Gush Emunim: The Politics of Zionist Fundamentalism in Israel by Ehud Sprinzak

Gush Emumin

The Politics of Zionist Fundamentalism in Israel


Ehud Sprinzak

published by

The American Jewish Committee

Institute of Human Relations 1986
ISBN 0-87495-076-1


One reason why peace in the Middle East has proved so elusive is that the principal parties have to deal with both external and internal obstacles.

In the first instance, and at the very least, peace between the Arabs and Israel requires that Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the palestinians accept a settlement that includes Arab recognition of Israel's legitimacy. Thus far the Palestine Liberation Organization has refused that recognition, and King Hussein of Jordan declares that he cannot negotiate with Israel without Palestinian partners. A credible alternative Palestinian leadership prepared to negotiate with Israel has not yet crystallized. Lebanon Is torn by civil war and abrogated a draft agreement with Israel under pressure from Syria. Syrian and Soviet hostility to Israel, as well as inter-Arab and superpower rivalries, also playa part in this complicated situation.

But all the parties, including Israel, must also deal with internal obstacles to a peace settlement. In the Arab world, peacemakers risk assassination at the hands of extremists of varied stripes—political and sectarian fanatics sometimes supported and directed by foreign governments.

In Israel, the government requires a majority of the Knesset (the democratically elected parliament) to approve the terms of any peace treaty affecting the West Bank and Gaza, territories captured by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967. The partners in the current Government of National Unity, the Labor Party and the Likud, differ sharply in their readiness to make territorial concessions. And the situation is now complicated by the rise of an ominous new phenomenon in Israeli politics—a religious nationalist movement determined to block any exchange of territory in the biblical Land of Israel for peace.

Spearheading this movement is Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful). Although Gush Emunim was unable to prevent the return of the Sinai to Egypt in 1979 under the peace treaty concluded by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, it has attracted powerful allies in its opposition to Israeli withdrawal from any portion of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Indeed, while Begin did not regard the Sinai as part of the biblical Land of Israel, he and his Likud Government opposed the re-establishment of Arab sovereignty over any part of the territory west of the Jordan River.

Mr. Begin's successor as leader of the Likud, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, adheres to the same policy. Mr. Shamir is slated to become Prime Minister in October 1986 under the rotational agreement concluded with Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the leader of the Labor Alignment, which has traditionally favored a territorial compromise with Jordan on the West Bank. Any peace proposal calling for territorial concessions is thus certain to split the Government of National Unity.

In the fierce public debate now raging in Israel, Gush Emunim continues to play a crucial role. It has not limited itself to rhetoric but has, from its inception, undertaken practical actions to build new settlements and create a political infrastructure in the West Bank that will ensure continued Jewish rule in all of what they regard as the divinely promised Land of Israel.

The present timely study by Dr. Ehud Sprinzak examines the creation and emergence of Gush Emunim as a political force on the Israeli scene, its religious and ideological roots, its social and cultural base, its method of operation, its attitude to the Muslim and Christian Arabs in the occupied territories, and its actual and potential impact on the political process in Israel and the prospects for peace.

George E. Gruen, Ph.D.
Director, Israel and Middle East Affairs

A New Political Force

On April 27, 1984, Kol Yisrael, the Israel broadcasting service, announced the discovery of a plot to blow up six Arab buses during a crowded rush hour. In the following week, more than 20 Israelis suspected of forming an anti-Arab terrorist network were arrested. It was soon disclosed that the suspects had been responsible for an attempt to assassinate the Arab mayors of three West Bank cities in 1980, a murderous attack on the Islamic College in Hebron in 1983, and a score of lesser acts of violence against Arabs. Moreover, they had developed an elaborate plan to blow up the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, a site sacred to Muslims and Jews alike.

What shocked many observers was not so much the existence of such a terrorist group as the identity of its members. They belonged to Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), a group committed to establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria). Though an aggressive (sometimes even illegal) settlement movement, Gush Emunim had never openly embraced an ideology of violence. Its orthodox leaders asserted a biblically based Jewish claim to Judea and Samaria, but they had never advocated deportation of the Arab population. Instead, they had professed the belief that peaceful and productive coexistence with the Arabs there was both possible and desirable. That any of these highly educated and responsible men, some of whom were ranking army officers and all of whom were heads of large families, would resort to terrorism was astonishing.

It now appears that earlier perceptions of Gush Emunim were seriously deficient. Gush Emunim, it is clear, has introduced into Israel's public life a radical mode of thinking, and a comprehensive and absolutist belief system capable of generating intense aspirations with the potential of extreme consequences. Because this system combines belief in the literal truth of the Bible and total commitment to the precepts of modern secular Zionism, it may be called Zionist fundamentalism.

Jewish fundamentalism, of course, is not new in Israel. It was there long before the establishment of the State. It was, however always the exclusive province of ultra-orthodox, anti-Zionist sects.1 As the Zionist enterprise advanced in Palestine, traditional fundamentalism became socially isolated, politically detached, and culturally marginal. Seeing Zionism as a religious affront, it secluded itself in a cultural, sometimes real, ghetto and played no part in public life. It stood, in principle, in direct opposition to pragmatic Zionism, including religious Zionism, which for many years was oriented toward "the art of the possible."

Gush Emunim has combined religious fundamentalism and secular Zionism to create a potent new political force. Because of the growing appeal of the fundamentalist cast of mind, there can be no doubt that Zionist fundamentalism will exert a profound influence on the future of the State, including such critical matters as national decisions on war and peace.

The Emergence of Gush Emunim

Israeli occupation of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War aroused in many Israelis a passionate determination that these territories should be permanently joined to the State of Israel. Future members of Gush Emunlm—particularly its core group, Elon Moreh, whose founders first formulated the settlement ideology 2—became active in establishing Jewish settlements in the occupied territorIes. Not until after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, however, did they feel a need to organize politically. In the gloomy public mood occasioned by the first territorial concessions in the Sinai Peninsula (required by the disengagement agreement with Egypt), the founders of Gush Emunim determined to organize in order to oppose further territorial concessions and to promote the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied territories.

The founding meeting of Gush Emunim took place in March 1974 at Kfar Etzion, a West Bank kibbutz that had been seized by the Arabs in the War of Independence and recovered by Israel in the Six Day War. This meeting had been preceded by informal discussions in which leading roles had been played by former students of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, then head of YeShivat Merkaz ha-Rav. Among these were Rabbi Moshe Levinger (the leader of the Kiryat Arba settlers), Hanan Porat (one of the revivers of Jewish settlement in Gush Etzion), Rabbi Chaim Drukman (educator and one of the leaders of the Bnei Akiva religious youth movement, now a member of the Knesset), Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, and Rabbi Yohanan Fried.

At first, Gush Emunim was a faction within the National Religious Party (NRP), then a partner in the Labor coalition government. Distrustful of the NRP's position concerning the future of Judea and Samaria, the Gush people soon left the party and declared their movement's independence. Since then, they have refused to identify with any political party and have gained a unique political status.3

The Gush Emunim people—mostly yeshiva graduates, rabbis, and teachers—immediately launched a vigorous information campaign to explain their position. They carried their campaign to all parts of the country through kaffeeklatsches, meetings in schools and yeshivot, and so on. At the same time they began organizing people who would inhabit the settlements they planned to set up in the West Bank. They did not require formal membership in Gush Emunim. Its people and supporters would not be called upon to carry out any task that would set them apart from the rest of the nation. People could participate in particular activities of Gush Emunim with which they sympathized without any obligation to support other activities or a broad platform. The absence of formal membership makes it impossible to confirm or refute Gush Emunim's claims regarding the size of its following.

During the labor-led government of Yitzhak Rabin (1974-77) Gush Emunim pursued three types of activity: it protested the interim agreements with Egypt and Syria; it staged demonstrations in Judea and Samaria to underscore the Jewish attachment to those parts of Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel, or biblical Palestine); and it carried out settlement operations in the occupied territories.

Gush Emunim's protest activity began with active support of a hunger strike that leaders of the Greater Israel Movement started on Independence Day in May 1974 outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem.4 There were repeated protests against U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger while he shuttled to and from Israel in his role of peacemaker after the Yom Kippur War. Participation in these demonstrations, which continued sporadically until the fall of 1975, ranged from the scores of people who blocked traffic on Ruppin Road in Jerusalem, thereby obstructing official motorcades, to the thousands who filled Jerusalem's Zion Square and clashed there with the police.

This activity reached a peak in October 1974 when a mass rally was held in Tel Aviv's Malkhei Yisrael Square to urge recognition of Judea and Samaria as inseparable parts of the country. After the interim agreement with Egypt and the end of Kissinger's visits, smaller protest demonstrations, opposite the Knesset building or the Prime Minister's office, reminded policymakers that the Gush had not abandoned this avenue of activity.

Gush-organized demonstrations stressing attachment to Judea and Samaria began with Operation Go-Around in October 1974. Some of an estimated 2,000 participants managed to get past army roadblocks and spread out across Judea and Samaria to points where the Gush maintained that settlements should be established.5 Since the operation was meant for publicity purposes, the participants avoided serious collision with the army and left their occupation points when requested to do so. A similar action was conducted in December 1975, when many supporters of Gush Emunim spread out across mountain tops in Judea and Samaria in a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Passover in 1976 witnessed the first Eretz Yisrael Ramble, when some 20-30,000 people took part in a mass hike across Samaria.6 The participants in this march, as in succeeding years, included such prominent figures as Menachem Begin, Yigal Hurwitz, and Geula Cohen. Gush Emunim has always invested a tremendous effort in organizing these marches, for the extent of participation in them became the principal barometer for assessing public support of the movement. On the basis of participation in these marches, Gush Emunim claimed a mass following.7

The success of its protests and demonstrations never diverted Gush Emunim from its deep commitment to settlement beyond the "Green Line," the name popularly given to the 1949 Armistice Demarcation Lines, which had served as the de facto borders between Israel and the Jordanian-annexed West Bank and between Israel and the Egyptian administered Gaza Strip and Sinai from the 1948 War of Independence to the 1967 Six Day War. The government of Israel, being pragmatic and subject to pressures from all sides, was not enthusiastic about initiating settlement. Its hesitancy was most marked during the period of the negotiations on the interim agreements with Syria and Egypt, talks that were conducted under heavy American pressure applied by Kissinger. Gush Emunim, however, both behind the scenes and in public, continued to push for a settlement policy. In response, the government approved a settlement at Keshet on the Golan Heights, which Israel had captured from Syria in the Six Day War, a military foothold at Tekoa, and another at Kochav ha-Shahar.8 Minister of Defense Shimon Peres authorized a workers' camp at Ba'al Hazor, which later became Ofra, a civilian settlement in all respect's, including families and children. Nevertheless, the government's fundamental objectives remained secure borders and minimal involvement with the West Bank Arab population.9

Gush Emunim, however, was determined to settle in all parts of Eretz Israel, including the very heart of the Palestinian population. Its core group, Elon Moreh, tried on seven occasions to settle in the Nablus-Sebastia region, but each time its attempt was thwarted and its settlement forcibly dismantled by the army. On its eighth attempt, during Hanukkah 1975, some 2,000 people, members of Elon Moreh and yeshiva students on holiday, settled near Sebastia. Some American Jewish leaders who were meeting in Jerusalem at the time were mobilized by Gush Emunim to express support for the settlement attempt. After two days of tense confrontation between the settlers and the army, the members of Elon Moreh agreed to leave the site "of their own accord," move to a military camp at Kadoum, and stay there until a decision was reached about their future location.10

The "Kadoum compromise" brought the series of confrontations between Gush Emunim and the Rabin government to a head. Afterward the group receded from public view, but its activity behind the scenes continued, increasingly geared to pressuring the government to establish new settlements and support existing ones. At the same time the Gush launched a vigorous public relations campaign. Important in this regard was the Ein Vered Conference, at which prominent figures in the Labor settlement movement proclaimed their support for the Gush.11 Not only did the Gush thereby achieve cooperation between the religious and secular Zionist camps, but actually won support for its extralegal 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 Gush Emunim leaders to believe in all sincerity that their extralegal period was over.12 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 his darlings and they now had easy access to the new Prime Minister. Many of them welcomed this official acceptance and were happy to shed their extremist image. They were pleased, too, that one of their leading members, Rabbi Chaim Drukman, had been placed second in the NRP list to the Ninth Knesset.13

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

The Camp David accords leading to a peace treaty with Egypt, the autonomy plan, and the government's commitment to give up the Rafiah salient in the Sinai struck Gush Emunim like bolts from the blue. This was without doubt the lowest point in its short history.14 Unable to organize an anti-government front by themselves, they welcomed the help of other disaffected groups and individuals 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 Yisrael Faithful.15 This new association committed itself to the original platform of the Greater Israel Movement. Later, it founded the Tehiya movement to oppose Begin's determination to carry out the Camp David accords.

In the months preceding April 28, 1982, the date set by the Israel-Egypt peace treaty for the final Israeli evacuation of Sinai, the settlers of the Rafiah salient organized to frustrate the government's policy.16 Their movement was soon taken over by a group of Gush zealots. Hundreds of Gush settlers in Judea and Samaria moved to Yamit, the capital of the salient, and to its surrounding settlements, to block the retreat with their bodies. They came with their rabbis, their yeshivot, and even their families, fully convinced that they were heavenly ordained for the mission.17 Several of them, the most extreme, seriously considered armed resistance, and only great caution by the army prevented the eruption of large-scale violence.18

The "treacherous" evacuation of Sinai provides the background for the activities of the terror network described in the first chapter of this essay. As early as 1980 the leaders of the group had concluded that the Begin government was not to be trusted. The Prime Minister, in their opinion, was ready to surrender Israeli territory in the south, and his defense minister, Ezer Weizman, was not sufficiently forceful in pursuing PLO terrorists in Judea and Samaria. Their response was the attempt to assassinate three Arab mayors considered to be the unofficial PLO leaders in the West Bank.19 Later they developed their plan to blow up the mosque on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. In this instance their object was both tactical and millenarian. They believed that destruction of the Muslim holy place would nullify the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, with the result that the Sinai would remain in Israeli hands.20 But they also cherished the dream of creating the conditions for the final redemption of the Jewish people.21 It is not clear why this operation was not carried out at the time.

Despite the frustration felt by some Gush extremists, Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria multiplied after 1981. The Israeli cabinet after Begin's electoral success in 1981 was not the same cabinet that had signed the peace agreements. The dominant axis, composed of Begin, Sharon, and Shamir, was a hawkish one, quite different from the Begin, Dayan, and Weizman group responsible for the Camp David accords. The new axis was limited by the Camp David accords and the autonomy plan; nevertheless, it aggressively pursued Jewish settlement of Judea and Samaria. Ariel Sharon proceeded rapidly toward the realization of his own settlement plan.22 He had always objected to the Allon Plan, which in one form or another had guided all the Labor governments. (The Allon Plan envisioned a string of Israeli settlements along the Jordan River, which would become Israel's security frontier, but opposed new settlements in the heavily Arab-populated areas, which might be returned to Jordan under a peace treaty.)

Sharon's plan was based on strategic control of all the dominant roads in the West Bank. By virtue of his stubbornness and aggressiveness he achieved more than either his friends or his opponents had thought possible. In spite of the difficult personal problems he encountered in the Likud government, he outlasted both Dayan and Weizman, the only ministers able to neutralize him. With Sharon as a dominant figure in the government, Gush Emunim had no need for noisy public activities.

The Fundamentalist Ideology of Gush Emunim

By overlooking the cultural milieu from which Gush Emunim emerged, most observers have perceived it primarily as a political movement seeking to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. Only recently have a few scholars—prominent among them kibbutz intellectual Zvi Ranaan 23 and the late Professor Uriel Tal 24—recognized the totalistic and messianic character of the Gush ideology. Several cardinal points of this belief system warrant close scrutiny.


All of Gush Emunim's spiritual authorities and many of its leaders were educated in Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav, whose founder was Avraham Yitzhak ha-Cohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael. Kook believed that the era of redemption for the Jewish people had already begun with the rise of modern Zionism, the Balfour Declaration, and the growing Zionist enterprise in Palestine.25 Like a classical kabbalist, Kook was equivocal on many issues, vague on others, and susceptible to different interpretations. His teaching was not a guide to earthly conduct.

Israel's victory in the Six Day War transformed the status of Kook's theology. Suddenly it became clear to his students that they were indeed living in the messianic age. Ordinary reality assumed a sacred aspect; every event possessed theological meaning and was part of the metahistorical process of redemption.26 Though shared by many religious authoritIes, this view was most effectively expounded by Kook's son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, who succeeded him as the head of Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav. The younger Kook defined the State of Israel as the halakhic Kingdom of Israel, and the Kingdom of Israel as the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Every Jew living In Israel was holy; all phenomena, even the secular, were imbued with holiness.

The belief that they are living in the messianic age and that redemption is at hand has operational consequences for Gush members. No longer is their theology expressed in esoteric kabbalistic language. It has become the practical guide to dally living. Conversation with Gush members is impossible without repeated references to national regeneration, the metahistorical meanings of ordinary events, the building of the Third Temple, and messianic redemption. Almost all the biblical rules regarding the Kingdom of Israel are literally applicable, and strict halakhic instructions concerning national behavior in the messianic age are now valid.27

The Sanctity of the Land of Israel

According to the fundamentalists of Gush Emunim, the Land of Israel—every grain of its soil—is holy. "This holiness," writes Professor Tal,

does not replace the physical substance but inversely, the physical substance is itself becoming sacred until total holiness is achieved. Thus no individual can escape holiness and every place upon which a Jewish foot is set is holy. The historical symbols are transformed from mere symbols to a concrete substance. Not the single individual but the place is holy and not the place as a symbol for holiness, but the physical place: trees, stones, graves, walls and other places as well. They all are sacred in themselves.28

Since 1967, therefore, the issue of the borders of Israel has assumed an unprecedented seriousness. In countless religious symposia and learned essays the question has been discussed and debated.29 While the secular proponents of the Greater Israel idea have surveyed the borders with a view to security considerations and historical claims, the proponents of the messianic idea have in mind only one consideration: the biblical covenant made by God with Abraham. They soon discovered that the territory so promised was not confined to the area taken by the Israeli army in the Six Day War but extended to the Euphrates on the northeast and—according to one school of biblical interpretation—to the Nile on the southwest. While no unanimity on the operational meaning of the biblical map has been reached, not a single fundamentalist authority is ready to alienate a square inch for either peace or security. Some even favor further territorial annexations. Rabbi Israel Ariel, the former head of the yeshiva at Yamit (the evacuated city in the Raflah salient), is a typical fundamentalist. In an interview, he would not disclose his opinion whether this was the time for Israel to wage a war of conquest. Asked about current political constraints and diplomatic limitations, the rabbi replied that Joshua had far worse political constraints and limitations. When pressed further about potential casualties and national losses, the fundamentalist rabbi referred to a biblical ruling that in a holy war no question about casualties is legitimate until one fifth of the nation is extinct.30

Not all fundamentalist rabbis or members of Gush Emunim go as far as Rabbi Ariel; his is clearly a minority opinion.31 Nevertheless, his view enjoys a measure of legitimacy. In 1976 Israel's Chief Rabbinate—which has formally nothing to do with Gush Emunim—issued an official halakhic ruling about the holiness of the Jewish territories and the consequent holiness of the political sovereignty over them. In 1979 the Rabbinate ruled that no part of the Holy Land could be alienated even in the context of a peace treaty. "According to our holy Torah and unequivocal and decisive halakhic rulings there exists a severe prohibition to pass to foreigners the ownership of any piece of the land of Israel since it was made sacred by the brit bein ha-betarim [Abraham's Covenant]."32

The uncompromising position of the fundamentalist members and supporters of Gush Emunim helps explain several events of the last decade. It explains, for example, the stubborn opposition to Israel's retreat from Sinai and the belief held by some until the last moments of April 28, 1982, that God was about to intervene directly to prevent Begin's "crime." 33 It also explains the welcome accorded by Gush Emunim to the Israeli conquest of Southern Lebanon. This territory belonged in biblical times to the tribes of Asher and Naftali, and the Gush saw no reason not to free it from the hostile Arabs and reclaim it forever.34

The Revival of Zionism and Settlement

In an early document Gush Emunim 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 ultiimate objective is the full redemption of the Jewish people and the entire world.35

Thus, although it appeared to many that Gush Emunim was established 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 actually confined itself to that issue alone. Taking into consideration the new totalistic definition of the Gush reality as well as the concrete operations of the movement, it is obvious that Gush Emunim sees itself as a movement of revival whose task is to revitalize the historic Zionism that died out in the Israel of the 1950s and 1960s. According to the Gush's analysis, Israelis now live in a crisis born of the fatigue that followed the partial implementation of Zionism after the establishment of the State of Israel. This crisis has led to a weakening of the pioneering spirit, to an unwillingness to continue the struggle against the pressures of the outside world, especially against the continuing hostility of the Arabs, and to the establishment of a materialistic society in which the private ego has superseded the national mission. Underscoring the gap between authentic Jewish culture and what they regard as "alienated" modern Western culture, the Gush's leaders propose to rejuvenate Zionism in keeping with authentic Jewish values.36 They want to overcome the present decadence by restoring the pioneering and sacrificial spirit of the past. Gush people present themselves as the heirs of authentic Israeli Zionism, which actually built the Yishuv, guided by ideals of land settlement, manual labor, and personal sacrifice.

Gush settlements in the West Bank thus represent the purest Zionist activity in every sense of the term. Gush people are not socialists, but they are attached to the kibbutz ideal. It is not surprising that two of the most prominent leaders of Gush Emunim, Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Hanan Porat, were originally members of religious kibbutzim. Porat comes from Kfar Etzion, and Levinger was formerly the rabbi of Kibbutz Lavie.

The Arabs

What role do the Gush Emunim fundamentalists accord the Palestinian Arabs in the age of Jewish redemption? What rights, if any, should they retain in the Holy Land of Israel? For years Gush spokesmen enumerated "three alternatives" to be presented to Israeli Arabs: acknowledge the legitimacy of the Zionist doctrine (Gush Emunim's version) and receive full civil rights, including the right to elect and be elected to the Knesset (and serve in the army); obey the laws of the state without formal recognition of Zionism and in return receive the rights of resident aliens (no political rights); emigrate to Arab countries with economic assistance provided by Israel.37

While not particularly liberal, the "three alternatives" at least make some political sense. In the context of a peace settlement and agreed-upon borders, they might even be appealing to some non-Gush Israelis. The problem is that the "three alternatives" do not exhaust the full range of fundamentalist views on the status of non-Jewish residents of Israel. As Professor Tal points out:

If time and space are two total existential categories, then no room can be left to foreigners. As we have seen, the question is not limited to a bunch of crazy prophets who lost control or to an unimportant marginal minority but pertains to a dogmatic and highly elaborated philosophy. This system leads to a policy which cannot coexist with civil and human rights and in the final analysis does not leave room for toleration.38

Following Tal, it is possible to identify in the fundamentalist school three positions on the status of non-Jews in Israel: limitation of rights, denial of rights, and—in the most extreme and improbable case—extermination. Each position is anchored in an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. The first stems from the conviction that the notion of universal human rights is a foreign ideal that, like other European, non-Jewish values, has no meaning in the context of the Holy Land.39 In the Bible, non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine were accorded the status of resident aliens, enjoying some privileges but never obtaining rights equal to those of the Jews. The Gush's "three alternatives" reflect this position and may be seen as its political translation.

The second position on the status of non-Jewish inhabitants amounts to a denial of all rights, since the very existence of the Jews in Israel depends on Arab emigration. The ruling regarding conquest of the land according to Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, in his essay "Messianic Realism," stands above "moral-human considerations of the national rights of the Gentiles in our land." 40 The people of Israel, according to this view, were ordered to be sacred but not to be moral. Alien moral considerations do not obtain in the case of the Chosen People. One consequence of this view is that in time of war no distinction should be made between enemy soldiers and civilians since both are of the category of people who do not belong in the land.

The most extreme position, extermination, was expressed in an essay by Rabbi Israel Hess published in the official magazine of Bar Ilan University students under the title "The Genocide Ruling of Torah." Hess likens the Arabs to the biblical Amalekites, who were deservedly annihilated.41 The historical Amalekites, according to Hess, were both socially and militarily treacherous and cruel. Their relation to the Jews was like the relation of darkness to light, that is, one of total contradiction. The Arabs who live today in the Land of Israel and who are constantly waging a terrorist and treacherous war against the Jews are direct descendants of the Amalekites, and the correct solution to the problem is extermination.

Hess's position is an isolated one and has not been repeated by any Gush Emunim authority. Even the denial of all rights is rarely mentioned. Nevertheless, it is significant that in current fundamentalist discourse none of these three approaches to the problem of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel is considered illegitimate or abhorrent. More important, none has so far been ruled out as erroneous by Israel's Chief Rabbinate, the highest official religious authority in the land. It is not clear whether the silence of this institution is evidence of disapproval or of political prudence.

Some indication that Gush Emunim is aware of the political sensitivity of its views on the Arab question is the present refusal of its leaders to discuss the future of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria following the "expected" annexation of the West Bank to Israel. Their standard comment is that their mission is not to solve the Arab question but the Jewish question.42 When pressed, Gush spokesmen maintain that in due time Almighty God will provide the answer.

Democracy and the Rule of Law

A key issue in understanding the politics of Gush Emunim is its attitude toward democracy and the rule of law. During its formative years, Gush Emunim set itself resolutely in opposition to the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel. More recently, in rejtecting the peace treaty with Egypt, the Gush defied the Knesset, which had overwhelmingly approved it.

Moreover, the cultural milieu of the Gush's spiritual leaders is avowedly undemocratic. Its rabbis' fundamentalist interpretation of the Torah is totally alien to the spirit of modern democracy and legal positivism. Nowhere is their viewpoint better revealed than on the issue of the civil and human rights of the non-Jewish residents of Israel.

But is this the entire story? Do the illegalities of Gush settlers and the fundamentalism of their rabbis exhaust the subject? The leaders and theoreticians of Gush Emunim argue that they should not be judged in the context of the abstract notion of democracy but in the context of the Israeli political system, which is a democracy. They point out that they have always had great respect for the secular institutional expressions of Israel's sovereignty—the government, the Knesset, and the army. Many of them, together with young members of the NRP, were active in launching the yeshivot hesder (academies combining religlous study and military service). They played a major role in changing the NRP's orlentation toward the institutions of government in Israel. Whereas they once considered the institutions of sovereignty merely instrumental, they now insist that these institutlons are of great national importance and should be infused with truly Zionist content—pioneering and self-sacrifice.43

The movement, it is true, does not have a formal antidemocratic ideology, and in the general Israeli context it has not displayed exceptionally undemocratic behavior.44 On the issue that most concerns Gush Emunim—namely, Eretz Yisrael—the movement has adopted a rigidly doctrinaire stance. In the Gush's view, the only legitimizing principle in whose name the State of Israel, its democratic regime, and its legal system were established is Zionism, which requires Jewish settlement in all parts of Eretz Israel. Democracy is acceptable as long as it exists within a truly Zionist polity. Should the two principles collide, Zionism must take precedence. If the Knesset passes legislation contrary to the requirements of Zionism (as understood by the Gush), that act is illegitimate and must be resisted.45 Every Jew in Eretz Israel has the right—indeed, the duty—to oppose any compromise on the issue of settlement, even if it is supported by a majority of Israelis. When Gush Emunim people are asked how it is that they, who show so much respect for the state, are prepared to resist it, they reply that the existing government coalition does not represent the true spirit of the state. According to Gush Emunim, government prohibitions of 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 executing the policy of the infamous White Paper of 1939.46 During the period of the White Paper, when the British placed severe restrictions on Jewish immigration and settlement, illegal acts of settlement by secular Zionists were altogether legitimate. The same principle applies today, believers argue, but that does not imply a general antidemocratic orientation.

A final judgment about Gush Emunim, democracy, and the rule of law should thus be held in abeyance. There exist many indications that their fundamentalist thinking and their limited commitment to democratic procedures would, under pressure, drive many members of Gush Emunim to confrontation with the democratic system. On the other hand, there are some indications that certain elements within the movement would avoid such a confrontation. These elements would put a high premium on the interpretation that the present State of Israel, despite all its follies, is both the halakhic Kingdom of Israel and the culmination of the Zionist dream.47 As such, they say, its leaders should perhaps be strongly criticized but finally obeyed.

The Cultural and Social Origins of Gush Emunim

Many Israelis underestimate Gush Emunim as a political force because they continue to think of it as it appeared in the mid-1970s when it launched its first illegal settlements in the West Bank. Though successful in bringing down the Rabin government over the issue of settling Samaria, its leaders and members appeared to be unworldly idealists incapable of sustained, responsible action. Israelis who recall their own early pioneering youth movement regard Gush Emunim as a latter-day version. Many are convinced that, once the government resolves to compromise over Judea and Samaria, Gush Emunim will evaporate. As they see it, an unrealistic youth movement, all its virtues notwithstanding, cannot survive in the "grownup" world of practical politics.

Nothing could be more misleading than this obsolete image. Eleven years after its creation, Gush Emunim comprises a highly variegated social and institutional system, including a state-supported settlement organization, regional and municipal councils, and independent economic corporations. In addition, it possesses a highly cohesive spiritual leadership composed of distinguished rabbis and scholars. It would not be erroneous to speak today of the invisible kingdom of Gush Emunim, which is gradually acquiring the character of a state within the state.

A full understanding of this systen must start not with the official establishment of Gush Emunim in 1974 but with its cultural and social roots in the 1950s and 1960s. It has already been noted that the Gush leadership energed almost exclusively from the Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav and was influenced by the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook as interpreted by his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. No less important is the fact that most of the Gush leadership 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 Torah va-Avodah (Torah and Labor), the founders of the religious kibbutz movenent. 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 has taken place in Israeli society and that has not yet been adequately studied. Although there was no outright Kulturkampf in the 1950s and 1960s, there was nevertheless a power play in which the victors were the religious educational system and the subculture of the ha-Poel ha-Mizrahi and the "knitted skullcaps."

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 that 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.48 Around that educational system complete 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 and in the ulpanah (religious academy for girls) and yeshiva (religious academy for men).

Simultaneously with the establishment of state-supported religious schools occurred the revival of Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav, which had fallen into decline after the death of its founder. At the end of the 1950s a new Bnei Akiva generation revitalized the old school. This new generation listened eagerly to Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook's interpretation of his father's teachings and infused it with nationalistic meaning. When the Six Day War broke out, these youngsters were ready to embrace a new religious Zionist ideology—but not before witnessing a unique, seemingly miraculous event.

On the eve of Independence Day in 1967, graduates of the yeshiva met at Merkaz ha-Rav for an alumni reunion. As was his custom, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook delivered a festive sermon, in the midst of which his quiet voice suddenly rose and he bewailed the partition of historic Eretz Yisrael.49 His faithful students were led to believe that this situation was intolerable and could not last. When three weeks later, in June 1967, they found themselves 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.

At one stroke a flame had been lit and the conditions made ripe for imparting to the subculture of the "knitted skullcaps" the political ideology of a greater Eretz Yisrael. The disciples of Rabbi Kook became missionaries equipped with unshakable confidence in the divine authority of their cause. They soon transformed the "knitted skullcaps" from an isolated religious community into a radicalized political constituency. According to the new ideology, the entire historic Land of Israel must now pass into the hands of the Jewish people, whether by military action or by settlement and the extension of Israeli sovereignty.

Not all the religious public was affected 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, which says there is halakhic support for the concept of territorial compromise for the sake of saving Jewish lives and attaining the highest Jewish religious goal—peace. This dovish view is presumably supported by 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 Yisraelization." This ideological transformation 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 as the Greater Israel Movement.

It is necessary to grasp the full magnitude of the cultural transformation of the national religious bloc to understand Gush Emunim's unprecedented impact on Israeli public life. Instead of an isolated group of religious fanatics who emerged from nowhere in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, Gush Emunim, like the tip of an iceberg, must be recognized as the visible portion of a submerged social and cultural system.50 Despite their small number, Gush people could rely in time of need upon a large pool of reinforcements from the religious educational system, the Bnei Akiva yeshivot, and the yeshivot hesder, many of whose rabbis and teachers—their spiritual authorities and role models—had passed through Merkaz ha-Rav. Most of the youths did not participate in Gush operations as individuals. They came in organized groups, often on the explicit instructions of the directors of their yeshivot. It is no accident that the large Gush demonstrations and its settlement moves always took place during school holidays, when young people were free to attend.

The link with the educational institutions of the "knitted skullcap" culture and with organizational networks affiliated with it also explains Gush Emunim's financial resources. Opponents have questioned how a small and fanatical group could raise the considerable funds needed for its activities. It is now clear, for example, that most of the organized transport and equipment for the Gush's early operations was contributed by state-supported institutions such as yeshivot, youth centers, and settlements, which charged these expenses to their official budgets.51

In addition to relying on the human and financial resources of the "knitted skullcap" subculture, Gush Emunim activists relied heavily on its political resources. The young Bnei Akiva, for example, were an integral part of the NRP, a permanent senior partner in Israel's cabinet. Despite their extreme positions on settlement issues, Gush activists were always welcome in high political circles. Fully backed by the NRP, they could be sure that no decisive military action would be taken against them for fear of a general government crisis. They also enjoyed the support of the opposition leader at the time, Menachem Begin, and of the Greater Israel camp.52 Regarded affectionately as idealistic pioneering youth, they became in fact effective politicians and lobbyists, firm in their objectives but flexible in their tactics, willing to act within the system if possible and outside it if necessary.53

The Invisible Kingdom of Gush Emunim

Although its activities in the period 1974-77 were often extralegal, Gush Emunim aspired to public respectability and legal status. In 1978 it established Amana (Covenant) as its official settlement organization, recognized by the World Zionist Organization.54 This occurred after Begin's rise to power and was one of several steps designed to regularize the movement. Another was establishment of the Yesha Council representing the Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. The creation of these two organs transformed the Gush from a loose association of like-minded individuals into a permanent movement with a formal organizational structure.

Although Gush Emunim developed the ideology for aggressive Jewish settlement in all parts of Eretz Yisrael, the framework for the settlements was developed by the Israeli government. Meron Benvenisti, who has followed the evolution of the West Bank under Israeli occupation, argues that the de facto Israeli annexation of the area is being achieved by an incremental process of parliamentary legislation, government ruling, and administrative regulation.55 Benvenisti stresses, however, that there was a great difference between the policy of the Labor Alignment administration (1967-77) and that of the Likud (Begin's) administration (1977-84). While Labor wanted to keep open options regarding the future of Judea and Samaria and abstained from a nonselective settlement policy, the Likud was not so constrained. Even within the framework of the autonomy plan it was determined to prevent a "repartition of the Land of Israel" and was consequently ready to support large-scale, nonselective settlement and a strategic takeover of the whole West Bank.56 Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon aggressively pursued a policy of "creeping annexation." New strategic roads were built, new settlements initiated, and new economic investments made in the area.

Had Gush Emunim been a secular settlement movement, it would have had no reason for displeasure with Begin, Sharon, and the Likud administration. No voluntary effort could have accomplished in Judea and Samaria what the Likud government did. But Gush Emunim, because of its fundamentalist attachment to Eretz Yisrael, was never satisfied with Begin and Sharon, the lay politicians. Begin was always suspected of being a declarative Zionist, a man who talked about great national visions but was not capable of their realization. Sharon was mistrusted because of his personal ambition. Begin's refusal to officially annex Judea and Samaria and his part in the peace treaty with Egypt confirmed Gush Emunim's worst fears.57 Sharon's support of Begin further added to the Gush's distrust. Gush Emunim could not forget that, despite advances in Jewish domination of the West Bank, the number of Jewish settlers there did not exceed 3 percent of the population. It could not ignore the fact that the holy cities of Hebron and Nablus were largely Judenrein. And it observed that demands for an eventual Israeli withdrawal came from inside Israel as well as from abroad. The Gush resolved to strengthen the Jewish position in Judea and Samaria to such an extent that under no circumstances would any Israeli government be able to surrender even a small portion of the area. Now that its people were key figures within the settler community, the most capable and motivated, this task was not very difficult.

On March 20, 1979, six days before the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt, in a gesture of great political consequence, the military government in the West Bank signed Order 783 establishing three regional councils in the area. Two more councils were added later.58 The regulations governing the regional councils' powers and functions, defined in Order 783 as amended, are identical with those governing Israeli regional councils. In March 1981, five municipal councils were established in the West Bank by Order 982. That order largely duplicated the Israeli Municipal Ordinance, with the result that the powers of West Bank municipalities are identical with those of Israeli municipalities except that, in addition to the right to levy taxes, supply municipal services, nominate officers and employ workers, the West Bank councils enjoy planning and building-licensing powers. The Israeli settlement areas were declared "planning areas," and the councils were designated "special planning commissions." The purpose of these acts initiated by the Begin government, apart from their administrative dimension, was to strengthen Jewish control of the area and ensure the permanence of the settlements. The key executive positions in the new councils were given to Gush members. Once illegal settlers, they suddenly became state officials with large budgets and great political powers and responsibilities.

Today, the councils, especially the regional ones controlled by Gush Emunim, are dynamic institutions. They have established business corporatlons, transportation services, and health and educational organizations. They employ hundreds of people and own considerable equipment and other assets. The Company for the Development of Samaria, for example, established by the Samaria regional council, owns 22 buses, trucks, bulldozers, and minibuses. It operates gasoline stations and soil works and plans, in cooperation with a well-established Histadrut company, Even Vasid, to construct a cement factory and, with the big oil corporation, Paz, to produce gasoline by-products. The directors of the company are proud of their ability to finance new settlements without government assistance.59 A recent article in Nekuda, the settlers' magazine, reports that the company is on its way to becoming an economic empire capable of acting independently in time of political trouble.60

What today distinguishes the Gush organizational structure is its semi-autonomous character. Thus its economic and social welfare system is largely independent of the Israeli system. All the Gush dominated municipal councils are members of the Yesha Council, which operates political, financial, information, and security committees as well as a committee for external relations with other communities. Danny Rubinstein, the veteran West Bank correspondent of Davar, has observed that these committees look very much like state ministries in embryo.61

Of special significance to a full appreciation of the Gush's "invisible kingdom" is its defense organization. Almost from the beginning of the Israeli occupation, there were security problems in the West Bank. Because of anti-Jewish terrorist and guerrilla attacks, the settlements were designated "confrontation settlements," and special military orders authorized their guards to defend them with force.62 Many Jewish residents of the West Bank are, in fact, soldiers "on extended leave," mainly religious students combining military service with rabbinical studies. In every settlement one settler is appointed "security officer" and receives a salary from the Ministry of Defense or from the Israeli police. The result is the direct involvement of the settler community in defense and security matters that were originally handled by the army and the military government.

In 1978 Israel's chief of staff, General Raphael Eitan, initiated a new policy under which the settler community in the West Bank was assigned complete responsibility for securing the area and defending itself. Hundreds of settlers were transferred from their regular army units to the West Bank, where, in addition to protecting their own settlements, they were to secure cultivated fields, access roads, and commercial and general community facilities. Every settlement was required to have an allotted number of fit combatants, including officers. These were to perform their active duty on a part-time basis while leading normal civilian lives. In addition, regional mobile forces equipped with armored personnel carriers were established to police the Palestinian population.63

The regional defense system was probably seen by the chief of staff as the best and most economical way to secure the settlements against Arab attacks. The concept of regional defense was familiar from prestate days in Palestine, when the border settlements and kibbutzim necessarily defended themselves. Nevertheless, the dangerous potential of a semi-independent armed force composed of Gush Emunim officers and soldiers cannot be ignored should strong disagreement with government policy arise. Reports of recent debates within the settler community about its future in case of major territorial concessions by the government concealed the opinions of the small minority who favored armed resistance. The fact that the settler-soldiers keep their personal arms with them and that heavier weapons are stored in the settlements' armories means that the settlements could serve as bases for independent military operations.

The potential for disorder is already evident in the settlers' vigilantism. Benvenisti observes:

The quasi-independence of ideologically motivated armed settlers, serving part-time under their own commanders, has led to various vigilante activities, including the smashing of cars and harassment of the Arab population. The degree of independence of the armed settlers and the lack of control over their activities were revealed by an Israeli official committee. The committee found that incidents of vigilantism (vandalizing of Arab property, opening fire, and harassment) had not been investigated "because of intervention of politicians, including senior members of the government coalition, who have halted investigations by intervening with authorities." A former chief of internal security who was responsible for investigating vigilante activity went even further by stating "There is a sympathetic political environment. . . Those settlers who took the law into their hands and established illegal settlements have now become legitimate. . . This proved to them that 'destroyers of fences' and law breakers have been right, that they have become strong and respectable." 64

The warning quoted by Benvenisti regarding the settlers' vigilantism was made before the disclosure of the underground network responsible for the most extreme anti-Arab terrorism since 1980. A senior officer in the regional defense unit was among those arrested.65

Gush Emunim's drive for autonomy is not limited to organizational, economic, and military areas. It extends as well to the legal. The regional council in Mateh Binyamin has established a rabbinical court to resolve financial issues according to Halakhah. A little-noticed announcement of the court's establishment explained:

The revival of the Israeli nation means also the return of the Law in Israel and the management of financial issues between a man and his peers according to the Torah and not according to the law imagined by the Gentiles. It appears proper that settlements that are instituted by the Torah should follow this path for the law is from God.66

Since the death of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook in 1982, the Gush "invisible kingdom" has lacked a single spiritual authority. Nevertheless the system has functioned smoothly since Rabbi Kook's students have themselves become admired authorities. Among them, Rabbi Moshe Levinger from Hebron, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman from Kiryat Arba, and Rabbi Yisrael Ariel from Yamit have achieved national reputations. There are, moreover, dozens of young rabbis trained at Merkaz ha-Rav who disseminate its fundamentalist, messianic doctrine. Every Gush settlement has its own rabbi, and in many there exists a yeshiva as well. By indoctrinating hundreds of young students every year, Gush Emunim perpetuates itself and preserves its religious zeal. The number of new Gush adherents may not be large, but as reinforcement of an elite group it is more than adequate. Gush Emunim is by far the most dynamic social and cultural force in Israel today.

Gush Emunim and Israeli Politics

A cultural and organizational analysis of Gush Emunim cannot account for the movement's great political influence. This can be understood only in the general context of Israeli politics. Most observers agree that on the territorial question the Israeli public is today evenly divided between "doves" and "hawks." While about half of the citizens are ready to trade part of Judea and Samaria for a real peace with a Jordanian-Palestinian entity, nearly the same number oppose such a settlement. The latter accept the position expressed by Menachem Begin many times: "Never again should Eretz Yisrael be repartitioned." Most of them, however, are not fundamentalists. They are territorial maximalists who believe that Judea and Samaria should remain in Israel's hands for various reasons: security, demography, historical attachment, even purely emotional considerations. They are highly suspicious of the Arabs, resentful of PLO terrorism, and in general see no reason for being altruistic in the cruel and bloody reality of the Middle East. For these territorial maximalists, most of whom are represented politically by the Likud and Tehiya parties, the youthful and energetic zealots of Gush Emunim are objects of admiration. While these ordinary Israelis of nationalist convictions have personally done nothing to make the dream of Greater Israel come true, the Gush people and their families have gone to the cold and rocky hills of Judea and Samaria and literally pioneered.

For the maximalists, Gush Emunim fills the role that was once filled for the Labor movement by the kibbutz community. Leaders of the Labor movement used to stress incessantly the importance of the tiny kibbutz community to the whole Labor movement and to the realization of socialist Zionism in Israel. Many who as young pioneers passed through a particular kibbutz on their way to political power and influence retained their formal membership in that kibbutz although they had long since become urban politicians in every respect. The kibbutz community thus became a symbol of the nation's youthful idealism. Similarly, for the territorial maximalists, Gush Emunim seems to embody the nation's former confidence and certitude. Unfortunately, admiration for Gush Emunim has entailed an uncritical indulgence of its fundamentalism.

The popularity of Gush Emunim is evidenced by the warm welcome extended to Gush leaders in high government circles and by the recognition and moral authority accorded to its rabbis. To make sure that its influence is not merely informal, Gush Emunim has placed its members or supporters in all the maximalist political parties. Thus Tehiya, despite its secular leadership, is generally viewed as the political embodiment of the Gush's ideology. Gush Emunim also musters political support in the Likud, where Ariel Sharon, an archmaximalist, is vocal and influential. The NRP is permeated with Gush supporters, especially among its rabbis and yeshiva heads. The small Morasha, another religious party, is headed by two prominent leaders of Gush Emunim, Rabbi Chaim Orukman and Hanan Porat. In addition, Gush Emunim and the settler community have created a very effective lobby in the Knesset. Every Knesset or government meeting that deals with Judea and Samaria, whether on small questions such as construction budgets or on important ones involving the future of the entire area, is attended by Gush members or their political allies. Very little escapes the attention of the young Gush activists. Wielding their immense influence, they are usually capable of mobilizing the entire maximalist body in support of their positions.

Gush political influence is not limited to the maximalist camp only. During its pioneering years, it mqde inroads into the very heart of the Labor movement and to what was once called Israel's Left. Some Labor members, devoted supporters of Gush Emunim, crossed political lines and joined the maximalist camp. Others did not and are still counted in the minimalist camp. Most prominent among the latter is Israel's present minister of agriculture, Arik Nachamkin, but he is not alone. While these politicians are unaffected by the Gush "mystique," they support the Gush on many important issues.

Had the political influence of Gush Emunim been confined to the maximalist camp and to some minimalist supporters, the present coalition cabinet under Shimon Peres could perhaps have limited its influence. But as a result of the 1984 elections, the government has, in this area, been largely paralyzed. The current national unity cabinet is equally divided between the Likud and the Labor Alignment. No major policy decision can be made unless agreed upon by both parties. Moreover, Peres and his colleagues have been occupied with Israel's immense economic difficulties. They have little time or energy to resist the slow, incremental process of annexation in the West Bank. Their success in decreasing the number of new settlements has been diluted by Gush Emunim's extension of existing ones. Using their legal authority as heads of local and regional councils in Judea and Samaria and with the support of Likud ministers, Yesha leaders have skillfully accomplished most of their goals. And since there is very little concrete progress thus far in the peace process with Jordan, Peres and his colleagues are understandably disinclined to jeopardize the precarious political alliance that brought them to power. There are very few instances of Labor-initiated interference in the actions of Gush settlers, and then only in cases of flagrant lawbreaking.

The only significant public force that actively opposes the growing political influence of the fundamentalists is the Israeli Left, sometimes called the Israeli peace camp. This force, however, is very feeble. It is composed of a few small political parties that account for no more than a tenth of the Knesset; of Peace Now, a vocal extraparliamentary movement; and of several small civil rights organizations. The Left, especially Peace Now, has occasionally managed to arouse intense public reactions to certain excessive acts of the government. But during the Likud administration it was unable to stop the Gush's expansion in Judea and Samaria. Its only successes in this area have been to identify extreme settler transgressions against Arabs that could be proved in court. These successes contributed to the demonization of the Left in the eyes of the maximalists, but otherwise they had little political impact.

Zionist Fundamentalism: A Balance Sheet

Gush members generally bear little resemblance in tactics to the Muslim fundamentalists currently so conspicuous in Iran, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Middle East. They are not sadistic, bloodthirsty, or suicidal. They do not engage in street hooliganism or other quasifascist behavior. Unlike some other Jewish fundamentalists in Israel (such as the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta, which preserves a medieval life-style), Gush people are modern, well-behaved, and intelligent. Many are professionals, engineers, talented mathematicians, and successful businessmen. Most of their rabbis are extremely versatile, far removed from the popular image of ayatollahs. Almost everyone who has known Gush people has been highly impressed by their combination of intelligence, idealism, and modesty. Their work ethic and dedication to collective goals have earned them the respect of many Israelis who do not otherwise share their convictions.

The modern and attractive life-style of Gush Emunim is, however, highly misleading. The real challenge of this movement does not lie in its way of life or even in its politics. It lies instead in its fundamentalist cast of mind, which simply refuses to acknowledge the constraints of political reality. Many ordinary Israelis would love to live in a Greater Israel free of Arab hostility. They would rejoice if the Palestinians willingly evacuated Judea and Samaria or if their government commanded the magic resources to restructure the Middle East. Today, however, these Israelis are aware that the necessary conditions for such a resolution of the Arab-Israeli problem do not obtain and that they are unlikely to obtain in any foreseeable future. These Israelis, who are no less patriotic than Gush Emunim, are simply capable of reading the political map of our time. While the political perceptions and interpretations of those in the non-Gush mainstream may vary, in the final analysis they are unlikely to engage in irresponsible acts or blindly challenge current political reality.

The danger of the fundamentalist mind is its conviction that reality is bound to follow ideology and not vice versa. Facts can simply be disregarded: the Palestinians do not exist, the Arab countries do not count, world public opinion is rubbish, and the U.S. government is merely a nuisance. The only reality that counts is Jewish redemption, which is imminent—to be realized by massive aliyah, negation of the Diaspora, and the building of the Third Temple. Throughout Jewish history there have been "true believers" like the Gush Emunim who were equally convinced that the Messiah was at the door. Fortunately these messianic believers were in most cases few and isolated. Their messianic vision was not translated into operative political programs. This is not the case with Gush Emunim. Since the movement is so attractive and effective in present-day Israel, it is bound to have a significant impact on the country's future.

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About the Author

Ehud Sprinzak teaches political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has published and lectured widely on extremist movements, violence and terrorism in Israel and abroad. In 1985-86 he was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He received B.A. and M.A. degrees at the Hebrew University and his Ph.D. at Yale University.

Further Reading on Gush Emunim

By this author:

Gush Emunim: The Tip of the Iceberg by Ehud Sprinzak

Sprinzak's first paper on the "invisible iceberg" of popular support for Gush Emunim in Israel.

The Iceberg Model of Political Extremism by Ehud Sprinzak

A slight revision of the earlier paper with a tie-in to the more violent aspects of Jewish extremism.

Fundamentalism, Terrorism, and Democracy: The Case of the Gush Emunim Underground by Ehud Sprinzak

A thorough and detailed analysis of Gush Emunim terrorist acts and the foiled plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque on the Temple Mount.

By other authors:

Israel's Dangerous Fundamentalists by Ian S. Lustick

Perhaps the best introduction to Gush Emunim extremism for Western readers.

The Ideology of Jewish Messiansim by Israel Shahak

A close contender for the best introduction to Gush Emunim and Jewish Fundamentalism from noted Israeli dissident, Israel Shahak.

Gush Emunim: The "Iceberg Model" of Extremism Reconsidered by Kevin Avruch

A follow-up to Sprinzak's iceberg papers by an American scholar suggesting things are considerably worse than Sprinzak suggests.

The Contemporary Israeli Pursuit of the Millennium by Janet Aviad

Another thorough scholarly review of Gush Emunim which may offer some interesting connecting points between the ideology of Jewish Fundamentalism and the American "War on Terrorism."

Further reading:

Also find a large assortment of additional articles on Gush Emunim and other important aspects of Jewish Fundamentalism and Political Extremism here, Jewish Fundamentalism and here, The Israeli Radical Right.




A New Political Force

The Emergence of Gush Emunim

The Fundamentalist Ideology of Gush Emunim


The Sanctity of the Land of Israel

The Revival of Zionism and Settlement

The Arabs

Democracy and the Rule of Law

The Cultural and Social Origins of Gush Emunim

The Invisible Kingdom of Gush Emunim

Gush Emunim and Isareli Politics

Zionist Fundamentalism: A Balance Sheet


About the Author

Further Reading


1. Cf. Menachem Friedman, "Radical Religious Groups in Israel: Conservatism and Innovation," paper presented at the Colloquium on Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 13-15 May 1985.

2. Cf. "Gush Emunim: The First Decade" (Hebrew), Nekuda, no.69 (February 2, 1984): 5-7.

3. Cf. Ehud Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model of Political Extremism" (Hebrew) Medina, Mimshal Veyahasim Beinleumiim, no.17 (Spring 1981).

4. Ibid., p. 24.

5. Ha'aretz, October 11, 1974.

6. Ha'aretz, March 31, 1976.

7. Danny Rubinstein, On the Lord's Side: Gush Emunim (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, 1982), pp. 58-59.

8. Cf. Yehuda Litani in Ha'aretz, December 5, 1975.

9. Cf. Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model," p. 25.

10. See Haim Gouri, "A Letter to Emunim's People" (Hebrew), in Yediot Achronot, May 7, 1976.

11. Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model," p. 26.

12. Ibid.

13. Rubinsteln, On the Lord's Side, p. 167.

14. Sprinzak, "Gush Emunlm, the Iceberg Model," p. 27.

15. Rubinstein, On the Lord's Side, pp. 152-153.

16. Ibid., pp. 170-172.

17. Gideon Aran, "The Movement to Stop the Retreat from Sinai: Lessons and Meaning" (Hebrew), unpublished paper, Jerusalem, 1985.

18. N. Hofman, "Yamit and Its Evacuation: How Was Bloodshed Prevented?" (Hebrew), unpublished paper, Jerusalem, 1984.

19. Ha'aretz, June 4, 1980.

20. Ha'aretz, April 4, 1985.

21. Ha'aretz, 4 June 1984.

22. On Sharon's settlement plan, see Zvi Raanan, Gush Emunim (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Poalim, 1980), pp. 146-147.

23. Zvi Raanan, Gush Emunim (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Poalim, 1980)

24. Uriel Tal, "The Foundations of Political Messianism in Israel" (Hebrew), Ha'aretz, September 26, 1984.

25. Cf. Zyi Yaron, The Teaching of Rav Kook (Hebrew), 3rd ed. (Jerusalem: Jewish Agency, 1979), pp. 270-273.

26. Raanan, Gush Emunim, pp. 64-67.

27. This judgement is based on frequent encounters with members of Gush Emunim. Halakha is the name of the system of Jewish religious law that, according to the Orthodox tradition, is based on the divine revelation to Moses at Sinai and has been handed down, developed and interpreted by the sages from generation to generation. Halakhic principles and rules apply to all aspects of human conduct.

28. Tal, "Foundations of Political Messianism."

29. See, for example, Yehuda shaviv, ed., Eretz Nahala: Our Right to the Land of Israel (Hebrew), 2d ed. (Jerusalem: World Center of Mizrahi, 1976).

30. Interview with Rabbi Ariel, 31 January 1985. There is a dispute among scholars whether the biblical term nahal mitzrayim (the River of Egypt) refers to the Nile or to Wadi el-Arish, which is near the eastern edge of the Sinai bordering the land of Canaan (Israel). In the latter view, Sinai is not part of the Promised Land. The usual biblical term for the Nile is Ye'or.

31. I have not observed a general "imperialist" tendency at the present time. Most Gush leaders seem content with what was achieved in the Six Day War.

32. Cited in Tal, "Foundations of Political Messianism."

33. Cf. Gideon Aran, "The Movement to Stop the Retreat from Sinai: Lessons and Meaning" (Hebrew) , unpublished paper, Jerusalem, 1985.

34. Cf. Hanan Porat in Nekuda, no.50 (12 November 1982): 6-7.

35. Cited In Ehud Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model of Political Extremism" (Hebrew), Medina, Mimshal Veyahasim Beinleumiim, no.17 (Spring 1981): 31.

36. Cf. Tal, "Foundations of Political Messianism."

37. Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model," p. 32.

38. Tal, "Foundations of Political Messianism."

39. Ibid.

40. Shlomo Aviner, "Messianic Realism" (Hebrew), Morasha, no.9 (Winter 1975): 61-77.

41. Tal, "Foundations of Political Messianism."

42. Based on an interview with Gush Emunim's secretary-general, Mrs. Daniela Weiss, March 4, 1985.

43. Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model," pp. 32-33.

44. For a general account of the Israeli tradition of illegalism into which Gush Emunim fits, see Ehud Sprinzak, "Illegalism in Israeli Political Culture," in A Study Day 1980 (Hebrew), Magnes publication no.6 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1981).

45. Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model," p. 33.

46. Ibid., p. 34.

47. Cf. Yoel Bin Nun in Nekuda, no.72 (September 9, 1984).

48. Cf. Danny Rubinstein, On the Lord's Side: Gush Emunim (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, 1982), pp. 12-17; Zvi Raanan, Gush Emunim (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Poalim, 1980), pp. 39-49; Ehud Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model of Political Extremism" (Hebrew), Medina, Mimshal Veyahasim Beinleumiim, no.17 (Spring 1981): 36-39.

49. Kook's sermon is quoted in Nekuda, no.86 (April 26, 1985): 6-7.

50. Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model," p. 36.

51. Rubinstein, On the Lord's Side, pp. 79-80.

52. Cf. Giora Goldberg and Ephraim Ben Zadok, "Regionalism and Territorial Cleavage in Formation: Jewish Settlement in the Administered Territories" (Hebrew), Medina, Mimshal Veyahasim Beinleumiim, no.21 (Spring 1983): 84-90.

53. Myron M. Aronoff, "The Institutionalization and Cooptation of a Charismatic Messianic Religious Political Revitalization Movement," in David Newman, ed., The Impact of Gush Emunim (London: Croom, Helm, 1985), pp. 54-58.

54. Ehud Sprinzak, "Gush Emunim, the Iceberg Model of Political Extremism" (Hebrew), Medina, Mimshal Veyahasim Beinleumiim, no. 17. (Spring 1981): 41.

55. Meron Benvenisti, The West Bank Data Project (Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1984).

56. Ibid., pp. 37-39.

57. Cf. Danny Rubinstein, On the Lord's Side: Gush Emunim (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, 1982), pp. 147-152.

58. Benvenisti, West Bank Data Project, pp. 39-49.

59. Danny Rubinstein, "Settlers: A State in Creation Underground" (Hebrew), Davar, February 2, 1985.

60. Cf. interview with Dr. Joseph Dreizln in Nekuda, no.84 (March 1, 1984): 6-7.

61. Rubinstein, "Settlers."

62. Benvenisti, West Bank Data Project, p. 41.

63. Ibid.

64. Ibid., p. 42.

65. The man was Capt. Yeshua Ben Shoshan, former regional defense officer of Mateh Binyamin; cf. Ha'aretz, January 18, 1985.

66. Cited by Yehuda Litani, "Double-edged Sword" (Hebrew), Ha'aretz, February 21, 1985.

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