Religious fanaticism in Israel may not be a mainstream media topic, but it is a mainstream Israeli ideology, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank
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A Jewish settler throws stones at Palestinian houses in the West Bank city of Hebron
When the Israeli High Court recently ordered Jewish squatters to leave an Arab house they had illegally seized in Al-Khalil (Hebron) a few years ago, settlers and their supporters converged at the contentious site, vowing a showdown with the Israeli army and police.
Among the settler leaders arriving at the site, apparently to incite the squatters to resist evacuation, was Daniela Weise, a charismatic preacher of blood and fire against the Palestinian community in Israel-Palestine, demanding that they be enslaved, expelled or exterminated outright.
Weise didn't content herself with invoking the usual mantras, such as "God gave us this land," and "We are only reclaiming our country." She quoted heavily from the Old Testament, telling hundreds of Jewish fanatics that it was a mitzvah (good religious deed) to attack Arabs, even murder them, and damage their property, because "their lives have no sanctity and their property belongs to us."
"The Bible shows us the way as to how we should be dealing with the Arabs. The Bible can't be wrong," he said.
Weise didn't use the word "genocide", but everyone that listened to her understood that this was what she meant.
Soon after Weise gave her vitriolic homily, dozens of settlers went on the rampage through Palestinian neighbourhoods, smashing windows, car windshields, and beating and stoning defenseless Palestinians. In one particularly gruesome case, an Arab home was set on fire. The police and eyewitnesses said a family of eight narrowly escaped the inferno.
Several Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, called the rampage a "pogrom". "There is no other word to describe what happened," said Olmert during a government session.
While liberal Israelis might be tempted to think that Weise and her ilk represent only a small minority of fanatical settlers, and that the vast majority of settlers are rational and law-abiding citizens, this is simply not true. Weise's messianic views are shared by tens of thousands of religious Zionist settlers in the West Bank who are inculcated in the belief that the Jewish people won't obtain redemption and that the mashia (Jewish Messiah) or Redeemer, won't appear until the "Land of Israel" is redeemed and cleansed of non-Jews.
Hence, it is the religious duty of every Jew to indulge in violence and bloodshed against the Palestinians in order to expedite and accelerate the process of redemption. Indeed, when a number of settlers were arrested for planning to blow up Islamic holy sites in East Jerusalem a few decades ago, the terrorists told police interrogators rather innocently that their aim was to spark off a huge war in which many people would die all in order to effect the appearance of the redeemer.
The bulk of Jewish settlers in the West Bank follow the teachings of Abraham Kook, a Kabbalistic rabbi who immigrated to Palestine from the United States in the early 20th century. Kook taught that redemption was imminent and that the state of Israel (he was the first rabbi of the Jewish state) was the apple of God's eye. Hence, most settlers view the state and its symbols as "holy" since it is the means through which God's plan is to be realised. (The sanctity of the state in the settlers' eyes was shaken considerably after Israel dismantled Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005).
Most religious Zionists don't view non-Jews as full or equal human beings. In 2006, when Israeli troops vacated Jewish settlers from a West Bank settler outpost known as Amonna, Aryeh Eldad, a religious Zionist leader and Knesset member representing the National Union Party (NUP), lambasted the army for treating "real human beings" the same way they were treating Arabs. The implication was clear, namely that Arabs, and non-Jews in general, are not real human beings. Eldad's remarks aroused no reaction whatsoever in Israel.
On 13 April 1999, Sharon Kalimi, a Hassidic Jew, told Munich's Suddeutsche Zeitung that, "Arabs are beasts, not human beings. Their flesh is flesh from mules and therefore they should be treated as such."
In 1994, when an American Jewish immigrant named Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Arab worshipers as they were praying at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, settler leader Rabbi Moshe Levinger declared "I am sorry not only about dead Arabs but also about dead flies." A few days later, Goldstein was eulogised by the Rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Dov Lior, who praised the killer as "full of love for fellow human beings". Goldstein's grave in the colony of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, eventually became a pilgrimage site visited by extremist Jews from all over the world.
According to Israel Shahak, author of Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, the term "human beings" according to halacha, or Jewish religious law, refers only to Jews. Hence when settlers speak, for example, about human rights, what they have in mind is human rights for Jews only.
According to Shahak, the Talmud, upon which Orthodox or Rabbinic Judaism is based, doesn't distinguish between combatants and non-combatants during times of war. In fact, rabbinic authorities teach that killing non-combatants, including children of the enemy, is a mitzvah.
A few years ago, a leading settler rabbi urged the Israeli occupation army in the Gaza Strip not to refrain from killing enemy children in order to save the lives of Israeli soldiers. When this reporter consulted with a number of rabbis and Jewish scholars on whether the rabbi was sane, the reply was that he represented the mainstream within Orthodox Judaism.
Most religious Zionist rabbis consider international conventions prohibiting the deliberate killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian homes and property, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, as representing Christian morality that is not binding on Jews. For example, on 12 July, the right-wing Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post had this caption on its website: "Yesha Rabbis call for extermination of the enemy." The report quoted the Rabbinic Council of Jewish settlements in the West Bank as calling on the Israeli army to "ignore Christian morals and exterminate the enemy in the north and south [Hizbullah and Hamas]."
Most orthodox rabbinic figures within religious Zionism (and the settler movement) believe that three alternatives are awaiting the Palestinians if they don't voluntarily leave the "land of Israel." The first is outright enslavement, or using Biblical language, to become "water carriers and wood hewers". This doctrine is being propagated openly by many Israeli politicians, especially those affiliated with religious parties such as Shas, the NUP, and the National Religious Party (the party of the settlers).
Moshe Feiglin, who was elected recently on the Likud's list for the upcoming Israeli elections, slated for 10 February, told reporters that non-Jews living in Israel may stay if they so wish provided they understand that this a Jewish country where Jews are masters. In other words, non-Jews have to come to terms with their status as slaves and servants for the master race.
Second option, if servitude proves difficult to implement, the goyem (non-Jewish) would have to be banished from the land, "lest they remain a thorn in your side". In Israeli secular phraseology, this is "transfer." In fact, transfer is not an innocent term, since it can't be carried out without at least a partial genocide. Which leads us to the final option, which is genocide.
It is no exaggeration to say that genocide of non-Jews in Israel and Palestine is the ideology of Jewish settlers, and religious Zionism in general. A few weeks ago, one Jewish settler leader in Hebron who was arguing with an American tourist had this to say about how the Jewish state should deal with Arabs.
"You are a Christian, aren't you?"
"Yes," said the American.
"Do you believe in the Bible?"
"Yes," said the American.
"Well then, you should know that God ordered the ancient Israelites to wipe off the goyem from the holy land of Israel. If that was right then, why can't it be right now?"
Startled by the settler's rationale, the American tourist walked away in disbelief.