The settlements as told by a leader of the religious Zionist movement

By Israel Harel, April 18, 2008

The Settlements :A leader of the religious Zionist movement says its resolve has only been strengthened by government confrontations


On May 8, 2008, the settlers of Ofra will celebrate 60 years of Israel’s independence in a large event at the local Roman amphitheatre. Five days later, they will get together for another celebration: 33 years since the founding of their home, the first Jewish community founded north of Jerusalem since the destruction of the Temple. Thirty-three years is not a long period in the history of the Jewish people, but it is a long time in the history of the state of Israel, and certainly in one individual’s life. I am sometimes asked, what was your motive in giving up a promising job as a senior journalist in a leading newspaper to go and live on a bare and desolate hilltop? Was it hard for your wife to give up her academic position at Bar-Ilan University and leave your peaceful neighbourhood in Petah Tikva for an uncertain and dangerous existence in the Binyamin mountains? The answer, then as now, is that we had a fierce feeling that the process of the Return to Zion and the settlement of all parts of Eretz Yisrael had not ended with the founding of the state in 1948, and we, as the next generation, had to do our part in an as yet unfinished Zionist project. One of the most important components of that project — and at critical junctures perhaps the most important — was settling the points that defined that state’s borders and the places where Jews had lived in the days when we had transformed from different tribes into one people and crystallised our belief in one God; the time when Jewish history was created, the history to which we had clung to in exile and which had formed the justification for the return to the land of our fathers. Ofra was founded two-and-a half-years after the Yom Kippur War. The war that had begun with a strategic surprise attack by Syria and Egypt, and had poised a mortal threat to the state’s existence, had ended in a mighty military victory. But instead of rejoicing, and making the most of this achievement, as a normal and confident nation would, most of our decision-makers went into trauma and gave the orders for a series of retreats, wasting the fruits of victory, not only in Sinai. These retreats have still not ended; even now they have brought upon us the 2008 war of kassams in Sderot, Ashkelon and the western Negev. The settlers of Ofra and the other communities after the war had, besides the territorial objective, another hidden but more important aim: to uplift the low spirits in those dismal years of the people of Israel, through acts that indicated optimism and confidence in the future. Our mission so far has only been partially successful. Something fundamental has cracked in the wall of Israeli self-confidence — especially in everything to do with the justification of the Zionist way and the preparedness to pay the price of independence. And many Israelis, including most of the media and other opinion-forming parts of society, have begun to blame their nation and state for the evil supposedly done to the Palestinians. Some have even justified the terror war. This attitude has deepened the insecurity over the justice of the Zionist way, and has prepared public opinion for more pullbacks. The first and biggest was the retreat from Sinai and the destruction the Jewish communities there. And if it is legitimate to destroy communities, then it is also legitimate to run away from facing the enemy. This was the mentality that set the foundation for the frantic escape from Lebanon in the summer of 2000, that spawned the war of terror which Arafat started shortly afterwards, and the two years of inaction while dozens of Jews were being murdered every month by suicide terrorists. In my eyes, the destruction of the communities of Gush Katif in 2005 was a direct continuation of the mindset after the Yom Kippur war. Hamas claimed, with full justification, from its point of view, that it was the movement that had expelled the Israelis and therefore deserved, and received, the leadership mantle. The results of the war in Lebanon prove, and the Winograd Commission specifically pointed out, that Israeli society is in the depths of an ideological crisis that leads to military failure. On the state’s sixtieth birthday, it can be said that, within the community that comprises the settlement movement, despite the mortal blow of the expulsion from Gush Katif, there are no signs of a similar ideological crisis. No doubt there is a crisis of confidence between them and the government; but not with the Zionist, ideological values of the state. And just as after the Yom Kippur War we did not weaken and certainly did not give up on the existence of the Jewish state and the necessity of continuing to fight for it under all circumstances, we remain just as committed after the Second Lebanon War. Despite all that the Sharon-Olmert administrations have done, our commitment to the future of Israel is not measured by the attitude of this or that government.

Last updated: 1:47pm, September 16 2008