DevMode
Gush Emunim (the Bloc of the Faithful) burst upon the Israeli scene during the deep political and moral crises that followed the October 1973 war, though its ideas had been in gestation ever since the Six-Day War of June 1967. Suddenly, Israelis were confronted with the question of what to do with territories that were to many Jews the cradle of their historical-spiritual identity, as well as looking like a vital strategic boon. These territories were the homeland of 1.5 million hostile Palestinians who were going through their own process of national awakening. Israel's Orthodox had not been ultra-nationalistic until then, but the Six-Day War victory struck this community as miraculous, and in conformity with messianic expectation. The newly occupied territories radicalized them.
The impatient young offshoots of the National Religious Party (NRP) adopted for their own ends Kook's1 theory of the cardinal importance of the Land of Israel: only Jews have this special, divinely ordained relationship with the land. There cannot be a People of Israel without the "complete" or "whole" Land of Israel; therefore, even the smallest withdrawal is to be opposed. The whole Promised Land is needed as a territorial basis to serve God. Here the program of territorialism and imposing Halacha (religious law) as a political system come together. Since giving back any piece of land is sinful, preemptively settling it became the highest commandment, the preferred way to speed up the arrival of the Messiah - if need be, even against the desires of the government of Israel.
Not that secular Zionists opposed settlement - on the contrary, pioneering had always been a Zionist value par excellence. However, the Labor government of the 1970s saw the West Bank more in terms of a diplomatic pawn than as Israel's eternal patrimony. It did not want to foreclose peace with the Palestinians and the Arab states by flooding the occupied territories with Jewish settlers. It therefore limited settlements to specified, strategically important sites.
For messianic fundamentalists, by contrast, the sanctity of the land overrides that of the state. For them the State of Israel is viewed primarily as an instrument for conquest and settlement and loses its moral right if it fails in this primordial mission, even if this clashes with the elected government.

Alone in a Hostile World

Gush Emunim (whose viewpoint can be taken as representative of the whole messianistic current) assumes a permanent conflict between the Jewish people and the nations of the world, and glorifies the notion of a "people that dwells apart," whose uniqueness follows from an irrevocable covenant with God. Zionist fundamentalists thus reverse the classical Zionist endeavor to "normalize" the Jewish condition; on the contrary, because of the Jews' particular destiny, it is isolation itself that must appear "normal." In that sense, the climate of the 1970s was propitious for Gush Emunim. Israel's international position reached its nadir, and it seemed that indeed "the whole world is against us." For Gush Emunim, Arab hostility appears as just a special case of universal anti-Semitism, the latest round in the eternal battle of good against evil. Subsequently, with negotiations and the reciprocal opening up of part of the Arab world to Israel, this isolationism appeared progressively more bizarre and obsolete, coming into its own again with the Palestinian uprising of September [2000].
Gush Emunim denies that the Palestinians have any rights whatsoever to the Land of Israel. In his book For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, Ian Lustick has noted that for Gush Emunim, the "Arab question" has to be solved by massive Jewish immigration, preferably coupled with Arab emigration, i.e., transfer, and possibly disenfranchisement of the remainder. Some Gush Emunim-associated rabbis advocate dhimmi-like status for non-Jews; others have even expressed genocidal intent, equating the Arab people with Amalek. While such opinions are far from being in the majority, they illustrate the cultural milieu that could engender a Baruch Goldstein.
The tension between the Jewish state and settler-fundamentalists subsided temporarily in 1977 when Menachem Begin came to power on the crest of an anti-Labor wave borne by a coalition of secular Land of Israel zealots, messianic fundamentalists and anti-Ashkenazi Oriental Jewish voters. The Likud was (and remains) ideologically committed to retaining most or all the territories, yet lacked the cadre and expertise to put settlements on the ground. Gush Emunim lacked the resources and the prestige conferred by official settler bodies. Hence a mutually exploitative relationship evolved, and Gush Emunim was for a while central in implementing the Likud's crash colonization program. In the 1980s, as Gush Emunim ran out of steam and had exhausted its manpower reservoir, the Likud started to foster mass colonization by tempting less ideologically inflamed Israelis with economic inducements to move into the West Bank - cheap housing, pure air, quality of life.

Land for Peace

From the mid-1980s on, after the failed Lebanese adventure, Israel's increasingly polarized society witnessed a prolonged standoff between the "peace camp," which stands for a historical compromise with the Palestinians based on the principle of "land for peace," and the self-styled "national camp," which wanted to prolong an advantageous status quo in the territories by slowly incorporating the land without formally annexing its Palestinian inhabitants. These two camps neutralized each other for years.
Meanwhile, radical Jewish fundamentalists got increasingly frustrated with what to them seemed an overly cautious reticence on the part of the Israeli authorities. A "lunatic fringe" emerged: the terrorist Jewish underground, groups preparing the construction of the Third Temple on the site of the Muslim shrines Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, and the openly racist and fascist Kach movement of Rabbi Meir Kahane that advocates forcible expulsion of all Palestinians, and imposition of a Jewish theocracy. Kahane was assassinated in 1990 by an Arab. To revenge his death, his disciple Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in Hebron (1994). This tragedy has awakened the public to the dangers inherent in Jewish fundamentalism.

The Social Base of Gush Emunim

The portrait of the nationalistic modern Orthodox, the "kipot srugot" (knitted skullcaps), is that of educated youth from conservative Ashkenazi middle-class backgrounds, not at ease in - and, at least until they started their mass activities, "not taken seriously" by - the modern world. Socialization into the national religious mold takes place in the state-religious schools (attended by 25 to 30 percent of all pupils) and in the youth movement Bnei Akiva. Over the past few generations, these networks have created a complete subculture from which most activists and settlers are recruited. Besides, settlers themselves increasingly form Jewish fundamentalism's mainstay. For a marginal, non-establishment extra-parliamentary movement, Gush Emunim has been extraordinarily successful.
As regards social origin, there are striking parallels as well as differences between Jewish and Islamic fundamentalist activists. Both seem to be concentrated among university students from lower middle-class backgrounds. But while there may be some similarities between their core activists, they differ in their mass following. For radical Islamic movements, attaining political power is conditional on recruiting a clientèle amongst the "downtrodden of the earth," the urban underclass. They do so on the basis of their revolutionary-conservative social and cultural program, but even more on the basis of their provision of free services where the state defaults. In a typically Third-World pattern, recent arrivals from the countryside react against deteriorating social and economic conditions and betrayed expectations of modernity by turning to religion.
By contrast, Jewish messianism seems to lack a social program. It is not primarily a social-economic phenomenon, but thrives on feelings of insecurity and survival anxiety. Israel, for all its economic problems, is a modern and (at least for its Jewish population) relatively affluent society - even though its renowned egalitarianism is fast fading away. Many conservative Oriental Jews do feel socially deprived, economically discriminated against, politically frustrated and culturally alienated by the successes and hegemony of their more worldly Ashkenazi neighbors. Hence they tend to the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party.
The equivalent in Israel of the Egyptian or Algerian situation of today would be a very dangerous amalgam of the Likud with Gush Emunim plus Shas. But fusion of the Oriental Shas with the Ashkenazi Gush Emunim has not taken place. Ethnic and social fragmentation appears to constrain what Jewish fundamentalism has been able to achieve, but its alliance with political extremism can be highly effective.

Messianic Fundamentalism in Israeli Politics

In a formal sense, the religious parties, including the NRP that is settler-oriented, are integrated into Israel's parliamentary democracy. Since the 1980s, the religious lists have emerged as key players. They have held the balance between the blocs of Labor and the Likud, and have been able to extort concessions in return for support for one of the secular parties. The settlers were among those benefiting from such deals.
Actively anti-democratic fundamentalist forces are not entrenched in any of Israel's elites, with the possible exception of the rabbinical establishment, whose power is limited. On the surface, there seems little danger of a symbiosis of the state with Jewish fundamentalism, even if those sectors attracted to the ideal of a theocratic commonwealth may not be enamored with democratic values. While opposed to fundamentalism, Israel's secular leadership (Labor no less than the Likud) may harbor some residual pro-pioneering sentiments that at one point benefited Gush Emunim.
In any case, Jewish fundamentalists of all stripes form a minority (though not an insubstantial one). Recent research among Israeli Jews shows there is widespread (ca. 50 percent) observance of some religious rules, but this is a far cry from the politicized religion and the anti-pluralist concepts cherished by Gush Emunim, which is probably supported by no more than 15 percent of the population.
However, the political danger posed by Jewish fundamentalists is increased where locally they constitute majorities. This occurs precisely in the most sensitive places: Jerusalem and the West Bank. There are some 200,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Admittedly, only a minority of them can be considered hard-core Gush Emunim. Yet a combination of betrayed expectations (fears stemming from a deteriorating security situation and the prospect of Palestinian autonomy and of being "swamped" by Palestinian returnees), may drive this population into the arms of its most radical segments.
About 200,000 Jews in East Jerusalem are seen by most of the international community as "settlers," a concept ridiculed in Jewish Jerusalem, the stronghold of the modern Orthodox, the knitted skullcaps. Socially conservative, politically far to the right, and not seldom blatantly anti-Arab, Haredim and the National Religious combine to form a solid religious-rightist majority. To them should be added the large concentration of Oriental Jews who, in their different style, combine traditional religiosity with Likud or Shas political allegiances.

Future Scenarios: Fundamentalist Settler Terrorism?
After the massacre in 1994 of scores of Muslim worshippers in the Haram al-Ibrahimi in Hebron, and the assassination in 1995 of prime minister Rabin, the destabilizing capabilities inherent in terrorist operations from Jewish fundamentalism's lunatic fringe can no longer be disregarded. The danger of "Belfastization" or Beirutization" of Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, or Israel as a whole may come from more than one direction. However, the most obvious candidates for trouble are undoubtedly the West Bank and Gaza Strip settlers.
The settlements have been highlighted as the single most serious obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The creation of about 200 settlements in the occupied territories was a replay of the "heroic age" of Zionism; it was also the willful, intentional creation since the 1970s of an obstacle to peace fostered both by Likud and Labor governments up to our day.
Armed settlers have long been involved in anti-Palestinian harassment, shootings, and massacres, with little police intervention. Conversely, disarming the settlers can turn them into sitting ducks. After over 30 years of enforced inequality and humiliations, Palestinian vengeance will not be long in coming. Jewish settlements enjoy zero legitimacy in Palestinian eyes, and their total uprooting is unanimously demanded by all Palestinian factions. While not all settlers were Jewish fundamentalists to begin with, in such a no-exit situation, more and more of them have begun "understanding" the need for violent reaction to Palestinian "provocations." Even without considering their own security predicament, Jewish fundamentalists can be counted upon to constitute the shock battalions working against a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Every once in a while, somebody will hear God's voice commanding him to draw blood and take a few lives from the other side. Some Jewish fundamentalists may take up arms not just for security reasons, but for more expressly political-messianic motives to accelerate the advent of redemption, to force the government to retrace its steps, to destroy germs of Jewish-Arab accommodation and reconciliation in a sea of blood, and to topple an illegitimate "no-longer-Zionist" regime.
Fundamentalist terror is not dependent on massive support at the ballot, although this combination does occur, e.g., in Algeria. The small combined active membership of the IRA and Loyalist underground has sufficed to keep three million Northern Irish in a state of siege for 20 years.
A few hundred committed, hard-core Kahanist settlers may pose an intractable challenge to Israel's security forces. In certain circumstances, a combination of religious fundamentalism and political extremism could turn the philosophy of "the whole world is against us" into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

From Baskin, Gershon and Al-Qaq, Zakaria. The Future of the Israeli Settlements in Final Status Negotiations. Jerusalem: IPCRI, 1997.


1. Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook (1891-1982) was a chief Ashkenazi rabbi and founder of Meretz Harav Yeshiva, a religious center from which the rabbi became the spiritual mentor of Gush Emunim. <

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