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This week in Israel ….. Behind the news
with Gershon Baskin







July 21, 2005

A few days ago, I received in my email a new political bumper sticker – it was a picture of two Israeli flags, one in orange and white and the other in the traditional blue and white.  Under the flags it said: “ Israel – two states for two people”.  While watching the Israeli news everyday this past week seeing 40,000 Israelis dressed in orange trying to prevent the Israeli disengagement from Gaza , I keep asking myself: are we part of the same people?  The color orange symbolizing the Israeli version of the “orange revolution against the government” that succeeded in the Ukraine , now decorates cars, road signs, hats, tee-shirts, and junctions all over the country have young people distributing orange ribbons. Never has the dichotomy of Israeli society been more visually obviously. Never have I felt more alienated from so many other Israelis. The Israeli decision to leave Gaza , in my mind, is so much the right thing to do that it is hard for me to under stan d anyone on the other side of the issue inside of Israel .


Settling in Gaza in the first place was a grave error. Leaving Gaza and withdrawing the settlers and the settlements is perhaps the first step towards correcting the error. Those who want Israel to stay there and to continue the colonization policies are a mix of political right wing fanatics and religious messianic fantasy filled delusionists. In my world view, these are dangerous people and their world view and value system place us in two different camps. I look at them and listen to them and wonder what we have in common. We have the same roots. Our histories have shared heritages. We came from the same places and have lived through the same experiences.  Yet our paths have split and it seems that our futures are going in very different directions.


They speak about redemption. They believe that by their actions they will bring the messiah. They face the challenges ahead of them with the belief that bringing redemption is filled with pain, suffering and struggle. They have faith in their God and as a result of that faith, they have non-rationale answers for every rationale question they are asked. When asked about the logic of settling in Gaza with almost 2 million Palestinians there, or about why the State of Israel should invest so many resources – human and financial, in protecting a few thousand settlers, they respond that they are fulfilling the will of God and that the road to redemption is paved by settling the Land of Israel. These are arguments that cannot be won or even debated on logical and rationale terms. These are arguments that I have no response to. 

More than the irrationality of their viewpoint and beliefs, is the reality that their value system is completely foreign to mine. They believe within the deepest places of their souls that they are superior to all other people.  Their slogan “Jews don’t expel Jews” is just one small example of how they relate to others who are not Jews. Is it alright in their view that Jews can expel non-Jews? The answer is yes. When the Jewish sages spoke about doing to others as you would like to be treated yourself, the Sages related to the all of the “others”, especially to the non-Jews. But in the interpretation of this central message of Judaism, the settlers and their supporters relate to the “others” only as to other Jews.  For them, non-Jews can be treated differently. Non-Jews can be expelled. Non-Jews can be exploited.  Non-Jews don’t have rights to land in the Land of Israel . Non Jews are not like us.

This is not the view and under stan ding of Judaism that I was taught and that I live by. Their moral code differentiates between Jews and all of the others. They don’t even see the danger of their position and their world view. They don’t see this as racism. They see this as the will of their God.  For them the world is divided into “us” and “them”.  “We” are good and “they” are not. God gave the Land of Israel to “us” and not to “them”.

This week we witnessed how their world view can spill over into Israeli society itself. This week one of the settler leaders, Pinchas Wallerstein said that Sharon is not a human being. In Wallerstein’s book, Sharon has lost his status as a member of the human race because he will expel the Jews of Gaza from their homes and is working against the redemption of the Jewish people and of the Land of Israel . Wallerstein was reprimanded by many of his settler colleagues who understood the danger of his message. He ended up withdrawing his comment, but the idea that there are two classes of Jews – those with the settlers and those against the settlers, is likely to re-emerge later in their struggle.

Many of the settlers and their followers have adopted similar positions by calling the soldiers and the police who prevent their protests “Nazis” or “Judenrat” – the Jews in Nazi concentration camps who were forced to serve the Nazis. Adopting the symbols of the Holocaust to the cause of the settlers has caused quite an outrage amongst many Israelis. This has further deepened the cleavages between “them” and “us”.

The mixture of political fanaticism and religious extremism is always toxic. It is what moves Bin Laden and his followers, it is what moves the followers of Kahana and Chabad.  It is dangerous and it is becoming more extreme. In Israel of July 2005, the ultra orthodox messianic Chabad movement has joined forces with the followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahana. Removing Palestinians from the Land of Israel is their stated goal. In their minds, all means are kosher. These are very dangerous people who are capable of doing very dangerous things. When it becomes clear to them that they cannot stop the disengagement by non-violent protests and marches, the tactics of the current mainstream settler leaders, these groups are capable and likely to take actions aimed at provoking Palestinian violence. They hope that Palestinian violence will cause the disengagement plans to be halted. These are the kind of people who targeted the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif with the aim of sparking a flame that will ignite the entire Middle East .  These are the kind of people who are capable of blowing up a Palestinian school with the school children inside. In the coming weeks, as the date of evacuation gets closer, these people will become more and more desperate.

As Israel and the Palestinians move forward, hopefully some day soon after the disengagement, back into negotiations, the future of the West Bank will be in focus. If and when Israel agrees to disengage and withdraw from the West Bank , the religious and political fanaticism of the settlers will be at a much higher level that demonstrated today. For them the West Bank is the historic land of Israel .  It is the land of the prophets; it is the Land of the Torah.  There are some Jews who claim that Gaza was never part of the Biblical Land of Israel. There is no one who says that the West Bank was not the heartland of Jewish history and heritage. If and when we move towards negotiations over the West Bank the earth under their world view and value system will quake with much more intensity than what we witness now.

If and when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ever resolved, the internal conflicts inside of Israel will continue with much greater intensity.  On the positive side it should be noted that since the disengagement plan was announced about 1 ½ years ago, the percentage of Israelis opposed to the plan has not grown.  The opposition has remained con stan t at between 30-36%. Some of the opposition is because Israel is doing it unilaterally, not part of the negotiated process in which the Palestinians would be required to give something in return. Some are opposed because they believe that the disengagement is a reward for Palestinian terrorism and will only encourage the Palestinians to continue to adopt violence as their primary political tactic.

I would estimate that the religious-political fanatics probably represent about 25% of Israeli society.  Amongst those 1.25 million Israelis (!) there are various degrees of extremism. The most extreme are found in places like Hebron . Others are the next generation of settlers, the youth who can be found on the hilltops of the West Bank .  They heard Sharon call on them a few years ago to “capture every hill top”. They grew up on the stories of their parents who went into the West Bank and built the settlements from nothing. The settlers have developed and refined a collective narrative of heroism and deep faith in God and mission. The next generation of settlers, inspired by their parents and filled with hatred towards the Palestinians, which has grown tremendously during the years of the intifada, has brought fanaticism to new levels. These youths are a bizarre mixture of 1960’s hippy type revolt; they experiment with drugs and mysticism and are motivated by the most extreme form of religious inspired political fanaticism. This is another group of extremists with almost no limits on the use of violence against Palestinians. This small group of youth live in closed and secretive societies.  Many of them are found in small groups – a few living on hilltops overlooking Palestinian villages and towns.  They have no fear in their souls. They believe that they are acting as agents for God.  They have a mission and they will not be deterred by laws, or by soldiers or police. These people are also capable of using acts of provocation to prevent Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank .

Israeli society is divided and in anguish. There are and there will be many stories of trauma that are being presented as part and parcel of the disengagement. The trauma stories will be used and exploited by those who wish to prevent future withdrawals and disengagements. Some of it is real, some of it is orchestrated and embellished. The divisions and cleavages in Israel are very real, these will certainly grow.








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