Gush Emunim: The Twilight of Zionism?


February 25 marked the anniversary of the settler Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Palestinian worshipers in the Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron. In connection with this horrifying event, Media Monitor readers might find historical relevance in the following essay about Gush Emunim, the spearhead of Israel’s settlement movement, published in The Village Voice in 1979. When I wrote it, it seemed to me that giving Gush Emunim human faces and voices would bring to life what this militant religious Zionism was about é more, perhaps, than a compilation of historical facts or a news analysis. The people I interviewed then are now in their 50s and 60s and a new generation of the movement, their children, has taken over. As far as I can tell from what I read of the Hebrew and Palestinian presses, the settlers are now bolder and exert vigilantism far more openly than they did even in the 1970s and 80s. Israel’s new prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is historically the movement’s best friend, arch-promoter of settlements, the most public and prominent spokesman for the notion of a “Greater Israel.” What appeared to be “fanaticism” or “a lunatic fringe” twenty-one years ago leads Israel’s government today. It is true that many settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza because of low rents and government subsidies are leaving. It is also true that Gush Emunim and its like remain.

Late afternoon. I have just taken the jolting hour and a quarter bus ride from Jerusalem into the West Bank, my destination Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement smack up against the Palestinian city, Hebron, an eight-minute drive from the farm village, Halhoul. I’m in a four-room cube of an apartment in one of the buildings that jut up like tombstones out of the Mediterranean landscape with its stone terraces, its olive trees, fruit groves and grape vines. In the kitchen 32-year-old Hannah, very pregnant, has been alternating talk about Gush Emunim, Israel’s New Right, the center of her life for the past twelve years, with visits from neighbors who come to borrow food and ask advice. It is shabat. The rush to finish cooking before official sundown has just ended; the five kids have dressed each other in their best. Hannah turns to me. “Do you light?” she asks. For a moment I think she’s asking how I cope with power failures in the American economic twilight. Then I go with her to the ten-by-twelve-foot living room. Just above the photograph of the spiritual father of Gush Emunim, Rabbi Avraham Kook, a bearded man with a fur-trimmed hat and heavy-lidded eyes, stand the candles on a tiny shelf. All too faintly I remember Friday evenings in my grandmother’s apartment in center-city Philadelphia. I stand in Kiryat Arba, an assimilated Jew é an atheist, no less é brushing up against the superiority of Orthodoxy, awash in feelings I haven’t had since childhood. Embarrassment. A sense of inferiority. Anger that I should be feeling any of this in the first place. Hannah has left me two candles of my very own. I take the matchbox and I light, standing for what I hope is a decent interval, head bowed in the bosom of the Israeli ultra-Right.

Last spring Gush Emunim (pronounced goosh aymooneem, the “block of the faithful”) set up a trailer camp they called Elon Moreh on a boulder-strewn hilltop near Nablus, due north of Jerusalem on the West Bank. While Elon Moreh was much in the US news this past spring, and while it spurred the first vocal protests from the American Jewish community against West Bank settlements in general, it is only the most recent of Gush Emunim’s ventures. Ever since the eve of the Six Day War, leaders of the Faithful have supplied the shock troops for major settlements in Judea and Samaria (the Biblical and, for the Faithful, the only term for “the West Bank”). Between 1967 and 1973, in plans like that of Ytzhak Rabin’s deputy Prime Minister, Yigal Allon (among other things it called for settlements in the West Bank and extending Israel’s political boundaries to the Jordan River), the Labor government defined the terms of occupation. After the Likud came to power it continued in Labor’s footsteps. But for twelve years the Faithful have been the actors at the grass roots, marching in demonstrations, staging long “squats” like the one that just ended at Elon Moreh, thereby pressing their friends in high places to act faster on policy.

As a pressure group, the Faithful have an astounding track record. Almost invariably both Labor and the Likud have recognized the movement’s claims to turf. The usual pattern has been for the government initially to denounce the Faithful, then to seize land for them. So it was in 1967 in the case of Kiryat Arba; so it was in November 1979. The squat at Elon Moreh was ended by court order this past October; the government promptly took land for the settlers at a site five miles away.

The movement took its formal name after the Yom Kippur War. “The Faithful.” The name is heavy with a strange, fascinating mix of beliefs and self-images. The weird blend of ultra-Orthodoxy with Zionism, historically a secular movement. The fierce commitment to hit nachalut, land-conquering as Joshua used the term, with all the violent crusading spirit of that Biblical warrior.

The territories conquered in the Six Day War are the lands the Faithful claim as their own. The most important of these is the West Bank é “Judea and Samaria,” the holiest lands within the Holy Land. “Here began our first place,” one movement leader told me, “in Schechem [Nablus], where Jacob bought a plot of land. Here is the true world of Judaism.”

Joshua, whose name I often heard in conversations with the Faithful, is the prototype of the powerful Jew bringing redemption with the sword, taking back what is rightfully his, consigning forever to the past the shtetl Jew cowering in his stibl while peasants and soldiers come to make pogroms. For me, as for any Jewish child of World War II, there has always been something stirring about this (I grew up identifying the Irish anti-Semitism of my Philadelphia neighborhood with the Holocaust.) But for my family, being one of the Chosen People (an idea inseparable from the history of persecution) meant, if anything, being responsible for your neighbor. It was a sort of noblesse oblige that for me pointed left, towards the radical movements of the 60s. Among the Faithful, all the signs pointed to the Right. To be chosen is to be set apart and above the goyim (meaning Arabs in particular but in general everyone except the Jews). To be chosen is also to be powerful, and Jewish power confers Jewish supremacy.

I got to Hanna and Zvi Eidels through Zvi’s Uncle Leo, a master carpenter in Washington Heights, New York City, my mother-in-law’s cousin and one of her best friends. The spirit of Leo é a kind, clever man é attended us on my first visit as we took stock of one another. Our mutual appreciation of Leo, a friendly, human feeling, helped cushion me against culture shock.

Which began instantly, with simple appearances, and continued into the depths of daily living. Hannah, a large woman grown still larger in her sixth pregnancy, wore what I came to recognize as a sort of uniform for orthodox women of a certain background é Ashkenazi Jews of the middling classes (Gush Emunim’s social backbone). In pregnancy (a semi-continuous state for ultra-Orthodox women), the uniform is what used to be called a “mumu,” a loose, bell-shaped affair with elbow-length sleeves. Out of pregnancy the uniform is a dreary shirtwaist or shirt and skirt. A cotton scarf secured by two metal clips, either side, or tied under behind, covers the hair fore and aft.

On Saturday afternoon the mumus and shirtwaists gather amidst a gaggle of baby carriages, toddlers, and children in front of the yeshiva, a long, low, shed-like building, while the men daven inside. I wondered whether this was how one of my great-great foremothers had managed with her own herd. Hannah makes do very well, sleeping five children in two rooms, feeding them, Zvi, and assorted guests in an eight-by-ten-foot kitchen.

The long plank table in the Eidels’ living room seats twelve people at a squeeze. We sat there é I, Hannah and Zvi, their friends Henya and Itzhak, and seven kids é for the evening meal after Hannah and I had lit the candles. Between courses Itzhak, a slender, gentle-looking man in his mid-twenties, sat with his arms around two of the youngest children. “Mi ze am yisroel?” he asked softly. Who are the people of Israel? Then, pointing around the table, “Mama, and Hannah, and Ellen, and Zvi, and Jacob, and you: everyone here is am yisroel. And where are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob buried? They are buried here, in Kiryat Arba. . . ” “And then, and then,” interrupted two-year-old Nomi, a fat, pugnacious-looking child, the youngest Eidel, “Moses went to Mount Sinai, but he didn’t find any candy. No! He found the Torah! Torah gadol! A big Torah!”

The men, the children and I sat while Hannah and Henya cleared and served, and all the while the catechism proceeded, steady, insistent. It was an all-enveloping, self-contained world, the world of the Gush Sabbath. Fascinating, even seductive in its rootedness, it was also smothering in its exclusivity and dogmatism. Zvi sat at the head of the table singing and praying. A bearded, heavy-featured, quiet man, his singing was loud, peremptory; he enclosed himself in it. At the end of the meal the children, small crusaders in the making, sang their own song: “V’shavu banim ligvulam, the sons will come back to their borders.”

In the embrace of the household I lived schizophrenically. On the one hand I knew that Kiryat Arba sits on 1200 dunams of Palestinian land, that it is under military guard at all times, and that a Kiryat Arba resident had been charged with the murder last spring of a Palestinian teenager in Halhoul. Signs of the military occupation and its consequences were all around me. On the other hand, within the self-contained Gush ideology I was drawn into the fold, a daughter of am yisroel. This raw double-edged awareness persisted. It came out of my Jewishness. If my family hadn’t been Jewish I wouldn’t be staying among the faithful. I wouldn’t have told how, in the 1880s, my grandfather had stopped in Jaffa on his way from Poltava to Hartford, Connecticut. I wouldn’t have told the story of my mother’s run-in, in 1944, with the Irish grocer on the corner: not knowing she was Jewish he sang the praises of Hitler, who was “mopping up all those kikes in Europe.” In short, but for my Jewishness, the political wouldn’t have been so distressingly personal.

The children’s song, Hannah told me, is a Gush Emunim song. The movement, with its interlacing of orthodoxy and militant Zionism, is all-pervasive in daily life. That’s the whole point for Hannah. Things weren’t that way in Cleveland where she grew up, the daughter of bookkeeper parents. While she went to a girls’ high school connected to a yeshiva, and while she was in B’nai Akiva, the youth arm of the National Religious Party, religion and daily life in the United States were split. The rift got healed in Israel. She came here in 1967, the year of the Six Day War, on a scholarship to Hebrew University. One day in Pesach, 1968, a classmate told her about a group of people, mainly young, who had trooped out to Hebron to a small hotel called the Hotel Park. They paid up rent there and announced they would stay until the government gave them land to settle in Hebron. As an interim solution the government moved the squatters to a nearby military compound. The leader of the squat was an Israeli-born rabbi named Moshe Levinger. He came in the wake of the Six Day conquest, claiming a Jewish return to Hebron, which had had a Jewish community until 1929. Then, in the midst of scattered Arab uprisings against Zionist immigration to Palestine, a massacre of between 60 and 70 Hebron Jews took places. So for the Faithful Hebron was both the site of the earlier Jewish community and a holy city.

“The thought of those people just going out there and saying they were going to stay,” said Hannah, “I’d never heard anything like it before. So I said to my friend, ‘I’m not interested in talking about any of this, I want something to do.'” The women did the dishwashing, the cleaning, the childcare. The men went on guard duty. “I’d come out after classes in the evening and help make supper. The boys would be in yeshiva. I’d go to sleep on a mattress on the floor. The next morning I’d make coffee, then I’d hitch back to the university. There, everyone would be talking about the next soccer game. I’d come back to Hebron and be living in a pioneer world where people were giving everything for an idea, coming with five or six kids, sacrificing. I got completely hooked.” Two years after the squat began, the Labor government seized for the settlers the hill on which Kiryat Arba now stands.

Gush Emunim is rooted in the Six Day War. “We looked on it,” one of the movement’s leaders told me, “as not just another war. It was a historic turning point. We knew then we had to take back our Israel.” More precisely, the Faithful came out of Greater Israel, a movement that spanned Zionist parties from the leftish Mapam to Herut on the far Right. Its drone theme: return none of the conquered territories. There was very little difference, really, between many of the Greater Israel government figures (Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Israel Galili) and the crusaders, save that the latter were militantly religious. Their hero was Rabbi Kook, Chief Rabbi of Palestine in the ’20s and ’30s, who had been attracted to and supported by socialist Zionists. At the same time he had been strictly Orthodox. For Kook, settling the land and building the state was holy work. At one point I asked Hanna what her goal in life was. “Well, this will sound ridiculous to you, but I believe we’re helping bring the coming of the Messiah closer.”

Rabbi Moshe Levinger, leader of the original squat in Hebron, lives in an apartment near Hannah’s. Usually he lives there with his wife, Miriam, and their ten children, but the latter were now embarked on a squat of their own. Levinger is gaunt, sunburnt. He has broken teeth, an odd, abstracted gaze. Most of the time we spoke he looked off, away from me. “Our idea is very simple.” He spoke in a slow, heavy voice. “The difference between one part of Eretz Yisroel and the other is an odd idea. The Jewish spirit, throughout all generations, was that there was a place called Eretz Yisroel. Not two parts, Eretz Yisroel, the other, Palestinian autonomy. Are you a religious person?” He turned his weird gaze on me momentarily. “Do you know about the blessing, baruch ata ha shem al ha aretz v’al ha mazon, we bless you for giving us this land and its food? We don’t say, ‘baruch ata ha shem for giving us the autonomy plan. Why not give back Tel Aviv? Or Netanya?” But what, I asked, of the notion that the settlements in the West Bank are a provocation? “All lies, very cruel, serious lies, full of evil, wishing the Jewish people will be under the goyim, wishing us to be weak.”

As Levinger explained the Gush Emunim idea, it was extremely simple. All the land of Israel for the people of Israel. Manifest destiny: the man of the Book will become the man of the ploughshare and the sword. And in fact Levinger was only being historically logical. How different was the Faithful’s vision from that of Ben Gurion who proposed an attack on the West Bank in September, 1948? “Bethlehem and Hebron, where there are about a hundred thousand Arabs,” he wrote in his diary, would be easy to conquer. “I assume that most of the Arabs of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron would flee, like the Arabs of Lydda, Jaffa, Tiberias, and Safad, and we will control the whole breadth of the country up to Jordan.” Elsewhere in the diaries he wrote, “It is not impossible . . . that we will be able to conquer the way to the Negev, Eilat, and the Dead Sea and to secure the Negev for ourselves; also to broaden the corridor to Jerusalem from north and south; to liberate the rest of Jerusalem and to take the Old City; to seize all of central and western Galilee and to expand the borders of the state in all directions.” (1)

Kiryat Arba’s women, not its men, have been the most active recent fighters for Gush Emunim’s ideals. They went down to Hebron last spring and set up camp in the Hadassah Building. A walled stone structure in the middle of the town, it used to house a Jewish hospital as well as a synagogue. The women came not with swords, but with babies. This was a tactical decision: they felt the Israeli occupation authorities in Hebron would be less likely to evict women and children than they would men.

When I arrived, the squat was in its second month. On Sunday morning after shabat I spoke with Miriam Levinger. We sat on a stone stairway while Palestinian shoppers filed back and forth along the narrow main thoroughfare on their way to market. Miriam has a patient, burnt-in look, the look of a woman who has borne ten children and who, in her words, “worked to ear her fare” while she was growing up in New York. The word “destiny” recurred throughout her conversation. It was her destiny to come to Israel from Hunter High School. It was her destiny to marry Moshe Levinger, “a diamond in the rough” when she married him but clearly a holy man. Coming to Israel, she escaped America.

“The problem there is, you have to get for yourself, you have to watch out for your rights, don’t be a sucker. And suddenly you come here, and you come to Judaism, and you see that man was created in the image of God, that you can become whole, like God, that you can give.” And what, I asked, about taking? For instance, what about the seizure of property from Arabs? “If it’s in the interests of the country and the Jewish people,” said Miriam squarely, “then you do it. If the Jews would stick up for their rights, the world would respect us. If we were determined to stick up for ourselves, everything would be quiet.” But wasn’t she ever afraid, surrounded by Arabs who were surely hostile about her presence? A shrug: “So? In New York we were surrounded by the schwartzes.

One evening after the kids were in bed, Hannah told me her theory of Jewish superiority: all of creation is suspended in a great chain of being. On the bottom: inanimate non-living things. A link farther up: animate vegetation. Then, non-human animal life. Next, animate non-Jews. On the top are the Jews. “This may shock you,” she said, “but I don’t really believe in democracy. We believe,” she faltered for a moment, glancing at Zvi who was sitting quietly beside us cracking sunflower seeds and spitting the husks expertly onto a plate, “in theocracy. Right, Zvi?” “Not exactly,” said Zvi. “Not a theocracy. The government of God.”

To be privileged is to serve. I was told that Moshe Levinger cleaned out latrines in the early days in Hebron, that he only sleeps a few hours a night, that he still uses a sleeping bag. People admire this sort of thing. You don’t find it anymore on the kibbutzim. Two Mapam-affiliated kibbutzim I visited looked like vacation villages é lushly planted lanes, expanses of shady trees, neat cubicles of houses, large swimming pools é all the comforts. In a recent London Guardian series, correspondent Martin Woollacott noted the kibbutzim’s “retreat from communal socialism.” According to one Israeli cited by Woollacott, people inside the kibbutzim have become “secure, affluent, and inbred.” When Woollacott asked one young kibbutz wife to talk about the difficulties of her life she replied, “The air conditioning costs a lot.”

The Six Day War launched Israel on six years of the good life. Nineteen-sixty-seven to 1973 was a boom period that left space for some small private accumulation. Freed momentarily from the demands of war, people began having the leisure to enjoy a modest consumerism é maybe not Cuisinarts, but other material comforts. Televisions. Washers. Driers. Life’s problems began revolving around what to do when your air conditioner broke down rather than what to do when income wasn’t distributed equally among the builders of the land. The Yom Kippur War caught the nation off guard, basking in the small joys of the earlier victory. In the mass emotional crisis that followed, the old left seemed paralyzed and the right swung into exemplary action.

“Their people work day and night without counting the hours,” wrote a Mapam kibbutz member about Gush Emunim in a letter to The Jerusalem Post in 1976. “And against their fervor, Mapam headquarters stands desolate with empty rooms that nobody thinks of manning . . . what distinguishes them from the rest of Orthodoxy and from us is that for them, ideas mean action . . . Gush Emunim personifies what we once were.”

Shalom Vach, a Gush activist in Kiryat Arba, works for the Israeli Ministry of Absorption (for new immigrants). He is a Zionist mystic. His face, heavy in repose, lights up boyishly, almost ingenuously, when he talks about the land. “There is one part of the Talmud called zrayim, the seeds. It comes at the beginning because it deals with faith. It symbolizes everything connected with the earth. (2) Because to build a land, to plant and reconstruct it, you have to have faith. Some people think the goal of Zionism was peace. That is ridiculous. The goal of Zionism is to construct a people on its land. Now,” he paused elegantly, all gentle didacticism. “Jews came to Israel for a shelter. We could have gone to Uganda. Why not? A pretty good idea, wasn’t it? But no, we came here, because we have no place elsewhere. In the name of what did we come? Socialism on the one hand. National redemption on the other. But there were moral problems.” He paused again for emphasis. “There were Arabs living here. By what right did we throw them out? And we did throw them out. We threw them out of Jaffa. We threw them out of Haifa. Of course there were excuses. We threw them out because there was a war. Or we threw them out because we bought land. It’s a very nasty story, isn’t it, from the moral point of view? All the stuff about socialism, about national redemption may be true, but that’s only one part. The fact is, we returned here,” the word return sounded in the conversation like an alarm, “because the Eternal gave us the land. It’s ridiculous, stupid, simplistic, but that’s what it is. All the rest is superficial. We came back here because we belong.” (3)

Simplistic, maybe, but I was beginning to find arguments like Shalom’s more refreshingly candid than the standard occupation argument: security. Certain prominent Israelis on the left had long argued that the settlements were a security risk. Matityahu Peled, a retired Israeli General, told me, “It’s argued that a civilian settlement is better for security than a military emplacement. But that completely skirts the fact that if the question is security, people would have to be evacuated in a war.” (4)

The settlements are also an economic burden. They produce nothing at huge cost. The Drobles Plan, for further settlements on the West Bank, by the head of the World Zionist Organization’s Department for Rural Settlements, estimates that work on the settlements over the next five years will cost 54 billion Israeli pounds at a time when Israel’s balance of payments deficit, at last recording, was $3.25 billion (almost a fourth of the GNP). Moral issues aside, the settlements are an overload on an economy that has already blown its fuse.

What, then, to do with the burden? Peled’s solution is Israel’s retreat to its pre-1967 borders. But Shalom Vach, Gush Emunim, and most recently the Israeli government which last fall authorized land sales on the West Bank, have vowed to carry the burden onward in a holy crusade.

Menachem Felix is one of the crusaders. When I saw him last summer, he was living with his wife, Tova, in a three-room camper at Elon Moreh. An acquaintance told me Menachem incarnates the spirit of Gush Emunim. He was with Levinger at Hebron. He was in other important Gush “squats.” In the words of the Mapam member who wrote her letter to The Jerusalem Post, Menachem is a man for whom ideas mean action.

When I arrived at the Elon Moreh campsite one day in August, the noon sun was burning down on the campers set among the boulders, but Menachem was in action. He was just seeing off the head of Ariel Sharon’s Committee on Settlements, Uri Bar-On, who comes often, Tova told me, to chat about future building at Elon Moreh.

A wiry, bearded man with blue eyes magnified by thick-lensed glasses, Menachem laughed often and easily, twitted himself on his poor English, and had the personal modesty you find in people wholly immersed in a cause. Like all of Gush Emunim’s major figures, he went to a yeshiva in Jerusalem called Mercaz Ha Rav é the Rabbi’s Center é founded by the son of Rabbi Kook. “The beginnings of Gush Emunim and of our group in Hebron is with Mercaz Ha Rav, because our education is about being connected with the Jewish nation, coming back to our land to build our state, to make a Jewish renaissance. Not just to believe it will happen. To make it happen.”

But Menachem was frustrated. In mid-June, Palestinian residents of the nearby town of Rujeib had secured an injunction from Israel’s High Court forbidding work at Elon Moreh. And so at the time I visited Elon Moreh, it was what Kiryat Arba had once been. Would it ever become what Kiryat Arba is now? “Look,” said Menachem candidly, “our situation couldn’t be worse. This is one of the worst years Israel has ever seen. It’s the year of the autonomy plan. Of giving back Sinai. It may be one of the decisive years, not just for the settlements, but for all of Israel. If you ask me to say what will be here tomorrow, I’ll say a Palestinian state. But I have to believe we’re going forward, not back.”

But doesn’t moving forward increase the burden? “Look” I hazarded, “two kids were murdered last March in Halhoul. They were part of a demonstration against the Camp David accords. But for Israel’s occupation of Judea and Samaria, the demonstration wouldn’t have taken place. A man in Kiryat Arba is now awaiting trial for one of the murders. But for the settlements, the murders mightn’t have been committed.”

It’s important, replied Menachem, to try to have “correct relations” with the Arabs. But sometimes you have to defend yourself. Not a pleasant task, perhaps, but necessary. “When Jacob came back and was to meet Esau, he was very afraid. Esau wanted to kill him.” Meanchem reached for a worn Bible. “It’s written two times, ‘Esau was afraid.’ And Rashi explains, why afraid? Once he feared being killed by Esau, the other time he was afraid he would kill Esau. But if it’s a matter of your life é and I believe all of Israel including Judea and Samaria, is a life matter é then that’s it. There’s an old saying in the Torah: if someone is coming to kill you, go up early and kill him before he kills you. That’s our morality. The Christian morality is to turn the other cheek. That’s not for us. Another question you could ask me is, ‘Who is going to give up?’ And it’s clear, I’m not going to give up.”

The movement took its name at a time when faith of any sort was wearing thin. Five months after the Yom Kippur War, high school students from the kibbutzim, the country’s elite, dismayed their teachers with statements like the following: “There is no future in this country.” “Abroad, my mother has three sisters who have lots of children . . . Since the state [Israel] was founded, not one of them has died. And here?” “You love war . . . You hate peace. What a shame! This whole country is nothing but a cemetery!”

While the flower of Israeli youth was getting sick of war, the country was becoming more and more a garrison state (a recent low estimate in Foreign Affairs is that 40 percent of the budget is allotted for military spending). The West Bank is a fortress-within-the-fortress with its settlements enclosed by barbed wire, its soldiers, its military headquarters and prisons, and the wretched Palestinian refugee camps dotting its roads from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south. But the Faithful have held the fort.

Sometimes, when I let myself relax in the households of the Faithful, I could almost forget the state of siege. Almost, but not quite. I lay one night on a couch in Hannah’s living room. From across the hills in Hebron came a quavering chant, a muezzin’s call to prayer. In the apartment just above me slept the wife and children of the man charged with the murder of one of the Halhoul teenagers.

I had taken on another assignment with the one on Gush Emunim é profiling Halhoul for a US magazine. I spent a great deal of time shuttling back and forth between Kiryat Arba and Halhoul in the summer heat, feeling increasingly schizophrenic. The Halhoul townspeople described their experience of a sixteen-day, 23-hour-a-day curfew levied by the military government when the murders took place. They said Israeli soldiers stoned children who sneaked out of their houses during curfew hours. They talked about the brutalities inflicted on them in prison. Israeli press accounts of the curfew reported similar stories. Staying with Hannah I was morally wrenched in a way I’d never expected when I proposed this story to The Voice. I thought I could remain detached, “professional.” But I found myself siding with the Palestinians — a matter of simple justice. On the other hand, at moments I felt a gut kinship with the Faithful because of our common Jewishness. I was shocked by this, first of all, because most of the time, at home, I didn’t think much about being Jewish one way or the other: I certainly wasn’t observant, I called myself an internationalist. Israel, the Faithful, and the disruption of Palestinian life by the settlements forced me to come to terms with my family heritage. Israel, after all, called itself “the Jewish state.” I could live here é if I chose é with automatic citizenship. But the fact that Israel was a Jewish state was what had fostered the rise of Gush Emunim with its notion of Jewish entitlement, a master race theory.

If I had a moral enmity for anything, it was for such a theory. On the other hand, if I felt any natural kinship with the Faithful, then didn’t I share in the feeling that Jews are a special people é or at least, a people, a tribe é and that I am part of them? Does my own Jewish “feeling” lead more logically toward racial exclusiveness, even racial supremacy, than toward cooperation with people not “my own?” Of course I could say: there are good Jews and there are bad Jews. Good Jews are secular, “internationalist” people of Jewish origin, or religious Jews like the Naturei Karta Jews who reject Zionism altogether, or Jews like the critic of his government, General Peled. Bad Jews are people like the Faithful, or Meir Kahane’s hooligans. Bad Jews can be dismissed as “a cancer in the heart of the nation,” a “lunatic fringe.” But then you have to ask about the origins of the disease. Don’t they lie, as Shalom Vach said, not in the 1967 war, but in 1948 war? In the notion that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land?” In the rubble of the hundreds of Arab villages bulldozed by the Israeli army in 1948 through the 1950s, and in the repeat of 1948 as Israel confiscates West Bank land for its settlements today? And isn’t Gush Emunim simply the most dramatic and honest expression of this history?


1. Quoted by Simha Flapan in The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, Pantheon Books, 1987, p.48.

2. None of the settlers farmed, of course. All West Bank farms were, and are, Palestinian. As the farm land has been increasingly confiscated for settlements, the former farmers have been forced into low-level work in Israel, or on the very settlements for which their land was seized.

3. This was the most honest explanation of Zionism I got over the decade of my reporting on Israel and the West Bank. In his book, Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi credits the fascist Zionist, Vladimir Jabotinsky, with “honesty and foresight” for the notion he expressed in 1923: “éthe iron law of every colonizing movement é[is that] if you wish to colonize a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf.” Elsewhere Jabotinsky wrote, “Any native people . . . view their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of foosm, ho can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birthright to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment . . . They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervour that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie . . . Colonlization itself has its own explanation, . . . and understood by every Jew and Arab with his wits about him. Colonization can have only one goal . . . . [It] must be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population.” (pp. 99-100)

4. Twenty-one years since I wrote this article, General Peled’s prophecy is coming true as settlers less militant than Gush Emunim flee the second Intifada and Israel’s war on the West Bank and Gaza.