"All the slogans about Torah and settlement, the Land of Israel and the people of Israel are attempts to forget the simple and pain-torn fact: you are dead. You are dead, and no slogan will bring you back. You are not a symbol or a national event.”
Motti Fogel, Brother of Deceased Israeli Settler Udi Fogel, By His Funeral
This week has seen a marked upturn in violence throughout “Israel”, especially in the West Bank territories. Rammings, stabbings, rocking throwing. 5 straight days of violence should be enough for even the most ardent Israeli settler to rethink his position on settlement expansion. Regrettably, this is not the case. A puppet can’t become tired. A puppet doesn’t know to rethink, to reevaluate. He just dances. And so, the grotesque dance that has become the West Bank settlements continues unabated, it’s movements more akin to a bull in a china shop than to a ballet dancer.
The Knesset/puppet masters scream and cry for the blood that has been spilt on both sides, shedding copious crocodile tears. They decry the “crazies”, these Religious Zionist insitgators, saying that they give absolutely no support to the settler endeavor, they just want peace. “Why can’t there be peace?!” they scream. “If only these mental patients would stop their meddling we could finally have peace!” Their statements seem sincere enough to the casual observer. However, when they come to pay a visit to an injured settler or to console his grieving family, they suddenly become veritable bastions of strength for these modern day pioneers. At the funeral of the Fogel family, who were residents of the settlement of Itamar, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin’s final remarks were, “Build more, live more, more footholds – that is our response to the murderers so that they know – they can't defeat us.” An entire family had been killed, including a 4 month old baby, and his response was to turn them into a political tool! His statement is only too common amongst “Israel’s” public servants, those who claim to be acting in the best interest of those they represent. So, the religo-political puppetry continues unabated.
This clumsy performance of the Knesset and their supporting actors has also created a serious case of mistaken identity, one which Traditional Jews suffer from. Sadly, when one happens upon Anti-Semitic cartoons or literature today, the image portrayed is often a hybrid of a traditional Orthodox Jew and a West Bank settler. A long black coat with an Uzi submachine gun and Religious Zionist yarmulke with a Hasidic hat. For those within the traditional Jewish community, this jumble would be laughable if the view it implies wasn’t so frightening. Very often this character seen in the cartoon is nothing more than a figment of the author’s imagination and though people who actively draw and distribute Anti-Semitic drawings are few, the confusion concerning who these settlers represent and what they believe is widespread.
Considering the confusion is so widespread, one could easily mistake a Torah True Jew for a Yesha Settler and vice versa. The question is: Where do they stop and Torah Jewry begin?
In our last article we discussed the history and motivations of settler movement. Here we’ll explore the daily life and culture of this group of ardent nationalists. Considering their prominence in the news, it’s important to understand from where they’re coming from and what drives them, enabling one to have a better handle on the conflict at large.
By all accounts, life on a Yesha settlement is different. Very different. One visiting a typical settlement could expect to find it’s inhabitants dressed like Jewish hippies but strapped with machine guns. The very appearance of many of these settlers belies an imbalance which is more than a little unnerving for an outsider. Starved for purpose and ignorant of the true Torah perspective, these pioneers have been caught up in a movement which serves as nothing more than a convenient excuse for Israeli politicians to engage in two-faced party maneuvering. They praise the settlers to their faces but condemn them before the media as “crazies”. Though the settlers are often times well aware of the duplicitousness of their “friends” in the Knesset, many seem to have made peace with the fact that these politicians will say one thing to their faces and another for the sake of the media. It seems more akin to an abusive high school friendship than to a political alliance.
These unhinged Yesha settlers are fervent Israeli nationalists who are simultaneously an integral part of Israeli society and a despised minority. Their readiness to serve in the Israeli military, even when the conditions there run contrary to Jewish moral standards, and their desire to readily volunteer for dangerous missions has provided them a certain level of tolerance. However, the general consensus in Israeli society is that they are, “medievalists”, a barely countenanced subculture whose members are only one step above pariah status.
After digesting decades of warped propaganda from their rabbis, they have unwittingly absorbed centuries of old Anti-Semitic rhetoric, despising the image of the Jew in exile who, even according to his many detractors, has heroically observed his religion in peace and patiently waited for the end of the long and often bitter exile. They have swallowed early Zionist propaganda in its entirety, and the result has been that their own form has changed. The pre-state Jew has become a wretched thing in their collective memory, one who couldn’t or wouldn’t defend himself against daily insults and sometimes violence that so often characterized life in many Jewish communities throughout the world. Instead of seeing strength in the ability to hold oneself back and accept suffering, they were taught that there must be a collective rebirth. A new Jew must emerge from the ashes, one strapped with an assault rifle and a healthy dose of bravado. Perhaps this new Jew should also have been given a prescription for anti-psychotics.
Their daily life can only be described in terms of constant danger. Though there have most definitely been attacks within the 1948 border lines, statistics show that the bulk of attacks now take place in the contested West Bank. Every settlement, almost without exception, has stories of stabbings, murder, rock throwing and suicide bombings. Those who have lost loved ones are tragically not few in number. Violence is an almost daily and unsurprising occurrence and their is a de facto state of war present. This is especially painful given that, by all accounts, Jews and Arabs lived peacefully with each other before the sickness of Zionism made it’s way to the Holy Land. Completing this structure of disfunction, the educational curriculum is based on Religious Zionist teachings, which are presented as the Jewish norm, thereby revising Judaism to fit timely political needs. So, the infection is passed on from one generation to the next.
As we’ve seen lately in the news, a settlement which is perpetually in a state of chaos, even more than your typical one, is Hebron. It should be noted that Hebron was the city which inaugurated the current cycle of violence seen today when, due to verbal incitement by none other the Avraham Yitzchok Kook, idealogical father of the Yesha movement, there broke out a wave of violence in the city which left scores dead. Kook wanted to claim the Western Wall as a Zionist symbol which would serve as rallying point for the movement, giving it legitimacy where there was none, seizing a sacred site for the use of sectarian nationalism. His rhetoric became more and more shrill till the British authorities felt it incumbent upon themselves to send Kook a letter begging him to curtail his strident speech. Ever the conscientious leader, Kook refused and the result was that over hundred Jews around Israel, including over 20 young yeshiva students of the Hebron Yeshiva, an institution that had nothing and wanted nothing to do with Kook and his followers, were murdered. There was violence all over the British Mandate in those few days in the summer of 1929 but Hebron is universally acknowledged as the worst example.
Hebron was the second settlement to be established after the 1967 war, where a radical group of settlers, under the pretext of spending the upcoming Passover holiday in the Park Hotel of Hebron, asked permission from the Israeli government to enter. They happily obliged and the “vacationers” promised that they would leave soon afterwards. Apparently “soon afterwards” is a relative concept because the original settlers never left and were soon joined by other families willing to go against Jewish law and custom and risk their lives to live there. The sanctity of life in Jewish thought and practice that everything took a back seat to the preservation of life now took a back seat to drunken nationalism. And just as a drunk has only one goal which is to obtain more liquor, their goal was simply to perpetuate their nationalism. A drunk doesn’t think about side issues and neither did they. Hebron is widely considered one of the most militant settlements where clashes with the local Palestinian population are almost daily. Sniper attacks in the Jewish Quarter of the city are not uncommon and practically every adult has a story of being pelted by rocks while driving. All this takes place in an unruffled and relatively “serene” atmosphere. Children play in protective machine gun nests strategically placed throughout their neighborhood and in general the feel is one of nonchalance. It can easily be said that there reigns an alternative reality in Hebron.
Peace is a supreme Torah value and a Jew is required to live peacefully with the nations around them. Violent instigation of another group of people is not only foolhardy but according to Torah law and outlook, it is immoral. However, the fruit from the noxious weed of Zionism and the even more noxious weed of Religious Zionism, itself an indisputable contradiction in terms, has created a alternate universe where Judaism means violence and violence means strength. It’s not surprising that out of such a garden of thorns and thistles there would emerge such confused individuals. The water which had quenched them in their youth had been laced with venom and the result has been that Yesha has produced sickly and confused fruit, its frail health camouflaged by liberal globs of machismo.
It’s interesting to note that within the Yesha settlements there is surprising diversity, ranging from a place like Hebron, which is fortified neighborhood in a city thousands of years old, to suburban communities such Kedumin which are more reminiscent of California than the West Bank. Then, of course, there are the many “illegal” outposts, which are oftentimes nothing more than a few caravans strategically placed on top of a hill. The fact that all of the settlements are in violations of international law and have been from the very beginning seems to have been lost on “Israel’s” public servants. Those who settle in these communities are considered particularly brave, the word “brave” being used to mean ready to essentially place their children in front of a gun. Many of these outposts have had trailers burned in arson attacks and shootings are commonplace. In response, a cycle of violent reprisals has taken root in many settlements, be they small outposts or larger communities, where every attack is met with another, creating a perverse vendetta system which disallows all attempts at peace. A shooting on a settlement can result is the razing of an nearby olive orchard. Stone throwing could be met with mass demonstrations blocking roads. The disastrous cycle continues.
No strangers to reporters and academics’ questions, many settlers shrug off talk of the danger involved as irrelevant and senseless. Their leadership ignored thousands of years of Jewish scholarship which spoke in no uncertain against their proposed plans and now that they’re here there’s nothing to talk about. Their nationalism and militancy notwithstanding, Yesha is a radical replacement of authentic Judaism. Sociologist Charles Selengut wrote that, “It dawned on me that the settler community was no traditionalist old-time community but a uniquely contemporary movement integrating religion, nationalism, and serious elements of modernity.” The ideals with which many traditional Jews sacrificed their very lives have been replaced with a caustic cocktail of incompatible elements.
By the funeral for the Fogel family, then Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger stated that, ”Itamar needs to become a major city in Israel as a response to this murder.” When their leaders view them as nothing more than pawns in a perverse game of chess, is any wonder that the sheep wander aimlessly, endangering themselves and others?
It is our fervent prayer at True Torah Jews that we will see soon an end to cycle of bloodshed and violence and that there once again be peace amongst the inhabitants in the Holy Land.