no less than its external ones. In response to this pressure the government first authorized the settlement at Keshet on the Golan Heights, a military foothold at Tekoa and another at Kochav ha-Shahar. Afterwards Minister of Defence Shimon Peres authorized a workers' camp at Ba'al Hazor, which later became Ofra, a civilian settlement in all respects, including families and children. These activities notwithstanding, the spearhead of Gush Emunim was and remains the core-group of Elon Moreh. This group, which, as was mentioned earlier, preceded the formal establishment of the Gush, has become the symbol of its fundamental challenge to the guiding conception of the Labor government, viz., secure borders combined with minimal involvement with the densely populated Arab areas. The founders of this core group, Benny Katzover and Menachem Felix, have expressed more adamantly than anyone else the determination of Gush Emunim to settle in all parts of Eretz Israel, including the very heart of the Palestinian population. This group tried on seven different occasions to settle in the Nablus-Sebastia region, and each time their attempts were thwarted and the settlements forcibly dismantled by the army. With the eighth attempt, after a very dramatic confrontation, Gush Emunim broke down the government's opposition and achieved the well-known "Kadoum compromise." This event took place during Hanukkah. On a rainy, wintry Hanukkah night in December 1975, about two thousand people, members of the core group and yeshiva students on holiday, settled in Sebastia. In a brilliant ploy, some of the leaders of American Jewry, who at the time were convening at the Jerusalem Conference to express special solidarity with the State of Israel, were mobilized by Gush Emunim to express privately their support of the settlement attempt. Following two days of tense confrontation it was finally agreed that the members of the core group would leave the site "on their own accord," pass to a military camp at Kadoum and stay there until a decision was reached about their future location.

The "Kadoum compromise" brought the series of confrontations between Gush Emunim and the Rabin government to a head. Afterwards the group receded from the public vision, but its inside activity continued, increasingly geared to exerting pressure within the government to establish new settlements, to provide support for existing ones and to launch an all-out public relations campaign. Important in this regard was the Ein Vered Conference, at which the Gush's major breakthrough into the hard core of the labor movement was crowned with success. Participating in this large conference of identification with Gush Emunim were prominent figures in the Labor settlement movement who proclaimed their open support for the Gush. They even expressed their readiness to work for it on a regular basis. Gush Emunim ostensibly proved that it had succeeded in overcoming the psychological barrier of cooperation between the religious and secular camps, and in particular that it had received support for its extra-parliamentary mode of action from an elite group within the Labor movement. After Kadoum and the formation of the Ein Vered Circle, it was clear to the government in general and to Prime Minister Rabin in particular, that here was an opponent of substantial weight.

The Likud victory in the elections of May 1977 and the declaration of the Prime Minister designate, Menachem Begin, that "we will have many more Elon Morehs," induced many of Gush Emunim leaders to believe in all sincerity that their extra-parliamentary period was over. And indeed, the new regime accorded them full legitimacy. Gush Emunim was in fact never regarded by Menachem Begin as a deviant group. Its young members had always been the Prime Minister's darlings. Many had long been envious of the ease with which the leaders of Gush Emunim could get to speak to Begin and obtain satisfaction from him. Since they had formed their movement in order to achieve the concrete goal of settlement in Judea and Samaria and not in order to add another color to the spectrum of extra-parliamentarism in Israel, many of the Gush Emunim people were happy about the opportunity offered them now to shed the somehow extremist unsympathetic image. Another reason for their satisfaction was the senior position of Rabbi Chayim Drukman, their man who was placed as the number-two man in the NRP list to the Ninth Knesset.

Gush Emunim's rejoicing did not last long. Despite their great expectations, the government did not come up with a large-scale settlement program. The constraints of daily policy-making, Mr. Begin's failing health, and especially American pressures, began to leave their mark on the cabinet, and the impatient Gush found itself in the position of being given the runaround by the government and the Prime Minister. It was still a sympathetic government, and the Minister of Agriculture, Ariel Sharon, did not conceal his affection for Gush Emunim, but it gradually became clear to them that even under a Likud administration, they might have to use the extra-parliamentary tactics they had devised during Rabin's regime.

The Camp David accords, the Autonomy Plan and the government's commitment to give up the Rafiah Salient struck Gush Emunim like a bolt out of the blue. This was without doubt the lowest point in its short history. Its leaders had had time enough since Sadat's visit to Jerusalem to discern what the future held in store, but the firm belief that history was on its side — which characterized Gush Emunim all along — prevented an early forecast of the dramatic event, and when it happened they were altogether at a loss. The total concession by the "Greater Israel Faithful," Menachem Begin, the paving of the way for a Palestinian state by the Autonomy Plan and the dismantling of the settlements in the Rafiah Salient left them dumbfounded. The activity of the Gush was paralyzed and its return to normal did not come about easily. The Gush people were simply too weak to manage the organization of an anti-government front by themselves and at that time were greatly assisted by other peripheral elements such as the Herut "Loyalists Circle," Professor Yuval Ne'eman, members of the Greater Israel Movement, Knesset members Geula Cohen and Moshe Shamir, several former Rafi members and others, who together formed the "Covenant of the Eretz Israel Faithful." This new association committed itself to the original platform of the Greater Israel Movement, and by its very founding in effect declared a total war on the Camp David accords. Later on, this whole group founded the Tehiya movement, which took up a decided position against Begin's determination to carry out the Camp David accords.

However, during the year preceding the June 1981 elections, the cabinet which ran Israel's affairs was no longer the same cabinet that had signed the peace agreements. The dominant axis in it was composed of Begin, Sharon and Shamir. This was a hawkish axis, altogether different from the previous one — Begin, Dayan and Weizman — that was responsible for the spirit of Camp David. The new axis was limited by the Camp David framework and the Autonomy Plan, but nevertheless has been operating at full steam and with considerable aggressiveness to perpetuate Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. Despite the Gush's disappointment with Sharon's stance during the period of the Camp David accords, it has become apparent during the past year that they could not wish for a better representative in the government. Ariel Sharon has proven to be a very able minister and has proceeded rapidly towards the realization of his settlement plan. Sharon always objected to the Allon Plan, which in one form or another had guided the Labor governments. He formulated an all-embracing strategic settlement plan based on Jewish control of all the dominant roads in the West Bank. By virtue of his stubbornness and aggressiveness he succeeded in carrying out more of the plan than either his friends and opponents thought possible. In spite of the difficult personal crises he encountered in the Likud government, he endured better than Dayan and Weizman, who were the only ones able to neutralize him. With Sharon as a dominant figure in the Likud government, Gush Emunim had no need for noisy extra-parliamentarism.

In the meantime the leaders as well as the key activists of Gush Emunim ceased to be merely political activists and potential settlers. They have become actual settlers. This fact is of tremendous significance. The members of Gush Emunim who are settling Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights in their thousands are no longer individual members of a marginal political movement with a settlement vision. They are settlers whose settlements are recognized by the government of Israel, as well as by Israeli law as legitimate and legal. Very cleverly, these people have not given up the name Gush Emunim, but most of their activity is no longer conducted under that name. The body active in all recent operations, including a number of extra-parliamentary actions, calls itself the Council of Settlements in Judea and Samaria. Underlying this council is a well-formulated and defined legal association called Amana (covenant), which is an alliance (formed by the settlements in 1978) for joint administrative activity. Amana's clauses stipulate the relationship among the settlements and the modes of joint action. They define the duties of office-holders and procedures for decision-making. A recognized settlement body like the new council naturally has much more legitimate interests than a group of people presenting ideological demands, and it is difficult for any government to ignore its demands. Today Gush Emunim increasingly looks like an interest group in every respect.


Gush Emunim has always been characterized by its spiritual nature and by the commitment of its leaders to a unique world view. It is however, surprising how little the Gush has published about itself and its views. Even careful research would not reveal but a scant ideological harvest. Thus the Gush never had its own ideological publication, not even a regular newsletter. In recent years it has associated itself with Zot ha-Aretz ("This is the Land"), the organ of the Greater Israel Movement, but did not do much even in this framework. Its independent publications until today comprise only various settlement plans, mediocre information pamphlets, dry settlement reports and a small number of articles in the various publications of groups close to it.

A clue to the Gush's ideology can be found only when we remember that all its leaders were educated in Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav, and when we keep in mind that the founder of Merkaz ha-Rav, the late Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak ha-Cohen Kook — the first Chief Rabbi of the Jews of Eretz Israel — was an original religious and national thinker. And indeed, interviews with Gush leaders reveal the deep impact of Kook's ideas on their beliefs. These interviews more then any written document provide the key to their ideology. Several of their cardinal points warrant closer scrutiny.


According to Rabbi Kook, the Jewish people exists today in an era in which the pangs of redemption have begun. This is attested to by the rise of modern Zionism, the political gains of the movement, the Balfour Declaration, and the entire Zionist enterprise. Since the Zionist movement in most of its manifestations has been a secular phenomenon, such a concept requires a very broad view of the Jewish people. This view, in stark contrast to the traditional orthodox concept does not make a fundamental distinction between religious Jews, who observe the mitzvot (religious injunctions) and secular Jews, who do not. But how could an orthodox rabbi like Kook promote such an idea? The key to it may be found in his unique Kabbalistic-messianic approach, according to which much more is hidden from sight than is seen. The external manifestations we encounter in our world represent only the barest fragment of cosmic existence, and God has his own ways of bringing about redemption even if those who play a messianic historic role — the secular Jews — are not fully aware of it. Historically, Rabbi Kook was able in this way to bridge serious differences in the pre-state yishuv period, a precedent that helped Gush Emunim a great deal in its contact with many secular elements in Israel of the seventies.

Rabbi Kook's historical conception explains a great deal about Gush Emunim's understanding of our present state of affairs. According to this understanding, the Six-Day War, in which Judea and Samaria were conquered, was no chance turn of events. It was an expression of another stage in the long — sometimes tortuous — messianic process that started wiili the birth of modern Zionism. This is the source of the tremendous confidence Gush Emunim has in their cause. It fits perfectly the grand design of redemption which other Israelis are unable to see. For them the struggle for Elon Moreh and their ultimate victory is also not just the story of another settlement. It is a real link in the great chain that began at the first Zionist Congress in Basle, continued with the Balfour Declaration, the struggle against the British White Paper, and the establishment of the State of Israel and the Six-Day War. Gush Emunim people thus do not live in the grayness of the day-to-day, but in the glow of history at large. This is also why Gush people — at least the more sophisticated among them — do not display hatred or animosity towards the Peace Now movement, which is seen as its political opponent. Rather, they display feelings of paternalistic solicitude. According to Gush Emunim, Peace Now lives for the moment, not for history, unaware of the full significance of the era of redemption in which we really live.

Sanctity of the Land of Israel

The second element in Gush Emunim's world view, is also derived from the teachings of Rabbi Kook: the belief that the Jewish people and the Land of Israel in its entirety are one. According to this view the complete Land of Israel is not limited to the post-1967 Israeli borders, but comprises the historic Land of Israel of the Covenant (Genesis 15) and the promised borders. It obviously includes the occupied territories, and especially Judea and Samaria, the very heart of the historic Israeli nation. It is interesting to note that there is no powerful drive among the Gush Emunim people for expansion beyond Western Palestine. Adhering to the view that we are living in a divine moment, they are convinced that He who took care that the War of Independence and the Six-Day War would occur, will, when the time comes, make sure that the process is continued. However, after the providential process has already taken place, one is not allowed, in Gush Emunim's view, to let weakness and faintheartedness dictate the needs of the present or relinquish what has already been achieved. It is a sacred duty to stand firm, to oppose pressures from the United States and other countries, to prevent the establishment of any Arab entity within the boundaries of the Land of Israel and to continue to assist the great process of redemption.

Revival of Zionism and Settlement

In the only comprehensive ideological document it ever produced the Gush calls itself a "movement for the renewal of Zionist fulfillment" .

Our aim is to bring about a large movement of reawakening among the Jewish people for the fulfillment of the Zionist vision in its full scope, with the recognition that the source of the Vision is Jewish tradition and roots and that its ultimate objective is the full redemption of the Jewish people and the entire world.

Thus, although Gush Emunim was established to a large extent as a single issue movement — to promote the extension of Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria (and if possible, to all the occupied territories — it never confined itself to that issue alone. It is apparent from all its operations and activities that it sees itself as a movement of revival, whose task is to revitalize historic Zionisn that died out in the Israel of the fifties and sixties. According to Gush Emunim's analysis, the Israelis live now in a crisis born out of the fatigue that followed the partial implementation of Zionisn after the establishment of the State of Israel. This crisis has led to a weakening of the pioneering spirit, an unwillingness to continue the struggle against the pressures of the outside world — especially against the Arabs — to the establishment of a materialistic society and a setting of the private ego over and against the national goal and mission. Gush Emunim has taken upon itself to fight against these decadent tendencies. Since in the past Zionism was different and was based on self-sacrifice and pioneering, this is not an original approach but a revival of what had already been developed by others. The tendency among Gush Emunimpeople is consequently to present themselves as heirs of authentic Israeli Zionism, which actually built the yishuv, guided by the ideas of settlement of the land, manual labor, and personal example.

The settlements of Gush Emunim are in this respect more than simply the means of taking over the land of Judea and Samaria by colonizing it. To them, these settlements represent the utmost achievement, the purest Zionist activity in every sense of the term. The Gush are not socialists, of course, but they are deeply attached to the kibbutz movement which in its prime shared many of the same ideas. It is therefore not surprising that two of the most prominent leaders of Gush Emunim, Rabbi Moshe Levinger an Hanan Porat are originally religious kibbutz members. Porat comes from Kfar Etzion (which was destroyed in the 1948 war) and Levinger was formerly the rabbi of Kibbutz Lavie.

Attitude towards the Palestinian Question

As noted above, Gush Emunim was established in order to "prevent a new partition of Eretz Israel." The question is therefore, what is the Gush stance on the Arabs and the Palestinian question? Strangely enough, it is hard to find explicit reference to these questions in the publications of the movement. It is only through personal interviews with its leaders that the Gush position on this matter is clarified. It declares essentially that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews by divine command. As an article of faith and an absolute postulate, this has definite and binding implications. The most important of these is that the universal principle of self-determination — even if it may have some relevance in other places — does not hold in the case of Eretz Israel. The "Palestinian Problem" or the demand by the Palestinians for national self-determination is therefore meaningless. Palestinian nationalism must, if at all, be assessed as part of Arab nationalism in general and its demand for self-determination in the whole Middle East. This Arab quest is, according to Gush Emunim, an immoral demand altogether. If the Jews, the Kurds, the Copts, the Maronites and other minorities who live in the Middle East do not deserve, according to Arab nationalism, national self-determination, why should the Arabs be recognized and respected?

For Gush Emunim the Palestinian question is thus not a problem of a nation but of individuals, and more precisely one of gerim (non-Jewish residents of Eretz Israel who according to the Torah are to be treated by the people of Israel with tolerance and respect but no more). The practical implication of this position is that the Arabs, who either live within the Green Line or in Judea and Samaria, should be presented with three alternatives: to acknowledge publicly the legitimacy of the Zionist doctrine (the Gush Emunim version of it), and to receive full civil rights, including the right to elect and be elected to the Knesset (and serve in the army); to obey the laws of the state without formal recognition of Zionism and be in return granted full rights of resident aliens (but not political rights); to be offered economic incentives to immigrate to Arab countries.

The "demographic problem," that of the fear of numerical strengthening of the Arab population in relation to the Jewish population as a result of the annexation of the densely populated Arab territories, does not disturb Gush Emunim. They think that under the Jewish political hegemony Arabs could live peacefully with a very low level of national friction.

Attitude towards the State and the Rule of Law

Just as official Gush Emunim ideology contains no explicit reference to the Arab question, it also says very little about its relation to the Israeli political system. Here too, one must rely heavily on personal interviews with Gush Emunim leadership. The result may come as a surprise: although Gush Emunim views itself as a movement committed to the norms of the Torah and Talmud it has great respect for the secular institutional expressions of Israeli sovereignty — the government, the Knesset and the army.

Many of the Gush Emunim people, together with young members of the NRP, were active in launching the yeshivot hesder (religious academies combining religious study and military service). They played a major role in changing the NRP's orientation towards the institutions of government in Israel. Whereas over the years, the institutions of sovereignty had been basically considered instrumental — one of live and let live — Gush Emunimhas begun to view it as an end in itself. The Gush insists that these institutions, which are of great national importance, be infused with truly Zionist content — pioneering, self-sacrifice and messianic purpose.

Our empirical findings do not support the widespread image of Gush Emunim as an anti-democratic political movement. In principle Gush Emunim accepts the Israeli democratic proces, as it was shaped over the years, and I encountered no principled rejection of it. The problem that emerges is that Gush Emunim has its own specific interpretation of the conduct of Israel's democratic regime with respect to the one issue that truly concerns the movement, namely, Eretz Israel. According to its interpretation the only legitimizing principle in whose name the State of Israel, its democratic regime and its legal system were established is Zionist settlement in all parts of Eretz Israel. In this view, democracy is a reasonable system provided it exists within a truly Zionist system. Should the two collide, Zionism takes precedence. If the majority, as represented by the Knesset of Israel, rules against it, then it must be a momentary political majority, manipulative and misleading. It must be consequently fought at all costs. It is the right and the duty of every Jew in Eretz Israel to struggle against any tendency to compromise on the issue of settlement in Judea and Samaria, even if it is proposed by the majority. When Gush Emunim people are asked how it happens that they, who show so much respect for the state, are prepared to act against the government's orders and guidelines, they reply that the existing government coalition and its legal framework do not represent the true spirit of the state. Government actions that prevent settlement may be legal but they are illegitimate. A government that prevents settlement undercuts its own legitimacy and places itself in the same position as the British Mandatory government, which undermined its legitimacy by enacting the policy of the infamous White Paper of 1939. During the period of the White Paper, illegal acts of settlement by secular Zionists were altogether legitimate; the same obtains today, and that does not imply a general anti-democratic orientation.

The Iceberg Model of Political Extremism

Once we are clear about the history and the ideology of Gush Emunim we can approach our original question regarding the political nature of this movement with greater ease. Thus, what is obvious now is that Gush Emunim is first and foremost an extra-parliamentary movement. The Yom Kippur War contributed much towards shattering the authority of Israeli parliamentary politics, and especially of the central government. The post Yom Kippur protest movements opened an era of intensive extra-parliamentary politics and paved the way for the crystallization of a new political style. To no inconsiderable extent the obstacles to extra-parliamentary activity that had existed up until the war were by and large pushed aside. Gush Emunim as a movement arose on the crest of the new wave.

The question, then, is not whether Gush Emunim is an extra-parliamentary movement, but rather what type of extremist movement it is? This problem emerges because the models familiar today for explaining Israeli political extremism do not apply to the Gush.

Thus, for example, Gush Emunim cannot be described or presented as a classical protest movement. Such a description, which hinges the definition of "extremist movement" on the element of protest, explains the Israeli Black Panthers movement, which arose in protest against social discrimination of marginal youth and of the disadvantaged. It fits well the protest movements which arose spontaneously after the Yom Kippur War against Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir, and it also applies to the Peace Now movement. There is indeed some element of protest in Gush Emunim — protest against the non-settlement of Judea and Samaria and against the tendency to territorial concession, but there are so many other constructive elements in it that the protest element becomes marginal. The Gush's dramatic transformation in the last two years into a settlement movement bears this out.

Nor can the rise and achievements of Gush Emunim be understood by conceiving of it as an ideological group (or groupuscule). This type of explanation is suited to small leftist groups, such as Mazpen and the New Israeli Left, that were active on campuses after the Six-Day War, and is especially applicable to student political extremism. Gush Emunim, despite the orthodoxy of its members, also cannot be described as a counterculture. The Gush, unlike Neturei Karta, never created a total counter-culture in Israel, since it never questioned the legitimacy of the state and the society at large.

How, then, can Gush Emunim be understood politically? How can we explain the fact that an extremist group, which did not run for the Knesset and refused to institutionalize itself within a respectable political party, the NRP, managed for a period of seven years to cast its shadow over the government of Israel and to get it to do things to which it was initially opposed? How can we account for the remarkable political effectiveness of Gush Emunim, its impact on the Israeli mind?

After observing Gush Emunim for several years I have concluded that the only analytical model suitable for explaining this phenomenon is the Iceberg model of political extremism. This sees its subject as a political iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is the extremist movement, which is in our case Gush Emunim. The base (like that part of the iceberg which is submerged) is a complete social and cultural system broadening towards the (non-extreme) base. It functions in daily life in an altogether normal way. The extremist group is not detached from this base and when necessary can make use of all its vast resources. One result of this structure is that the extremist group is limited — much more than it, at times, appears — by the large pyramidical base that is below the water's surface. When warm weather raises the water temperature, the iceberg melts somewhat and then the tip — the extremist group — loses much of its acuity. That is what happened to Gush Emunim from the beginning of the Likud government up until the Camp David accords. It entered the warm season. It was promised "many Elon Morehs", and its people came to feel at home in the corridors of power. As a result its extremism was muted. It stressed inside work rather than extra-parliamentary action. This role was not played calmly, but in a state of agitation in light of the non-application of Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. Still, the situation was not one that warranted illegal settlements, demonstrations and protests. On the other hand, the iceberg entered a very frosty period immediately after the signing of the Camp David accords. All of a sudden, the warm streams were diverted. Everything around froze and the sharpness of Gush Emunim became apparent, to the point of a terrible isolation.

What long-term empirical observation has revealed over the years is that Gush Emunim is not, as many tend to think, a fanatical group made up of a small number of people who after the Yom Kippur War were " smitten" by a messianic vision and parachuted out of the blue into a stunned Israeli society .Gush Emunim is the tip of a serious cultural and social iceberg which grew quietly over many years until circumstances shaped its extremist tip. For one who seeks to explain the tremendous political vitality of Gush Emunim a formal analysis of the history and ideology of the exposed portion of the iceberg — as was presented in the first part of this article — is not sufficient. One must proceed down towards the vast bulk of the iceberg that is hidden from view beneath the water's surface.

We have already noted that the leadership of Gush Emunim emerged almost exclusively from the Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav and was influenced by the teachings of Rabbi Kook as interpreted by his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda. No less important is the fact that most of the leaders of Gush Emunim came to Merkaz ha-Rav from the world of the so-called "knitted skullcaps", the Bnei Akiva youth movement, ha-Poel ha-Mizrahi and adherents of the notion of Torah va-Avodah (Torah and Labor — the founders of the Religious Kibbutz Movement which cooperated with its secular counterpart). It is important to note the spiritual underpinnings of these roots because the process under consideration pertains not only to Gush Emunim but also to one of the central transformations that have taken place in Israeli society, and which has not yet been adequately studied. Although there was no outright Kulturkampf in the fifties and sixties, there was nevertheless a power play in which the victors were the religious educational system and the subculture of ha-Poel ha-Mizrahi and the "knitted skullcaps" (Bnei Akiva). In contrast to the other sectors of the Zionist educational system, which in the course of being nationalized lost their normative character and underwent an astonishing dilution, the religious Zionists developed an educational system which created norms of life and behavior of the highest order for a quarter of the school population. Thus, the religious Zionist public was spared the general decline that beset the country's secular educational system, and indeed, may even have been consolidated by it. Around that educational system, totalistic life patterns were created for an entire public, which reinforced its religious life not only at home and in the synagogue, but also (for its children) in the neighborhood kindergarten, in the ulpanah (religious academy for girls) or yeshiva (religious academy for men).

Within this slow but massive cultural process of educational transformation emerged the unique revival of Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav. After the death of its founder, it fell into decline until the end of the 1950s when a new Bnei Akiva generation revitalized the old school. This new generation listened eagerly to the interpretations of the son of Rabbi Kook to the teaching of his father and infused it with nationalistic meaning. When the war of June 1967 broke out, these youngsters were ripe and ready to formulate a new religious Zionist ideology, but not however, before witnessing a unique, almost miraculous event.

On the eve of Independence Day, 1967, a group of graduates of the yeshiva met at Merkaz ha-Rav for an alumni get-together. As was his custom, the erstwhile Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook delivered a festive sermon, in the midst of which his quiet tone suddenly rose to crescendo, bewailing the partition of historic Eretz Israel. His faithful students were led to believe that this situation was intolerable and could not last for long. When three weeks later in June 1967 they discovered themselves to be citizens of an enlarged State of Israel, the graduates of Merkaz ha-Rav were convinced that a genuine spirit of prophecy had come over their rabbi on that Independence Day.

They, his faithful students, became holy emissaries equipped with unshakable confidence in the rightness of their mission and in the divine backing for their activity. At one stroke a flame was lit and the conditions were ripe for imparting to the entire subculture of the "knitted skullcaps" — the submerged part of the iceberg — the new political ideology of a greater Eretz Israel. Today it is clear that from being a social and spiritual subculture, most of the "knitted skullcap" community has become a public with a political consciousness. According to the new ideology, the historic Land of Israel must now pass into the hands of the Jewish people not only by military action but also by settlement and political activity — that is, by imposing Israeli sovereignty.

Not all the religious public was swept by the new spirit. The Religious Kibbutz Movement, for example, and its most prominent leaders have retained deep reservations about this revolution in thought. So too has the Oz ve-Shalom (Strength and Peace) movement of religious intellectuals, and presumably many others, including heads of yeshivot and rabbis. But it is clear today that between 1967 and 1973 most "knitted skullcaps" went through a process of "Eretz-Israelization." This ideological maximalization was not effected only by people from Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav. A sizable role was also played by the "Young Guard" of the NRP as well, of course, as the Greater Israel Movement.

The understanding of the full magnitude of the cultural transformation of the national religious bloc may help us in the original task we set for ourselves — the analytical explanation of Gush Emunim and its unprecedented effectiveness in Israeli politics. Thus instead of the common conception of the Gush as an isolated group of religious fanatics, who emerged from nowhere in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, the iceberg analogy and its empirical verification serves us better. It shows Gush Emunim as the tip of an iceberg that on a single issue — settlement — has become extra-parliamentary .

Of what use is the "iceberg model?" The answer is now clear — its ability to provide a proper answer to our central question about Gush effectiveness. This question can be broken down into four sub-questions: How did Gush Emunim manage to get so many participants for its attention-seeking or extra-parliamentary activities? How did Gush Emunim manage, and how does it continue to recruit members for its settlement core-groups? How did it manage to mobilize the considerable material resources required for its settlement effort? And finally, how did Gush Emunim manage to acquire so much political influence in the government, the Knesset and other executive bodies?

All this, it appears, can be explained by the firm tie existing between Gush Emunim's extra-parliamentary activists and the socio-cultural infrastructure associated with them. As for the large number of participants in attention-focusing activities — marches, mass demonstrations, or unauthorized settlements — it seems that they came from that same large pool comprised of the religious higher educational system, yeshiva high schools, religious academies for girls, Bnei Akiva yeshivot and yeshivot hesder. For years these youths have been educated in a specific belief-based world view. Quite a few of its rabbis and teachers — its spiritual authorities and identification models — passed through the Merkaz ha-Rav hothouse and others are waiting their turn to get there. Most of these youths did not in the past, and will not in the future, join the large operations of Gush Emunim by way of individual decision. They come as organized groups in organized transportation. At times they have done so on the explicit instructions of the director of the yeshiva, and at times because their absence from studies was considered legitimate. It is no accident that the large demonstrative activities of Gush Emunim and its settlement moves always took place during school holidays, when young people were free to attend these events.

The link with the educational institutions of the "knitted skullcap" culture and with other organizational networks affiliated with it also explains the question of the funding of Gush Emunim's large-scale operations. Many of its opponents have raised the question, very suspectly, about how a small and fanatical group could manage to raise the considerable funds needed for its activities. The question was especially relevant with regard to the repeated settlement attempts at Elon Moreh, when Gush Emunim acted in clear contravention of the government's decisions and managed to outwit whole army units as well as the Military Government. Gush people succeeded then in getting through large convoys of equipment and supplies without official assistance. The question disappears altogether the moment we realize that the Gush is not merely a fringe group but that underlying it is a vast and legal infrastructure which commands sizable official resources. It is now clear, for example, that most of the organized transport and equipment for the early operations were contributed by official institutions such as yeshivot, youth centers and settlements. They credited all of these expenses to their official budgets, without having to provide an accounting to anyone, or having to distinguish between their expenses for legal and illegal activities. Since Gush Emunim was recently recognized by the World Zionist Organization as a settlement movement, considerable funds have begun to stream to its settlements through this channel. These settlements were naturally not intended to finance illegal or anti-government activities, but when illegal operations do take place, nobody is in a position to distinguish them from legal ones.

Today nobody in Israel can prevent the large iceberg and its legal organizational and financial instruments — on both sides of the Green Line — from acting on behalf of Gush Emunim if and when its leaders decide on some illegal operation. Almost all the leaders and activists of Gush Emunim enjoy the legal status of settlers. The settlements in Judea and Samaria are consolidated in recognized frameworks, on the one hand Amana and on the other the Council of Settlements in Judea and Samaria. These are financed in one way or another by a long list of government agencies, and there is no chance that the state comptroller or any internal auditing body will require the settlements to distinguish between legal and illegal activities.

The next question concerns the manpower for the new settlements. Here it is not a matter of a large number of people for demonstrative acts, lasting a few days, but of the development of a deep commitment on behalf of groups, families and unattached individuals for the decisive act of settlement, or in classical Zionist language, of "self-fulfillment." Here Gush Emunim developed — or more precisely, continued — on the traditional Zionist course. After a few individuals, whose identification with the world view of Gush Emunim is total, formed a core group for settlement, they embarked on a campaign of persuasion. Using personal ties, inside information about potentially interested people, networks of social acquaintance, they always succeeded in recruiting people for their settlement groups. There is nothing to indicate that these resources have dried up, or that they will do so in the near future.

The iceberg model proves most apt in answering the fourth question raised earlier — namely, how did the Gush succeed in getting the government to decide in its favor, even at times when the heads of the government were infuriated with Gush activities and intransigence? This can be explained by the fact that not only is the "knitted skullcap" subculture the social and cultural base of Gush Emunim, but it is also an integral part of the social and political base of the NRP, which has been a senior partner in every coalition government to date. Hence, the NRP has neither been able in the past — nor can it now — alienate Gush Emunim in a definitive way, for that would spur the ideological estrangement of its own most distinguished young guard. The powerful impact of Gush Emunim on the infrastructure of the NRP is what accounts for its ability to influence the government. Nobody understands this better than the heads of Gush Emunim themselves, and this is the only explanation for the "Kadoum compromise.". This is also the logic that allowed the members of the Elon Moreh settlement to wear down the nerves of the LikUd government during their long passage to Mount Kabir. The option of using sheer physical force against Gush Emunim was practically never available to the Prime Minister. Any exercise of that option would have resulted in a major government crisis. No extremist movement in Israel's history has ever had such leverage with respect to the government, and that is why no such movement has ever even approached the achievements of Gush Emunim. Paradoxically, this also explains why there is little chance that Gush Emunim will become an adventuristic movement.

The existing delicate "iceberg" link between the extra-parliamentary superstructure and the legalistic base is twofold. If the activist Gush Emunim superstructure should take a radical anti-NRP turn, it risks cutting itself off from the large iceberg and that is not to its advantage. This was driven home just this last year, when several of the most prominent Gush Emunim leaders joined the Tehiya party, and there arose the genuine danger of drawing votes away from the NRP. Various yeshivot and other bodies suddenly began to shut their doors to Gush Emunim people. They suddenly felt that for reasons of dependence on NRP funding, part of the submerged iceberg was likely to drift away from them. The result today is a cooling off of Gush Emunim's ardor for the new party, and second thoughts about the whole matter. That is also the reason why it may be presumed that there is no chance that Gush Emunim, in its present configuration, will move en bloc in the direction of the fanatic extremism of Meir Kahane and his Kach movement.

The Future

In attempting to evaluate what path Gush Emunim will take in the future, we are struck by one outstanding fact. From any angle, the growth of this movement is a success story. Gush Emunim has known some moments of greatness and some of depression, but today, seven years after it was founded, its leadership has every reason to look back at its achievements with great satisfaction. It appears that their deep religious commitment would have driven them to the settlement of Judea and Samaria at any cost but success is a great catalyst for boosting self-confidence. Consequently, there is no chance whatever of Gush Emunim disappearing from the map of public activity in the coming years. The Gush today is not merely a movement deeply rooted in present-day Israeli political culture but it has also created a new reality for thousands of people who now live in Judea and Samaria, ready to protect it at virtually any price. For tactical reasons they may not affiliate themselves with the extremist Gush Emunim, but rather claim to be ordinary members of the legitimate settlements of Judea and Samaria. Intellectually, spiritually and ideologically, however, they will always remain Gush people.

Only one Gush Emunim move seems debatable: its decision to enter parliamentary electoral politics. When in the summer of 1980 some outstanding members of the Gush joined forces with other well-known Israeli rightists, creating the Tehiya (Revival) political party, they had a dream. They hoped that with Professor Yuval Ne'eman, Geula Cohen, Moshe Shamir, and other vociferous opponents of the Camp David accords they could create in the Knesset a massive opposition block capable of halting the "phony" peace process with Egypt. Not only would the new party force the issue of intensive settlement of the West Bank, but it would be instrumental in blocking the retreat from Sinai and in the destruction of the Autonomy Plan. They failed miserably. Altogether three members of Tehiya were elected, out of which only Hanan Porat happened to be a Gush Emunim man. As far as Gush Emunim is concerned the line of the non-parliamentary element of the movement {which strongly rejected the Tehiya project) proved right. Gush Emunim has executed its historical tour de force as an extra-parliamentary organization and a settlement movement

What is important, however, is that the last electoral failure neither reduced in any way the real strength of Gush Emunim nor damaged its potential political influence. Any Israeli government that tries to sever the link between these people and their settlements will find itself fiercely opposed, not only by Gush Emunim but also by the "iceberg" of its many supporters. These supporters may not have voted Tehiya in the last elections but they will not hesitate to rally around Gush Emunim"s flag in time of crisis. At best then, Gush Emunim will remain loyal to the present parliamentary system and its rules, but in the worst instance it will not hesitate to resort to extra-parliamentary action against a serious adversary. The deep cultural links of Gush Emunim members with the "knitted skullcap" iceberg and with the National Religious Party will make it difficult in the future, as it did in the past, to use military force against them, or even to apply strong political pressure. Anyone who deludes himself into thinking that it would be possible to bring about the collapse of Gush settlements by shutting off the flow of funds or resorting to similar means does not know whom he is dealing with.

Gush Emunim will thus inevitably play a role in any future process of war or peace, and become a dynamic permanent focus around which the maximalist territorial camp in Israel will crystallize. At present there are no indications that the Gush is likely to take a very adventurist path that would cut it off from the broad stratum of its supporters. There are however indications that it will continue to offer spiritual inspiration to large numbers of people. Of particular interest today is the next goal of Gush Emunim which is the effort to prevent, by a very decisive extra-parliamentary campaign, the evacuation of the town of Yamit and the Israeli settlements in the Rafiah Salient. There are many indications that this struggle may even cast a shadow on the Gush's "Golden Age" of illegal settlement. With Begin as prestigious Prime Minister and Ariel Sharon as Minister of Defense, Gush Emunim's total success seems highly unlikely. The struggle however will probably be very tortuous, perhaps even bloody.

Both the supporters and detractors of Gush Emunim are thus aware that it has become a fact of Israeli political life and that it is there to stay. If this implies that political life will henceforward contain a permanent extra-parliamentary element, then that is exactly what we want to imply. Gush Emunim has undoubtedly altered the rules of the game in Israeli politics and today it is included among the players. It thus appears that "pre-Gush" politics belong to the past, never to return. Though extra-parliamentary action was not introduced into Israeli politics by Gush Emunim, the Gush has greatly increased its role there and will hold the fore for a long time to come.

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About the Author

Ehud Sprinzak is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is now completing a book on the extra-parliamentary politics in Israel.




Sanctity of the Land of Israel

Revival of Zionism and Settlement

Attitude towards the Palestinian Question

Attitude towards the State and the Rule of Law

The Iceberg Model of Political Extremism
The Future
About the Author

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