from Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, 1999.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS in the Occupied Territories has primarily focused upon effects on Palestinians and the threat posed to peaceful resolution of conflict. From the prospective of Jewish fundamentalism the religious settlements should be viewed from three standpoints: their standing as citadels of messianic ideology, their present and potential influence upon Israeli society and their potential role as the nuclei of the new society that messianic leaders want to build.
Such discussion must be preceded by two comments concerning the settlements, as viewed by Israeli society. The first comment is that a great majority of Israeli citizens, represented by Knesset members, favor Israel's retaining all settlements. In early 1999, at least 100 of the 120 Knesset members, including all the Labor Party members, almost certainly support this position even though minor differences exist about the form of retention. All Arab Knesset members oppose retaining the settlements; hence the percentage of Jewish Knesset members in favor is still even greater than a mere counting might indicate. In Israeli Jewish society, nevertheless, a sharp popular difference in point of view about settlements still exists. Some small groups on the left oppose all settlements. More importantly, most Israeli Jews consider it normal that Jews live in some settlements but abnormal that Jews live in other settlements. This distinction is usually ignored outside Israel, especially in the Arab world.
The majority of Israeli Jews regard living in settlements in the "greater Jerusalem" area as normal. "Greater Jerusalem" is an Israeli urban and social term, not limited in meaning to the Green Line or to the municipal borders of Jerusalem, as established during the 1967 annexation. Living in "greater Jerusalem" means living in a place with bus connections adequate for Jews to travel by public transportation to Jerusalem for shopping or evening entertainment and to return home by midnight. In early 1999, more than 250,000 Israeli Jews, about 5 per cent of the total Israeli population, lived in "greater Jerusalem." The total population of all other West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights settlements is about 100,000. These 100,000 are not solidly grouped in a small area, closely connected with a big city, but are divided into many small settlements. Ariel, the largest West Bank settlement outside of "greater Jerusalem," for example, has about 15,000 inhabitants; Kiryat Arba has less than 6000; many settlements have about 100 inhabitants. These numbers show that the majority of Israeli Jews regard living in those settlements as abnormal and refuse to settle there. In spite of the money expended and the other forms of support by Israeli governments for so long a time period, only a small number of Jews have opted to live in settlements in the occupied territories outside of "greater Jerusalem."
In the settlements outside of "greater Jerusalem" another distinction, constantly made by the Israeli Jewish public, must be noted, Those settlements whose inhabitants are similar socially and politically to the majority secular segment of Israeli Jewish society have been and still are viewed differently than are those settlements whose inhabitants are mostly or totally religious Jews. (As previously stated only 20 per cent of all Israeli Jews are religious.) This is seen in Israeli election results, reported by the media about every four years for each locality, including each settlement. In the "greater Jerusalem" settlements, the voting pattern does not differ from the Jewish average behind the Green Line; in other secular settlements the pattern is almost the same with only a small tilt to the right. The Labor and Meretz parties regularly receive good percentages of the total vote. In the religious settlements, on the other hand, the inhabitants rarely even vote for Likud or other right-wing secular parties; they vote instead for religious parties and quite often only for the NRP. In Kiryat Arba in the 1992 elections, for example, the four largest secular partiesLabor, Likud, Mereti and Tsometreceived altogether less than 5 per cent of the vote. Nationally, those parties together received about 80 per cent of the national vote. In the 1996 election the Likud vote in Kiryat Arba rose to 24.4 per cent because of Netanyahu's promises; in the separate vote for prime minister that year Netanyahu received 96.3 per cent and Peres only 3.6 per cent. (In the national vote for prime minister that year Netanyahu received 50.1 per cent and Peres 49.3 per cent.) Beit El B is a typical smaller religious settlement in which Netanyahu received 99.6 per cent of the prime minister's vote in 1996 to only 0.3 per cent for Peres. In the Knesset election that same year in Beit El B, the NRP received 76.4 per cent and Moledet, the most right-wing party represented in the Knesset, with strong religious tendencies, received 14.5 per cent. Thus, NRP and Moledet, the two parties that garnered together 11 of the 120 Knesset seats or 9.1 per cent in 1996, received 90 per cent of the Beit El B vote. In contrast, in the secular settlement, Alfey Menashe, Netanyahu received 71.5 per cent and Peres 28.4 per cent of the vote.
The most exposed and isolated settlements are those inhabited by religious settlers. Although largely ignored by the media outside of Israel, this is a significant fact. In these exposed and isolated settlements, only religious messianic Jews are prepared to settle. To a greater extent, this has been the major reason why all Israeli governments have supported the religious messianic settlements regardless of how the inhabitants there have voted. Netzarim, situated in the middle of the Gaza Strip, is a good example of these settlements. To the north of Netzarim is Gaza City, to the south, some of the largest refugee camps. Each conglomeration has about 200,000 inhabitants. In mid 1998, Netzarim had about 120 religious messianic Jewish settler families. (At the time that the Oslo agreement was signed, Netzarim had almost 60 families.) Some of the adult males living in Netzarim spend most of their time studying Talmud. Near Netzarim is an army base that guards a military road crossing the Gaza Strip from east to west. This road, which according to the Oslo agreement is under exclusive Israeli control, cuts the Gaza Strip into two parts. The army base is strategic in controlling Gaza but is represented to the Israeli Jewish public and to the outside world as necessary to protect the settlement of Netzarim. Secular, traditional and/or Haredi Jews have not opted to settle in Netzarim and have given no indications of settling there in the future. Thus, the Israeli government, wishing to maintain the control of the road, must depend upon the messianic settlers who are ideologically dedicated to settle in such a place.
Settlements in the Occupied Territories can be correctly understood only within the context of overall Israeli strategy. The basic concept, held since 1967 by both Labor and Likud with different degrees of hypocrisy, has been to oppress Palestinians with maximum efficiency. Maximum efficiency includes minimal number of Jewish forces to achieve the specific purpose. The major idea is that well-trained Jewish soldiers should to the greatest extent possible be reserved for any major war with one or more of the Arab states. Soon after acquiring the Occupied Territories in June, 1967, the Israeli government seriously considered the "Jordanian option." This idea was that Jordanian forces would come to the West Bank to do the necessary job for Israel. The government of Jordan, however, refused to agree to this plan. Hence, the government of Israel then devised and instituted the "village leagues," composed of local Palestinians who effectively ruled the West Bank for some years with only slight support of the Israeli army. The Intifada broke the "village leagues." Both the "Jordanian option" and the "village leagues" concepts were devised for the same purpose as was the Oslo process in the 1990s. Prime Minister Rabin clearly explained that this purpose was to have Palestinians ruled on Israelis' behalf by their own people. This was to be accomplished without interference from human right organizations and without Israeli legal hindrances to the arbitrary will of the conquest regime. The Israeli army, according to this thinking, would be free to concentrate upon its grand military strategy.
Israeli strategy regarding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the period after Oslo was and still is based upon settlements being the foci of Israeli military power. This strategy can best be described by considering the Gaza Strip, where the geography is much clearer than in the West Bank. The Gaza Strip, as clearly seen on published maps, is criss-crossed by military roads. In keeping with the Cairo Accords, these military roads remain under exclusive Israeli jurisdiction and are patrolled by the army, either jointly with Palestinian police or separately. The Israeli army has the legal right to close any section of these roads to Palestinian traffic, even if the section is within an area ruled by the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli army uses this right routinely either when a convoy on route to a settlement is passing or when a decision is made to embarrass the Palestinian Authority. One of these roads, the Gaza City bypassing road, traverses the length of the Strip, carefully bypassing the main cities and refugee camps. Another military road, joined to a strip of land, cuts off the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Other roads traverse the Gaza Strip from the Israeli border on its east side to the sea or to the Jewish settlement block (Qatit) on the west. One such road, the Netzarim road, meets the Gaza City bypassing road at Netzarim, thus rendering Netzarim a strategically important crossroad. Shortly after the signing of the Oslo Accord, the Israeli Hebrew press reported that large forces of the border guards and the army were stationed near Netzarim where a new base had been constructed for them. The official status of Netzarim allowed Israel to do this legally and to acquire the support of that part of the Israeli Jewish public that is more devoted to settlements than to army bases. As the well-known commentator Nahum Bamea quipped: "Had a Netzarim not existed, it would have been invented."
The overall effect of all these roads is that the Gaza Strip is sliced into enclaves controlled by the bypassing roads. The role of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip is to serve as pivots of the road grid. This is devised to ensure more effectual perpetual Israel control. This new form of control, labelled "control from the outside" by Rabin and other Labor politicians, allows the army to dominate the Gaza Strip with only a minor expenditure of forces. This is far preferable to the former situation in which huge control presence had to be expended for direct patrolling of cities and refugee camps of the Gaza Strip. The Hebrew press has continually referred to the earlier form of control as the "control from the inside" and has emphasized that it was less effective and required more forces than the "control from the outside." Changing from inside to outside control continues to depend upon the grid of roads which in turn depends upon settlements such as Netzarim. As already stated but worth repeating, only religious Jews who believe in messianic ideology have been willing to establish and live in such settlements.
The situation in the West Bank, outside the greater Jerusalem, is geographically more complicated than the Gaza Strip but is essentially based upon the same principles of "control from the outside." This control is centered upon a grid of roads whose foci are the settlements. A few settlements were founded for sentimental reasons. Ariel Sharon, wanting to provoke the United States Secretary of State James Baker during his visits to Israel in 1991 and 1992, helped establish these few settlements. Small groups of fundamentalist Jews, even more extreme than Gush Emuriim, also helped establish these small settlements. Although given prominent media coverage, these settlements remained relatively insignificant, representing only a small proportion of all the settlements. Settlements, such as Kiryat Arba and the separate Jewish settlement in Hebron, have been supported by all Israeli governments primarily for strategic reasons. Although at times creating smokescreens by making insulting comments about settlers, Prime Minister Rabin from the time of the Oslo agreement until his death strengthened most of the settlements, especially those in the West Bank. Yossi Beilin, one of the chief architects of the Oslo agreement, repeatedly reassured the Israeli public that the Labor government had not abandoned the settlers. Beilin, as reported in Maariv on September 27, 1995, rebutted accusations made by Likud members of Knesset:
Their most ridiculous accusation is that we have abandoned the settlers. The Oslo Accord was delayed for months to guarantee that all the settlers would remain intact and that the settlers would have maximum security. This entailed making an immense financial investment in them. The situation in the settlements has never been better than that created following the Oslo Accord.
Even more important is that the Labor government had an opportunity to remove the Hebron settlers, or at least a part of them, in the period of shock after Goldstein's massacre. The Labor government refrained from doing so. In his August 18, 1995 Davar article, Daniel Ben-Simon revealed the following about discussion of the issue in Prime Minister Rabin's office: "The heads of all Israeli security services opposed the evacuation of Hebron's settlers." Such opposition underlined the settlements' strategic importance and the dependence of both the Israeli government and army upon the messianic settlers.
The messianic ideology, described in the prior chapter, and the many pronouncements of messianic rabbis and lay leaders show that the aim of Gush Emunim, unlike the aim of Israeli governments, is not limited to the strategic value of utilizing settlements to keep control of the Occupied Territories. The more important aim of Gush Emunim leaders is to create in their homogeneous settlements models of a new society. They hope this new society will spread until it finally absorbs the secular, traditional and Haredi Jewish population of the state of Israel into the collective Jewish identity that they envision. This identity will, they believe, be the religious, ethnocentric, anti-liberal and anti-universalist society ordered by God. In attempting to conceptualize their plan, Gush Emunim leaders can tolerate democracy only so long as it helps to create the divine Jewish kingdom. They believe that any values not consistent with Jewish values, as established by the Halacha and Cabbala, should be suppressed. Human and civil rights, as well as the concept of statehood, should be established by a specified divinely inspired group of rabbis. These views became more widely acceptable in Israeli society, especially among NRP members, after the October 1973 war. In that war secular Israeli militarism suffered a defeat. The widely perceived failure of generals led to the formation of an esoteric elite that supposedly derived its knowledge from a higher source than mere strategic considerations. Some of the leading generals in that war were regarded as hedonists who were careless with the military affairs entrusted to them; Gush Emunim rabbis and lay leaders appeared to many Israeli Jews to be endowed with dedication, a sense of mission, moral superiority, strict honesty in financial affairs and a sense of their own certitude. This characterization, similar to that of Hamas leaders in Palestinian society, continued thereafter. Gush Emunim leaders have remained dedicated to their principles and are financially honest. In a society pervaded by many kinds of corruption, this is most important. Gush Emunim has been and still is endowed, moreover, with a territorial base of its own, replete with dedicated followers who can expertly handle weapons and execute military operations.
The power of Gush Emunim increased significantly between 1974 and 1992. In addition to its own members it acquired a periphery of supporters with varying degrees of commitment. Perhaps its greatest achievement after 1974 was its ability to influence Israeli Jewish culture and collective identity during a period when ethnocentric ideas rose to the fore in Israeli society. Most of the political right wing, as well as many Labor Party supporters, remained sympathetic to Gush Emunim so long as Palestinians in the territories remained relatively docile. This situation lasted until the outbreak of the Intifada in December 1987. Before the Intifada, many Israeli Jews felt that the control of Palestinians from the inside was not too costly and was bearable. Hence, many secular Israeli Jews felt that they could afford to support the Gush Emunim version of the conquest rather than the Moshe Dayan version, which prevailed until 1974 and was based upon cooperation with conservative Palestinian notables. Cooperation with the traditional Palestinian notables made it unnecessary to keep large Israeli forces inside the areas densely inhabited by Palestinians. Because the notables were alienated by the settling and by the resultant confiscation of land in those areas, "village leagues" were invented as a substitute for the traditional forces. The Intifada showed that this prop was only of temporary value. The settling of the Gaza Strip and the remainder of the West Bank began in 1975 when Rabin for the first time was prime minister and Peres was the defense minister in charge of the territories. These two architects of the so-called peace process of the 1990s were largely responsible for one of the major factors preventing peace.
The onslaught of the Intifada changed sentiment within Israeli Jewish society. The Israeli government deployed more Israeli soldiers in the territories. This caused many secular Israeli Jews to reconsider the costs involved in occupying the territories. Many of these Jews concluded that the cost was unwarranted. A new situation in Israeli society then developed and continued thereafter. The coalition of messianists and their various supporters, all ethnocentric to some extent, joined together and formed one camp. The other camp consisted of a politically and socially heterogeneous group of people, united in opposition to the type of Jewish theocracy that they saw as the inevitable consequence of the continued support of Gush Emunim and its settlements. The continuing Israeli domination of the Occupied Territories, dictated to some extent by Gush Emunim, developed into a major issue in the struggle between these two Israeli Jewish camps.
The rapid organization of Gush Emunim settlers boosted the expansion and power of religious settlements after 1974. The rabbis who became and remained the dominant leaders of the Gush Emunim settlers in 1991, organized themselves into the Association of Judea and Samaria Rabbis. The group was founded after President Bush of the United States pressured the Shamir government to participate in the Madrid Conference. Lay settler leaders were afraid of what might develop at the Madrid Conference. As Dov Albaum wrote in the January 7, 1994 issue of Yerushalaim: "The rabbis, trusting in the divine promise, took advantage of that situation by filling the leadership vacuum." The power of the rabbinical association increased after the Oslo agreement. Albaum continued his analysis by quoting Daniel Shilo, the rabbi of tht Kedunim messianic settlement:
The Judea and Samaria rabbis are now solving the gravest problems the religious settlers face when they begin to lose faith in the Jewish settlement of Judea and Samaria, as ordered by God, to be an instrument of the Jewish redemption. Jews who lack faith even begin to ponder whether the whole idea of settlement in the territories might not be fundamentally wrong or whether the process of divine redemption is not in its retrogression stage or whether the Almighty is not trying to signal to us to halt the settling. In such a time rabbis have the obligation to provide the answers. This is why we rabbis have more power than any conceivable lay Gush Emunim authority.
The rabbis used this power to emphasize that their followers were obligated to have faith in them. This is often disguised as having faith in God.
Albaum further observed:
The Judea and Samaria rabbis are not satisfied with being vested only with spiritual power. They began developing their own intelligence network, which quickly became extensive, using information gathered from religious or otherwise sympathetic officers of the Israeli army's high command. General Moshe Bar-Kochba, a member of the General Staff who recently died after retiring from the army, was named by the Judea and Samaria rabbis as one of their major informants. Bar-Kochba allegedly informed the rabbis regularly and in advance about the plans for army operations in the territories. Upon learning about his actions, other officers followed in his footsteps. Thereupon, the army command, in order to gain access to the real leadership of the religious settlers, decided to regularize those relations and to inform the rabbis officially about its operations. A battalion commander, for example, did not hesitate to dress a local settlement rabbi in army uniform, take him to a look-out post and identify to him the undercover soldiers operating in local Arab villages. [The commander hoped] that he would thus convince the Judea and Samaria rabbis to stop blocking the major highways and thereby obstructing the unit's movements. This was not an isolated instance. The heads of the Judea and Samaria Settlement Council, comprised of religious laymen, now confront a rabbinical council of what is effectively a kingdom of Judea, which arose before their eyes. The council of laymen derives some consolation from its solid connections with government agencies. Rabin, whose top priority interest is to reach a dialogue with religious settlers, keeps summoning the Judea and Samaria Council members for intimate talks. He cannot have the same contact with the kingdom of Judea rabbis, because they consider it demeaning to address a sinner like him. They also know that the lay council members would not dare to make a major decision without first obtaining their blessing.
The Oslo process shocked Gush Emunim rabbis and lay settlers. This occurred in spite of the great material support for settlements that Gush Emunim received in the 1990s from Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu. A few messianic rabbis offered explanations for the occurrence of Oslo and attempted to console their flock about the process, but they met with almost no success. Religious symbolism, especially appearing in apocalyptic forms, blocked acceptance. The sight of Palestinians waving their flags, the appearance of armed Palestinian police and the proliferating symbols of the Palestinian Authority constituted visible evidence for the failure of the messianic vision of quick redemption. This in turn deepened the hatred of "Jewish traitors," whose treason allegedly spoiled God's plan and influenced the majority of Jews to disregard the divine command and to follow the traitors. This hatred, directed mostly at Rabin and his ministers, was consistent with the Cabbala, which held that the redemption of the Jews had almost occurred at various times only to be prevented each time because a majority of the nation opted to follow a heretic or a traitor. In Jewish history those who have most strongly believed in the coming victory of redemption have also most strongly harbored feelings of betrayal. After Oslo such people were mostly concentrated in the religious settlements.
Hatred of Arabs and secular Jews has not been solely limited to members of religious settlements. In his March 11, 1994 article, published in Shishi, Nerri Horowitz focused upon another group of extremists, called Hardelim.1 Horowitz analysed Hardelim's "twofold hatred of Arabs and secular Jews" and presented documentation in the form of quotations from their copious and abstruse literature, filled with cabbalistic references. Although esoteric, the literature of the Hardelim has influenced a majority of religious Jews. (A minority of religious Jews have opposed the Hardelim advocacy.)
Nadav Shraggai presented a more popular description of this "twofold hatred" ideology in his February 18, 1994 Haaretz article. Shraggai pointed to the renunciation by some religious settlers and other religious Jews of the traditional prayer for the State of Israel, which was never accepted by the Haredim but said by NRP followers on every sabbath and religious holiday since 1948. Shraggai noted that some religious Jews who had previously recognized the State of Israel as holy renounced this prayer and the holiness of the state; they became convinced that the government and therefore the state, in accepting Oslo, had "betrayed its sacred mission." After concluding that Rabin and his ministers were traitors, the messianists viewed as particularly offensive the following words of the prayer: "O, God, radiate your light and truth upon Israel's leaders, ministers and advisers." Shraggai correctly insisted that his analysis focused upon the relatively moderate antagonists. These moderates contented themselves with intense ideological debate but did not, as did the extremists, plan and engage in murder and other violent acts. Shraggai wrote:
The personal, ideological and religious crisis in which the national-religious Jewish community in Israel has found itself, generated doubts about the very foundations of religious Zionism: namely its historic alliance with secular Zionism and its wholehearted acceptance of the State of Israel. In the past that alliance revolved around the perception that the secular State of Israel was the first stage in the process of redemption. At present, even the moderates question this assumption. These doubters do not have much in common with radicals like the admittedly marginal Yehuda Etzion of the Jewish Underground who opposes any Jewish state that is not a monarchy ruled by the Davidic dynasty, or Mordechai Karpel, the founder of the Jewish Nation Exists for Eternity movement, which also wants to turn Israel into a theocratic monarchy.
Shraggai noted that several influential rabbis, including Azri'el Ariel who eulogized the assassin Goldstein, led the "moderates." Shraggai quoted Rabbi Ariel:
The religious settlements were established not only to create facts on the ground but also to affect the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. We believed that, by encountering the holy parts of the land as if they were alive, the hearts of the Jewish masses would be united with the heart of the land. We envisaged the process as reconnecting the national Jewish consciousness with its spiritual roots.
Rabbi Ariel further opined:
For a majority of Jews the settlements have failed to restore that sacred linkage. The majority of Jews have renounced the Jewish roots present in their souls, profaning themselves by [committing the] sin of choosing the so-called "morality" of Westem culture instead of their own moral values. In the state of that grave sin their hearts have remained unaffected by the land of Israel ... We now have to build the sacred and observant community from within. Let us stop looking out. Let us stop to seek paths [that lead] to the hearts of our sinning Jewish brethren. One day, those who have effectively abandoned the Jewish religion will find their dreams shattered. They will become afflicted by a sense of emptiness. After having faltered on every path, they will come to seek us. Until then our role will consist of raising a generation of the truly chosen and holy ones, a generation capable of receiving Jewish repentant sinners with open arms.
In presenting his argument, Rabbi Ariel did not mention Palestinians. Although presumably realizing that Palestinians on all sides surround their sacred and observant communities, Rabbi Ariel and others like him have consistently considered irrelevant the existence of Palestinians; they have concerned themselves with secular Jewish Zionists. Shraggai quoted Ariel: "Historic Zionism has reached its end in bankruptcy ... The real Zionism, the holy one with profound roots, exists only where the really religious Jews are living; in the mountains of Judea and the valleys of Samaria. "
In his article Shraggai additionally quoted the articulate settlement rabbi, Yair Dreyfus. Maintaining that Israel was committing spiritual apostasy by making an agreement with the PLO, Rabbi Dreyfus argued further that the finalization of that agreement would "mark the end of the Jewish-Zionist era in the sacred history of the land of Israel." Dreyfus, as quoted by Shraggai, continued:
Historians will record that the Jewish-Zionist era lasted from 1948 to 1993. It ended when most Jews had turned into Canaanites. Hence, 1993 marks the beginning of the new Canaanite era ... in that era of sin Jewish political thought, cultural-educational thought included, will be polluted by a speedy Arabization. The Jewish left will continue its treacherous practices of dismissing Jews from key posts and replacing them with Arabs. This will be done in the government, broadcasting authority, land authority, editorial boards of newspapers and boards of university directors. Every important position will be filled by an Arab.
Although his predictions were not fulfilled after 1993, Rabbi Dreyfus has remained steadfast in his belief about the new Canaanite era. For him pollution apparently often resulted when Jews had contact with Gentiles. Rabbi Dreyfus accused secular Jews of "wanting to create a new Israeli-Canaanite personality and thus destroying authentic Judaism by blending it with alien elements." He feared that this new personality would eliminate Jewish-Zionist motivation. He accused the Meretz Party of blending Communism into it and by this process polluting Zionism. This blend, Dreyfus contended, "has begotten the seed for growth of a new Middle Eastern ethnicity: the Canaanite-Palestinian pseudo-Jews." He concluded:
The true Jews, desirous to live as Jews, will have no choice but to separate themselves in ghettos. The new, sinful Canaanite-Palestinian state [Israel after Oslo] will soon be established upon the ruins of the genuine Jewish-Zionist state. It will not be, as Israel was expected to become by being true to the word of God, a foundation of God's throne on earth. God may even make war against this polluted throne of his. The Jews who lead us into that sin no longer deserve any divine protection. We must fight those who separated themselves from the true Israel. They have declared a war against us, the bearers of the word of God. Our leadership will walk a Via Dolorosa before it understands that we are commanded to resist the state of Israel, not just its present government. Our cooperation with its agencies can only be based upon a new covenant. Without it, we are going to surrender supinely to a government of sin. Instead of doing so, we shall pursue a merciless struggle against the Canaanite-Palestinian entity.
By expressing his opinions openly and forcefully, Rabbi Dreyfus both represented and influenced the thinking of most religious settlers before and after the Rabin assassination. Notwithstanding the hostility to Christianity existent in historical Judaism and religious Zionism, the parallels here to specific Christian theological formulations are conspicuous.
For secular Israeli Jews, the most important NRP and religious settler issue has revolved around the penetration of young NRP followers into the combat and elite units of the army and its officer corps. For nearly twenty-five years after the June 1967 war, this penetration on balance enhanced the image and importance of the NRP in Israeli society; a kind of partnership between the NRP and the secular majority emerged. The initiation of the Oslo process, however, provoked some rethinking by many secular Jews and raised some tough issues. The Rabin assassination heightened apprehension of and aroused fears about the NRP's penetration into the military. All of this occurred because of the strong military character of Israeli Jewish society. This character developed not only because Jewish males serve in the military for at least three years,2 but also because they, after finishing their time of duty, continue serving as reservists for one month each year until the age of fifty-four. The fact that about one-half of all Israeli Jewish females serve in the military for at least two years additionally contributes to the shaping of this character. Those who serve in the combat and/or elite units or as pilots enjoy tremendous social prestige when they leave the service and often are able to exert political influence. The political weakness of religious parties, especially the NRP, before 1967 was directly related to the relative absence of religious soldiers in combat and elite units of the army. This situation changed slowly after 1967. When Gush Emunim appeared in 1975, its lay leaders and especially its rabbis began educating and inspiring young NRP followers to adopt the military profession as a religious duty, to join the combat and elite units of the army and to become officers. Young NRP followers became dedicated, disciplined and efficient soldiers, ready, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives for their country. The army high command and a large segment of the Israeli Jewish population welcomed this development with positive enthusiasm. The NRP thus earned public appreciation, just as the kibbutz movement had done previously, because of the excellent military performances of its young members.
The Oslo process initiated a change in the almost unqualified admiration of Gush Emunim and the NRP. Fears arose that NRP followers in the army might refuse to carry out government orders for Israeli withdrawals from parts of the occupied territories and/or for the removal of one or more Jewish settlements. The fears expanded following the Rabin assassination. Even before the assassination, Baruch Kimmerling, in his April 6, 1994 Haaretz article, reflected a bit of the early apprehension and fear. He discussed the increasing penetration of the Israeli army by religious zealots and the powerful influence of the religious settlers upon units stationed in the territories. Kimmerling concluded: "Now it is all important that the army's command sees to it that every army unit is supervised. Perhaps those officers and even entire units, which were for too long involved in negotiations with the religious settlers and in protecting them and which have in the process developed too much affinity with them, should be instantly disbanded." Kimmerling regarded his recommendation as only a stop-gap solution. The army high command did not accept and most of the attentive public ridiculed the recommendation at that time. Kimmerling recognized that "in the long range" the problem that had arisen would be insoluble without a deep change in society. He wrote: "On the one hand, it is difficult to see how the army, having a significant number of officers adhering to ideology of religious settlers, could evacuate a Jewish settlement. On the other hand, I find it difficult to imagine how the Israeli army could be ideologically purified."
Worth noting here are the two unique schemes devised for young NRP followers in an organized fashion to serve in and penetrate the combat and elite units. The first scheme was formulated as an arrangement, not governed by law, between two independent parties: the Israeli defense ministry and the rabbinical heads of the NRP's Hesder Yeshivot religious schools. According to this arrangement, Hesder Yeshivot students receive a special kind of draft service. They are not inducted into the army in the normal way and thus do not serve continuously for three years in units assigned by the army according to its needs. The regular army units almost always consist of soldiers holding differing religious and secular views. The Hesder Yeshivot students instead are inducted into the army as a group and serve in their own homogeneous companies, accompanied by their rabbis who are responsible for and watch over the students' "religious purity." They serve for eighteen months rather than for the full three years. The eighteen-month period is not continuous but is rather divided into three six-month periods. After each period of army service, the Hesder Yeshivot students leave the army for a six-month period of talmudic study in a yeshiva wherein the presumably negative influences of having met secular Jewish soldiers are supposedly countered. The Hesder Yeshivot soldiers continue to serve in reserve units under the usual conditions. The political pressure exerted by Gush Emunim and the sympathy for its members felt by army generals in the 1970s were partly responsible for this special arrangement. The major reason for its continuation, however, is the excellent military quality and record of Hesder Yeshivot students. Their performance is far above the average of those in the Israeli army and their dedication is even greater. Not only the generals but also other soldiers hold this view. During the three years of the Lebanon War (1982-85) and in the aftermath of fighting in the "security zone," for example, Hesder Yeshivot students continued fighting and winning even after a high proportion of Israeli soldiers had been wounded and killed. Soldiers in Hesder Yeshivot units also distinguished themselves during the suppression of the Intifada; they were noted for their cruelty to Palestinians, which was from many perspectives much more severe than the Israeli army average. The homogeneous composition of Hesder Yeshivot companies of soldiers is another reason for the continuation of the special arrangement. When the army commanding officers have wanted to inflict especially cruel punishment upon Palestinians or others, they have most often relied upon and used religious soldiers. In more ordinary companies, consisting of soldiers holding varying political views, some members might object to illegal cruelty and even inform media people of its use. In Hesder Yeshivot units the religious soldiers, who are anyway more cruel than most secular Jews, will not object to the orders.3
From 1996, when indications appeared that membership in the Hesder Yeshivot had stopped increasing and may have begun to decrease, the religious pre-military academy scheme became the chief means of organized penetration by NRP supporters into the Israeli army. By this arrangement the young men, usually eighteen years of age, who enter religious pre-military academies are given draft deferments for one or one and one-half years of study. Afterwards, they serve for three years in ordinary combat or elite units. This is in contrast to serving, as do Hesder Yeshivot students, in homogeneous companies or units. The teachers in these academies are for the most part not rabbis but rather ex-officers who possess some talmudic knowledge. Only a small amount of the teaching is devoted to military subjects and training in hiking and endurance. Most of the teaching and study time is devoted to those parts of the Talmud and other religious literature that inculcate dedication to the land of lsrael and to other values favored by Gush Emunim. The ascetic pre-military academy life is attractive to religious youth who are often in reaction against the hedonistic life style of secular Israeli youth. Since their inception the pre-military academies have been situated in settlements in the Occupied Territories. The army has from the beginning subsidized these academies to some extent, but the major part of the support money has come from private donors. Most graduates of these pre-military academies are well prepared and advance to the officer corps. Persuaded that the Israeli army is sacred, those who come out of these academies almost always serve their full three-year terms. Some serve for a much longer time and become career officers.
After the Rabin assassination, many Israelis began to view the increasing number of NRP followers in the army as a threat to the government and to the Israeli regime as a whole. Ran Edelist summarized this concern well in his September 13, 1996 article in the Hebrew-language newspaper Yerushalaim, titled "First We Shall Conquer the Supreme Court and Then the General Staff." The title of this article suggests the desire to penetrate and conquer the most important institutions of the State of lsrael. In discussing the general aims of the messianic religious right, of which the religious settlers are the advance guard, Edelist wrote:
Their institutions have the stamina of a long-distance runner since they believe in the eternal survival of the Jewish nation; in this framework they prepared four approaches for the battle of the land of Israel: settlements, financial support, education and promotion of their men in the army to achieve domination of a future General Staff. This is not a conspiracy but a cool estimate of a national situation in their struggle for a future image of Israeli society and a sophisticated use of an opportunistic government, enabling them to fill their budgets. It is not a case of good and bad but a struggle about the character of the State of Israel. The religious right wing uses the legitimate approach of conquering positions of power of which the General Staff is central. It may be said that since the inception of Israel the secret slogan of Israeli politicians was "we shall conquer first the security apparatus and then the Knesset and government." Ben-Gurion did this when he pushed out Sharett and Lavon. Golda Meir's slogan was "the party is everything," and since her time the Labor party has ruled in the General Staff. This rule was so absolute that Begin and Shamir, during the time that they were prime ministers, did not succeed in shaking this and forming another General Staff that would be influenced by their ideology.
Understanding Israeli politics, the religious settlers devised and evolved their plan of penetrating the army, its officer corps and ultimately the General Staff. As Edelist wrote:
The religious settlers understood that with the help of only party politics and their ideology they would not get far and would not achieve a State of lsrael in the borders promised by God. If they therefore want to be represented in every place in which the important decisions are made, especially in the army as a whole and particularly in the General Staff, they must be represented in such places. First the aim and then the means to achieve that end were decided.
The Hesder Yeshivot and the religious pre-military academies became those means.
Other Israeli political observers and commentators seconded Edelist's analysis. In his January 24, 1997 Haaretz article, titled "The Army of the Lord," Yidan Miller, for example, described the views of Dr. Reuven Gal, who served as the chief psychologist of the Israeli army between 1976 and 1982 and then became the director of the highly respected Karmel Institute for Military and Social Research. Dr. Gal, according to Miller, summarized the data about volunteering to serve in combat units from 1994 through 1996 and compared them with corresponding data of 1989. Dr. Gal reported that whereas 60 per cent of secular youth in 1989 wanted to serve in combat units, the average for the 1993 to 1996 period dropped to 48 per cent. Most of that decline occurred in 1995 and 1996. The decline was greatest in the secular kibbutzim, localities with large leftist majorities. The drop was from 83 per cent in 1989 to 58 per cent in the 1993 to 1996 period. In comparison, among the religious youth the wish to volunteer to combat units remained constant at about 80 per cent during the same time. In religious kibbutzim, the figure went to 90 per cent. Before the Oslo agreement a large majority of religious youth entering the army considered a commander's order to be superior to any instruction from a rabbi. This had changed by 1996. Citing Dr. Gal's summary, Miller wrote: "For a significant part of them [the religious youth] instruction by a rabbi had an equal and sometimes superior value than did an order from a commander."
Publication of such findings disturbed many secular Jews. They attempted to acquire for their youth opportunities for army careers similar to those afforded religious youth. They advocated the establishment of secular pre-military academies. During the first two years of the Netanyahu government, however, when the Oslo process stagnated, the numbers of secular youth who volunteered to serve in combat units increased to a point unparalleled since the 1970s. This adversely affected the attempted penetration into the army of the messianic religious right. Comprising only 6 to 7 per cent of the Israeli Jewish population,4 the messianic religious right depended for its penetration upon the absence of motivation of other Jews to serve in combat units.
Following Netanyahu's election in 1996, two factors motivated more Israeli Jewish youth to volunteer for combat units. The rising level of Arab hostility to Israel and to its elected government constituted the first factor. Some Arab leaders issued war threats. Most of Israel's Jewish youth considered all of this unjustified and responded in the traditional Israeli manner by advocating increased militarism. The second factor arose from the perception that Netanyahu 's government was a new coalition of Jewish minorities, which as never before in the history of the state has allowed those previously excluded from important social opportunities and advancements to succeed. For the first time in Israeli history the defense minister and the chief of staff were Oriental Jews. The older, Labor-sympathizing elite members of the army opposed those appointments. This most likely encouraged young Israeli Jewish males who were not from Ashkenazi Labor-supporting families to seek careers as army officers. Most of these and other such young men previously thought that they would not be allowed to become career officers. Among the lower-income class of Israeli Jews an army career with its relatively high salaries is prestigious as well as economically attractive. Except for computer experts, doctors and other highly educated specialists, the way to a good career is to serve in a combat unit.
Ironically, the collapse of the detested Oslo process adversely affected the religious settlers in their attempt to penetrate the Israeli army and in that way to achieve a commanding influence over Israeli policies. During most of the time that the Oslo process continued under the Rabin and Peres governments, the religious settlers' chances of penetrating the army increased. The religious settlers' chances of determining specific Israeli policies decreased after Netanyahu and Likud came to power in 1996. Perhaps, this development provides us with an example of what is sometimes the fate of fanaticism: the fanatic group thrives when it perceives itself to be in danger or threatened by other parts of its own society. Conversely, when faced by a society that has become unified against what is believed to be an outside threat, the fanatic group is less able to penetrate major institutions such as the army and to influence long-range policy.
1. Hardelim is an acronym of two Hebrew words that translated into English are "Haredi-nationalist" and "mustard-like."
2. Some religious Jews acquire religious study deferments and are excused from military service.
3. After the Rabin assassination, Hesder Yeshivot colleagues of the assassin, Yigal Amir, told members of the press how Amir beat Palestinians in the worst manner. They did not disguise the fact that all members of their unit beat Palestinians more than did soldiers in regular units.
4. All NRP members do not adhere to the messianic religious right-wing trend.