Zionist Settlement Ideology and Its Ramifications for the Palestinian People

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VOL. 11


No. 3
P. 37
Zionist Settlement Ideology and Its Ramifications for the Palestinian People


The settlement policy of Israel is not a concise subject confined to the territories occupied during the war of 1967. Neither is it a process which began only fourteen years ago. The issue of settlement has been at the heart of the political Zionist movement since its inception and has been a central subject of debate within Zionism ever since. This fundamental nature of the settlement issue has caused it to be one of the determining factors of the various political streams in the Zionist movement and subsequently the Israeli state. It is intrinsically linked to other key questions such as religion and land. Settlement policy played - and continues to play - a major role in the Zionist confrontation with, and dispossession of, the Palestinian people. [1] 

Zionist settlement over the years has taken its toll of Palestinian lives and land. Even a cursory examination reveals that the impact has been staggering. While it is extremely important to record each dunum lost, each well gone dry, these physical indicators do not describe the full dimensions of the question of settlements. Political forces and personalities in Israel have alternately supported, criticized and manipulated the settlements. Similarly, the settlers have played a major role in shaping the political fabric of Israel.

Since "the conquest of the land" has long been intrinsic to political Zionism, the settlers engaged in that process enjoy a particular leverage in relation to their fellow Zionists. The Zionist "minimalists" have historically stressed the consolidation of a Jewish state on the territory under their control, while the "maximalists" have called for a Greater Israel based on the maximum extent of the ancient Hebrew kingdoms. The relations between these minimalist and maximalist Zionist camps have not always been amicable. The differences, however, have more often been tactical than strategic. The minimalist emphasis may often be on the need for pragmatism, while the maximalist riposte emphasizes inherent rights (often God-given) which even the minimalist ostensibly "knows to be true." This political dynamic lends a veneer of contention to a process of settlement which has inexorably proceeded.

The extreme maximalist elements, historically, have often not enjoyed the favour of the government in power, yet they have always possessed a tremendous means to go outside the law to embarrass and confront the ruling powers. On some occasions they have proven merely to be a stalking horse for the government itself. On others, the dominant powers have faced them down, for example, the sinking of the Irgun munitions ship "Altalena" on orders of David Ben-Gurion. This action was deemed necessary for the consolidation of power. State control now appears increasingly threatened.

The settlement movement in the territories occupied in 1967 manifests much of this maximalist sentiment. Not only has it displayed enormous influence over mainstream Israeli politics, it has served as a spawning ground for even more extremist elements. The expansionist Gush Emunim movement may today only control a minority of the settlements in the occupied territories, yet it has already been superseded on the right by the Tehiya (Hatehiya, or Renaissance) Party and the Kach (Thus) of Meir Kahane. The latter has been linked in the press with the two soldiers and the yeshiva student implicated in the plot to blow up the al-Aqsa mosque and other Muslim and Christian institutions. Kach is probably not associated with the emergent Zionist paramilitary group calling itself the "Sons of Zion," which claimed credit for the attempted assassinations of three Palestinian mayors. While the identities of these groups remain somewhat vague and their material sources and friends are yet to be established, their ideological roots are evident.

In the wake of the 1967 War, the Israeli government almost immediately began to settle the occupied territories. At that point the rationale was basically twofold. In the case of Jerusalem and its environs the claim of historic rights was primary and settlement was facilitated by outright annexation of the eastern part of the city. On the outskirts of Jerusalem, in the Jordan Valley, Golan Heights, Rafiah Salient and Sinai, the justification put forth was that of security.

During the earlier years of settlement in the 1967 occupied territories, the security argument was the most prevalent. The validity of this justification was, however, seriously undermined during the 1973 War when Israel had to use valuable time and manpower to evacuate the settlements on the Golan Heights. Hirsh Goodman, the military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, concedes the inconsistencies of this argument:

The feasibility of settlements as a function of defense seems doubtful. On analysis, one suspects that they actually hamper the smooth conduct of war, and the country's ability to deal cohesively with a frontal attack.... Moreover, planting civilian populations close to the border counteracts all those arguments we have heard for so long about the danger of having Netanya and Tel Aviv "just nine miles from the frontier." [2] 

Goodman goes on to point out that the Gush Emunim settlement of Ofra "...is not high on the list of defense priorities right now. Nor is the establishment of a new Jewish ghetto in Hebron...." It is almost certain that the security argument for settlement would be heard less often were it not for the credibility it has sustained in the West and in the United States in particular.

The argument that Israel has historical rights in the occupied territories, on the West Bank in particular, proves far more of an impediment to peace in the Middle East than the question of security. It cuts across party lines and across the religious/secular division in Israel. While contemporary analysts are correct in pointing out that the Labour government concentrated West Bank settlement in the Jordan Valley and the eastern slope of the highlands, it should not be overlooked that they also facilitated the construction of Kiryat Arba near Hebron. As was noted in Maariv over a year ago:

The leaders of Gush Emunim have not forgotten the material and moral aid they have received from Yigal Allon, then Deputy Prime Minister, when they settled in Hebron, nor the aid given to them by the chairman of the Labour Party, S. Peres, while he was the Minister of Defence in Rabin's government; there would have been no Ofra, the first settlement in Samaria, without his help. Gush Emunim now misses those days. It would like to see the Labour in power again and Herut in opposition. The veterans of Gush Emunim think that this is the best political formula for their success in achieving their settlement aims. [3] 

According to the London Times, Deputy Defence Minister Mordechai Zipori

...told the Knesset that in a decade of Labour Government, 224 Arab houses had been blown up or sealed, compared with 34 since 1977 and added that under Labour, 884 Arabs had been deported compared with four by the coalition. [4] 

Indeed, in denouncing the March 1980 United Nations Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlement, Shimon Peres said that no responsible body in Israel would agree to the resolution's demand for dismantling the settlements in the territories. [5] Even those whose main motivation for establishing settlements may have been security are reluctant to permit the establishment of a precedent for their withdrawal which would challenge the historical rights argument. This objection was even raised in the context of the dismantling of the Sinai settlements as part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace process.

The historical rights argument is premised upon the right of modern Zionists to establish a presence anywhere in "Eretz Israel." The extent of this claim varies according to the particular political positions of various trends within the Zionist movement. Begin's Herut Party has never explicitly abandoned claim to the East Bank of the Jordan, for instance. Since the Hebrew Kingdoms, on which the claims are based, are historically significant not merely for national reasons, but for religious reasons which dwarf their limited geographic and temporal extent, the modern claims intrinsically have had a religious character to them.

As a result of that element of divine ordination inherent in many religions, the admixture of religion and nationalism generally has proven volatile and often oppressive. The perversion of Christianity used to justify apartheid in South Africa is an outstanding example. Similarly, in the United States the doctrine of "Manifest Destiny" was propounded to justify the settlement of western North America at the expense of its native peoples. The worldview of the Gush Emunim is somewhat analagous to both, the undisputed previous existence of the Hebrew Kingdoms notwithstanding.

The Gush Emunim emerged from the National Religious Party's Bnei Akiva youth movement and yeshivot hesder. These "arrangement yeshivas" are religious seminaries, the students of which also do army service. [6] The Jerusalem Post reported that as of December 1980, there were 14 hesder yeshivot with a total of 2,000 students. [7] 

Perhaps the single most influential person inspiring the Gush Emunim worldview is Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. David Shaham, writing in Yediot Aharonot, describes him thus:

The politics of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook are consistent, extremist, uncompromising and concentrated on a single issue: The right of the Jewish people to sovereignty over every foot of the Land of Israel. Absolute sovereignty, with no imposed limitations. "From a perspective of national sovereignty", he says, "the country belongs to us." He defines himself as an extreme maximalist. He did not join the "Movement for the Entire Land of Israel" because in his judgment, Transjordan, the Golan, the Bashan [the Jebel Druze region in Syria], are all part of the Land of Israel.... In a public statement he defined the right as follows: "The entire country is ours - there is no Arab land here, only Jewish lands, the eternal lands of our forefathers - and that land, in its original Biblical borders, belongs to the sovereignty of the Jewish people." [8] 

The conquests of the 1967 War were to Rabbi Kook a sign that God was fulfilling his ancient promises to the Jewish people. During the 1981 election campaign the Rabbi lent his support to the ultra-right Tehiya Party. [9] 

It is extremely important to note here that such extreme theistic nationalism is not universal to Orthodox Judaism whose breadth of belief also includes the Neturei Karta to whom political Zionism is an anathema. Other Orthodox scholars, such as Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a specialist in Jewish law who holds chairs in biochemistry and philosophy at the Hebrew University, explain that:

Jews of every generation were willing to die for observance of the Torah, but not for settling in the land of Israel.... Gush Emunim is religious like the Israelites who danced around the golden calf were religious: they were idolaters. They worship the state and its borders, the cheapest form of religion. [10] 

Ever since 1967 Israeli politics has been confronted with the question of what to do with the occupied territories and the Palestinians who live in them. Withdrawal from the territories was ruled out on both "security" and "historical rights" grounds. Yet holding onto the territories with their large Palestinian population implied an assimilation of Palestinians which would dilute the Zionist goal of a "Jewish State." Menahem Begin's autonomy plan is only the latest in a series of holding actions intended to maintain Israeli control until a means can be found to resolve the paradox. The Palestinian people, however, are adamant in their resistance to further dispossession.

This question, though, gives only slight pause to the ideologues of the Gush Emunim. To them the Palestinians are merely modern manifestations of the Canaanites and Amalekites. Against the Amalekites there was a command of revenge to kill every man, woman and child. As for the Canaanites, they were given three options: to stay under Israel's terms, to leave, or to make war. In an article entitled "The Real-Politik of Our Sages," published by the Gush Emunim "Department of Information," Dr. Israel Eldad applies these to the Palestinians:

One way out given to the Canaanites was to accept Israel's terms. No autonomy but then no intolerance either.... The second method was to leave.... This idea in itself is not new to Zionism. Israel Zangwill suggested it in 1920, the British put it forward in the Peel Report of 1937 as did Avraham Sharon and Avraham Stern in the '40s. Official Zionists opposed the plan due to moral hesitations (not a Jewish morality but one influenced by liberal emancipation) and in continuation of their naive belief that the Arabs will agree to coexistence if we succeed in convincing them that Zionism is beneficial for them.... If the two foregoing are not acceptable - let it be as it may. There is no fourth solution of "autonomy" in our sovereign area. [11] 

Elsewhere in this article, Dr. Eldad advocates the creation of economic distress in the West Bank and Gaza to bring about large scale immigration, expulsion being permissable only in time of warfare. Almost as disturbing as the positions he advocates is Dr. Eldad's peculiar definition of Jewish morality.

Similar thoughts were voiced less pretentiously by the Gush Emunim settlers in Ofra when they were interviewed by the Jerusalem Post's Robert Rosenberg. Aharon Halamish, head of security, has a simple, if cynical, plan: "We simply don't give them jobs. If they didn't have work here, they wouldn't prosper and wouldn't want to stay. We could even pay them to leave." In the words of Rachel Cohen, another settler, "After all there are no Palestinian people. We invented them, but they really don't exist." [12]

What is distinctive about the Gush Emunim ideology is that their intention is not merely to colonize the occupied territories through building in areas where the Palestinian population is thinnest. On the contrary, they wish to confront and eventually supplant the Palestinians. Yosef Goell, summarizing the views of Benny Katzover, a leading Gush Emunim activist, makes this clear:

It is not the specific site of Jebel Kabir or of Rujeib that is important; the proximity to Nablus-Shechem is the point. It is essential and urgent to establish as widespread a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as possible; and the closer this presence is to the large concentrations of Arab population in these territories, the better. [13] 

This fanatical expansionism of the Gush Emunim would be of limited concern were it restricted to an isolated splinter group. Unfortunately, the Gush Emunim, despite their small numbers, are not isolated. Their ideas enjoy currency far beyond their membership and they have friends in high places. The politics of General Ariel Sharon, the Minister of Agriculture and Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Settlement in the first Likud government, are well known.

General Sharon, in a speech given in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron, announced that "we are here and will always be here." [14] Prior to the election Sharon embarked upon a programme of tours to the West Bank which were designed to build support for Likud which helped to finance them. Sharon termed these tours the "main thrust" of the Likud campaign and claimed that they involved 50,000 persons per month. [15] During a special tour of settlements for 90 foreign correspondents, Sharon displayed a map which designated some 75 percent of the West Bank "vital for Israel's security." [16] Sharon was also instrumental in the pre-election settlement drive which intended to reach a peak of 30,000 settlers in 80 settlements by election day. [17] This drive, which did not meet its expectations, was designed to prevent a change in the status of the West Bank in the case of an Alignment victory at the polls. With the Likud's retention of power, Sharon has emerged as a likely candidate for the position of Defense Minister.

General Sharon's extremism is matched by that of Dr. Aharon Davidi, former commanding officer of the paratroopers and lecturer in Geography at Tel Aviv University. The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Goren, in a speech in Kiryat Arba, went so far as to "express his grief that the Arabs of Hebron did not flee towards the Jordan River." He was greeted with applause. [18] 

The most tangible evidence of high level political support for the Gush Emunim philosophy is to be found in the pattern of existing settlements. As previously mentioned, the Labour government concentrated settlements in the Jordan Valley and on the eastern side of the West Bank highlands. The objectives of these belts, as described in United Nations Security Council document S/13132 Annex II, are to sever the West Bank Palestinians from East Jordan and to encircle them by creating a cordon on the eastern side. The settlement blocs surrounding Jerusalem are intended to prevent expan- sion of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem and to psychologically ghettoize them. The latter construction was carried out despite aesthetic and environmental objections of some Israeli city planners. So-called security reasons were used to override the opposition. As also noted, the Labour government condoned settlements such as Kiryat Arba and Ofra which did not conform to their stated guidelines. This is again indicative of the broad and non-partisan support which exists for Gush Emunim style confrontative settlement.

The Likud Government, with its more explicit intention of colonizing the occupied territories, has since May 1977 proceeded to build settlements along the length of the western highlands of the West Bank. As the aforementioned Security Council document notes, the strategic objective of these colonies is to prevent the physical development of the Palestinian community to the west and to divide the populated northern part of the West Bank into two smaller areas, thus further containing and ghettoizing the Palestinian people.

An additional aspect of the scheme has been the construction of a series of roads on the West Bank which compartmentalize the Palestinian villages and towns. The roads are constructed so as to facilitate Israeli control of the region. They are comparable on a grander scale to the razing and reconstruction in Gaza carried out subsequent to 1967 in order to permit greater Israeli mobility in the effort to combat Palestinian resistance.

The most flagrant statement of support for the plan to penetrate the areas of heavy Palestinian population came in October 1978 when the World Zionist Organization's Department for Rural Settlement published its "Master Plan for the Development of Settlement in Judea & Samaria, 1979-1983." [19] Often referred to as the "Drobles Plan" after its primary author, it calls for the establishment of 46 new settlements to be inhabited by 16,000 families and the thickening of existing settlements by the addition of 11,000 families - all within five years time. The projected cost of this comes to a staggering IL54 billion. The proposed allocation of such an amount for settlement on the West Bank alone is extremely demonstrative of the priorities of the World Zionist Organization. All this at a time when inflation in Israel is running over 100 percent annually and when only a fraction of this money is going towards housing for the numerous Israeli Jews who live in slum conditions. The recent squatter camp protest by Jews of Eastern origin was named Ohel Moreh to contrast with the Gush Emunim settlement, Elon Moreh.

The "Drobles Plan" states clearly that "The disposition of settlements must be carried out not only around the settlements of the minorities, but also in between them, this in accordance with the settlement policy adopted in Galilee and in other parts of the country." This passage is important not only for its clear statement of the purpose of the Plan, but also for the distortion of language which takes place. Rather than refer to Palestinians, the plan terms the populace "minorities," despite the fact that Palestinians are the overwhelming majority of the population of the West Bank. Drobles might respond that the Plan refers to the population ratios of the whole of "Eretz Israel." This would only further compound the attempt to deny that the territories are occupied. Such linguistic euphemisms and rewriting of history have always been a part of colonialism. From the coining of the Zionist slogan "A land without people for a people without land," on through the Balfour Declaration's reference to the Palestinian majority as "existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine," the Palestinian people have had to confront and combat such obfuscation, particularly in the Western media.

The first principle guiding the "Drobles Plan" reads: "Settlement throughout the entire Land of Israel is for security and by right. A strip of settlements at strategic sites enhances both internal and external security alike, as well as making concrete and realizing our right to Eretz-Israel." Not only does this embody both the security and the historic rights arguments, it acknowledges the need for "internal" security. Thus it betrays the efforts of the Israeli government to characterize the resistance of the Palestinians as an external phenomenon. It also inherently acknowledges that counter- insurgency and repression are among the objectives of the settlements.

In September 1980, Drobles issued a document entitled "Settlement in Judea and Samaria - Strategy, Policy and Plans." In it he states explicitly that:

In light of the current negotiations on the future of Judea and Samaria, it will now become necessary for us to conduct a race against time....

It is therefore significant to stress today, mainly by means of actions, that the autonomy does not and will not apply to the territories but only to the Arab population thereof. This should mainly find expression by establishing facts on the ground. Therefore, the state-owned lands and the uncultivated barren lands in Judea and Samaria ought to be seized right away, with the purpose of settling the areas between and around the centers occupied by the minorities so as to reduce to the minimum the danger of an additional Arab state being established in these territories....

There musn't be even the shadow of a doubt about our intention to keep the territories of Judea and Samaria for good. Otherwise, the minority population may get into a state of growing disquiet which will eventuallu result in recurrent efforts to establish an additional Arab state in these territories. [20] 

This addition to Drobles' scheme sets the goals for the next five years at 60-75 new settlements and a total settler population of between 120,000 and 150,000 persons.

The battleline between the Gush Emunim and the government bureaucracy now is drawn particularly on the question of whether privately held Arab land may be expropriated for Jewish settlement even if this is not necessary for security reasons. The focus of this debate is the fall 1980 decision of the High Court of Justice of Israel that the settlement of Elon Moreh had to be relocated from Rujeib to Jebel al-Kabir (though the latter is still proximate to Nablus). The Jerusalem Post describes the Gush Emunim position: "The seizure of small plots of Arab land at that site was justified by the right of Jews to settle throughout Judea and Samaria, they said, and no security mumbo-jumbo legalisms were necessary to sanctify that right." [21] 

The Gush Emunim is forthright in its desire to dispossess the Palestinians; the government's actions belie any pretension to protect Palestinian land rights. To date, approximately one-third of the land on the West Bank has come under the control of the Israeli government. [22] The Israeli state has gained this much land through a variety of means. A portion was confiscated on security grounds, often dubious. Other lands were taken over on the grounds that they were state lands rather than privately-held Palestinian property. This has been effected through a manipulation of the system of land tenure existing prior to 1967. Three broad categories of land holdings were common. Privately held land for which the owner possessed a clear title is termed "mulk" land. Communally held land, often cultivated by the same family over generations, is called "miri" land and is registered with the Jordanian Ministry of Finance for tax purposes. Finally, land successively under the title of the Ottoman Sultan, British Mandate and Jordanian governments (which again has been under cultivation for generations) is "jiflik" land. In the last two cases clear title often may not exist. Israeli demands for legal deeds of ownership and the difficult and costly litigation necessary to prove such holdings have facilitated dispossession of West Bank Palestinian farmers.

The process of declaring land to be state land has become sufficiently common that even Haaretz editorialized against it, terming the process ''mockery and robbery." The editorial noted that on the eve of his retirement Supreme Court Justice Haim Cohen remarked (to Maariv), "We hold Judea and Samaria as trustees only. It is elementary knowledge that a trustee who takes for himself from the trust property is stealing in one of the ugliest ways." [23] 

Another means of confiscation is through the notorious absentee property laws. Persons not residing on their lands at the time of occupation were termed "absentees" and the land reverted to the state as "Custodian for Absentee Property." Similar procedures have been used extensively to dispossess Palestinians in Israel itself. [24] 

Thus the state of Israel itself is carrying out an extensive and multifaceted takeover of West Bank lands which differs from that urged by the Gush Emunim less in its substance than in its pragmatic avoidance - for the time being - of flagrant confrontation. In November 1979 the Ministerial Committee on Settlement passed a settlement budget of IL150 billion, nearly half the entire annual state budget. [25] Despite this massive investment and settlement campaign, the government has fallen far short of the projections of the "Drobles Plan." It is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit willing settlers even with the various subsidies and benefits proffered. The fact that this land is not needed in order to accommodate an expanding population, but is being seized for almost "mystical" reasons is especially foreboding and revelatory of the aforementioned ideological nature of the settlement movement. It remains to be seen what contradictions may arise should there be an insufficient number of settlers to realize the political goals of the settlement policy. Since some of the deterrent to volunteers stems from the hostility of the Palestinian to these would-be colonizers, the government may feel driven, for this reason as well, to step up the repression in the occupied territories in an attempt to crush the opposition.

The most disturbing recent developments in the occupied territories are of a military nature. One of the key figures involved in this aspect is Chief-of-Staff Rafael Eitan. With the resignation of Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, Eitan - never noted for his political acumen - has been thrust into an ever more important role. When Menahem Begin assumed the defense portfolio (and refused to promote Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori), he effectively allowed increased policy formulation to pass on to his Chief-of-Staff. Eitan had already stirred up a great deal of controversy with the leniency he had shown in the reduction of sentences to Lederman, Pinto, and Sadeh, all of whom had been convicted of killing innocent Arabs. His sympathy for the Gush Emunim has been overt as has his desire to retain the West Bank and Gaza. Eitan considers each settlement a "confrontative settlement" and has restructured the reserve duty of settlers in a foreboding fashion. Rather than serving generally in the Israeli Defence Forces, they now are organized in a framework of "area defense." Thus they serve in the occupied territories particularly, and often even in their own immediate vicinity of residence. Israeli journalist Dani Rubinstein describes the situation:

The military authorities receive their directions from one of the most political Chiefs of Staff the Army ever had, Rafael Eitan, who openly declares that there is no difference between Jaffa and Nablus and that according to his directions the Gush Emunim settlers have become an armed militia that controls the Arabs in the territories. In Hebron, like in many other places, settlers walk in the streets armed, they are officially incorporated into the Army's security network. [26] 

The settlers in the Territories who serve in different reserve units have been taken out of their respective units and placed in the regional defense alignment in their settlements. Parallel to that, and in the course of the policy on which billions have been spent, the Israeli military system tied itself to the Territories with every conceivable knot. There are places in the West Bank where the visitor gets the impression that the Israelis have been attempting to turn the West Bank into one giant military ware-house. Giant military stock houses, training grounds, camps and command units for the various armed forces.... The I.D.F. has been binding itself to the West Bank, together with these "security settlements" in a seemingly deliberate way, so that any future Israeli government will have to reconsider even the most superficial concession. [27] 

The Ramallah area is policed primarily by settlers from Ofra, Beit Horon and Beit El. Israeli journalist Yehuda Litani reports that:

A security source dealing with these matters claims that "they are the best soldiers for this task." He says that the settlers have strong discipline and most important - motivation. For them "a roadblock is a roadblock and a search is a search. Security sources think that the Area Defense... cannot be called "a private army." Security sources and the settlers deny the existence of a private army, but the given data shows that the settlers have the infrastructure, prepared by the army. There is no need for underground organization. When the governor of Ramallah demanded the arms back from the settlers from Ofra following their "police action" last year, the settlers simply refused. This proved that in critical times the settlers and not the army dictate their will. [38] 

Even should the settlers function as a private army, it is unlikely to disturb the Chief-of-Staff who recently made a "statement that there was nothing new or particularly worrisome in having a private army, almost certainly Jewish, operating separately from his own." [29] 

His words are echoed by another Rafael Eitan, the adviser to the Prime Minister on the "War against Terror," when he urged,

...that every Israeli who enters the territories, and even the Old City of Jerusalem should carry arms and know how to use them.... In my judgment more Israeli civilians must be allowed to carry weapons all the time. Some argue that such a state of affairs will be exploited for the worst purposes. My reply: Already hundreds of thousands of guns are in the hands of I.D.F. personnel, the police and the Israeli civilian sector. An addition of several thousand weapons more will not change matters good or bad in this respect.... [30] 

In stating that there was nothing new about a private army, Chief-of-Staff Eitan could have been speaking historically of the various Zionist para- military troops active during the 1940's. His remark, however, is accurate in a contemporary context as well. In May 1980, the Jerusalem Post was told that "West Bank settlers are preparing to fight the Arab terrorists with or without the army's help.... Settlement leaders have decided to form 'regional security committees' which will obtain arms, train settlers and collect information on Arab riots, stone-throwing and incitement." Despite official statements that settler sources indicated they would cooperate with the authorities, "...well-informed settler sources indicated they would act if the army should be curbed by political factors." [31] Some of the settlers, in order to counteract what they feel to be hostile media coverage, are even exploring the legalities of creating a private broadcasting station for the West Bank. [32] 

The extent to which the West Bank settlers have been taking the law into their own hands has reached such great proportions that even the Western media can no longer ignore it. To merely record the incidents of harassment and violence inflicted upon the citizens of Hebron alone by the settlers of Kiryat Arba would take a far longer paper than this. Some of the Israeli press have quite appropriately termed such attacks pogroms. [33] 

The sympathy of the military authorities for such activities has been demonstrably evidenced by the leniency they have shown towards the perpetrators. In the case of months-old incidents, the fact that no suspects have been apprehended is not easily explained. In Haaretz, Zeev Schiff notes the reluctance of the responsible authorities assiduously to investigate the attempted assassinations of the [three West Bank] mayors for fear it would lead to established political quarters. [34] 

What is not so readily apparent is the potential which confrontative settlement, area defense forces, regional security committees, and pogroms hold for bringing about a disintegration within the Israeli military. The settlers, through their overt vigilante actions, have done much to raise the level of violence in the occupied territories. Through their demagogic rhetoric and their pogroms, the settler movement - and the Gush Emunim in particular - have helped to legitimize and spawn the underground organizations which are escalating the violence in the occupied territories. As Newsweek put it, "Violence on the West Bank usually meets with little retribution from the Israeli establishment. For years, officials have allowed Gush Emunim bullies to attack Arabs, and Kahane and his crew seem to enjoy the same prerogatives." [35] 

The most tragic attack by an underground group so far has been the maiming of Mayor Karim Khalaf of Ramallah and Mayor Bassam al-Shak'a of Nablus. These terrorist attacks, which occurred almost simultaneously with others in Hebron and al-Bireh, are not isolated incidents. As Mayor al-Shak'a said from his hospital bed:

This is another part in the chain of acts of the authorities who want to force upon us the autonomy conspiracy and the Camp David Agreements. It is natural that the authorities won't listen to any call for peace and recognition of the Palestinian people and their national rights. Like any other aggressive state they slip into oppression and terror. Don't forget: The bomb in my car was preceded by the killing of a student in Anabtah on May the first by the military governor of Tulkarm. Later he visited the father of the dead student and told him: "I'm sorry that it was your son that was killed; the one that should have been killed was the son of Bassam al-Shakaa and the son of Hilmi Hanoun (the mayor of Tulkarm)." [36] 

The role which Mayor al-Shak'a ascribes to the Israeli authorities in both these attacks should not be overlooked. Given the thorough surveillance of the West Bank mayors, it is hard to imagine how such well planned attacks could have been carried out without the collusion of the military authorities.

As much an indicator of the rising lawlessness in Israeli society as the attacks themselves are the public responses made to them. Although the Begin government may have formally denounced the terror, various public figures have been far more ambivalent in their remarks.

Yossi Dayan, Meir Kahane's deputy in the Kach movement, expressed enthusiasm for the attacks and was sure they were done by "good Jews." He noted that "apparently the underground continues to function without him (Meir Kahane)." [37] The Gush Emunim secretary of Kiryat Arba, Yossi Weiner, said, "I can't say I'm sad. Until yesterday, we were the ones who had to guard ourselves, to watch out for stones and Molotov cocktails when we walked along the street. The time has come for the Arabs to be afraid too." [38] One of the leaders of the Gush Emunim, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, said that he felt "safer" after the attempts to assassinate the mayors and that he felt an "understanding" for the men who did it. [39] Similar thoughts were echoed at higher levels. Haaretz reported that, "MK Rabbi Haim Druckman (National Religious Party) expressed regret concerning the terror, but noted that the victims were enemies of Israel, and quoted the biblical 'May all your enemies perish thus.' He also said that he would not be terribly saddened if they were to die a natural death." [40] Although some of his colleagues rebuked him for these comments, the National Religious Party affiliated newspaper Hatzofeb was not above putting out the scam that "The attackers should be sought among the P.L.O.... " [41] 

Apparently there are at least two Zionist underground groups operating in the occupied territories: the "Sons of Zion" and another connected to Meir Kahane's Kach Party. Newsweek distinguishes between the two: "The membership of the Sons of Zion remains something of a mystery, though it appears to be small, highly professional, well-educated and native. Kahane's Kach, on the other hand, is seen as a dumping ground for young thugs. Some of them never bother to learn Hebrew and they often return home after a few months of hell-raising on the West Bank." [42] 

Also claiming responsibility for the attacks on the mayors is a group calling itself "Terror Against Terror" (in Hebrew the acronym is TNT). Whether this group is identical to the "Sons of Zion" remains to be seen. However, in a Haaretz poll asking whether they approved of the tactics of "Terror Against Terror", 36.6 percent of the Israelis polled said yes. [43] The majority of Israelis may not at this time openly condone such flagrantly illegal actions, yet the magnitude of those that do is quite sufficient to sustain a great deal of unlawful activity. The underground will find a great deal of sympathy and support, especially among the settlers in the occupied territories.

Even more incredible than the attacks upon the mayors are the potential consequences of the plot to blow up the al-Aqsa Mosque. The intention of this scheme is not the mere physical or even symbolic destruction of the Mosque. Such an action would quite probably have precipitated a major conflict in the Middle East. From the point of view of the plotters, just such a war is needed to expedite the expulsion of the bulk of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories. Kahane and the Gush Emunim have been explicit in their advocacy of such an expulsion. In the words of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Goren, "Not only Kiryat Arba but Hebron must be a Jewish city." [44] 

Most ominous is the recent warning sounded by former military intelligence chief General (Reserves) Aharon Yariv in a speech recently at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He stated that some people already "hope to exploit a situation of war to expel 7-800,000 Arabs... things are being said to this effect, and the means are even being prepared." [45] 

The problem goes well beyond that of fringe groups, as Amnon Kapeliouk explains:

Rabbi Kahane is not the problem. He and his gang can easily be taken care of (why not expel him to the U.S.A. for example? ); the problem is Gush Emunim and their supporters in the government and the army. As long as they are able to force their wish on everyone the decline will continue. Ever new settler in the West Bank is a piece of additional dynamite. Today we already know that the settlers or many of them are driving towards a situation in which the expulsion of the Palestinian inhabitants from the Territories will turn from a nightmare into a terrible reality. [46] 

These plots and provocations are not taking place in a political vacuum. Over the last year the Israeli press has begun to carry articles warning of creeping fascism.

One indication is the Tehiya (or Renaissance) Party which many of the leaders of Gush Emunim had a role in founding. It was created due to dissatisfaction with the Herut and National Religious Party positions on settlement. The ideology of Tehiya is one of mystical nationalism and the rhetoric has led some Israeli journalists to compare it with European fascist movements. [47] 

Amnon Kapeliouk, in an insightful article written six months prior to the attack on the Palestinian mayors, notes several worrisome trends: "... the growing activities of the fanatic religious Gush Emunim movement; the positions taken by Minister of Agriculture General Sharon; the foundation of the facist party Hatehiya, etc..." [48] Sharon recently expressed the opinion that security in his eyes was above constitution [49] (something Israel does not even have). Begin himself once confided to colleagues that he would not appoint Sharon Defense Minister because "He would be liable to put tanks around my office." [50] Whatever the wryness of the Prime Minister's comment, the politics of such highly placed officials as Sharon trouble many Israelis.

General Sharon is not the only prominent Israeli given to expressing such anti-democratic opinions. General Beni Peled, former air force commander, has an emergency plan to save Israel from its present dilemma. He has stated that if he were prime minister he would ask the president for permission to dismiss the Knesset and all the parties as legal frameworks. He would then appoint an interim government which would restructure Israel in a more centralized, less parliamentary fashion. His foreign policy goals include annexing Lebanon up to the Litani River and the option of transferring the "human potential from the West Bank to Jordan." [51] 

Dalia Yairi of "Voice of Israel" returned from a one week tour of Chile and proceeded to compare the shortcomings of Israel with the advantages of the Chilean Junta. [52]

Chief-of-Staff Rafael Eitan, whose opinion on the settlements was mentioned earlier in this article, has advocated an "emergency economy" to deal with the financial crisis. Zeev Schiff, in Haaretz, describes "Raful's" plan of lower wages and no strikes, noting that "maybe he doesn't notice the contradiction between 'emergency economy' and the demands of Israeli democracy." [53] 

Are such views merely those of a few eccentric individuals, no matter how highly placed, or do they enjoy popular support among Israeli Jews? A poll released by Monitin in February 1981, conducted by respected pollster Dr. Mina Tzemach gives an indication of broad support. The following question was put to the sample:

There is a view that in order to come to grips with the difficult problems of Israel, it is necessary to totally change the political regime in the country and to establish a strong regime of leaders who will not be dependent upon parties. In your opinion, is this view justified or not?

Of the respondents, 40.8 percent felt the view justified, 41.4 percent felt it unjustified, and 17.8 percent had no opinion. If one can assume that the third group would not strongly oppose such a change, then there clearly emerges a distinct potential for movement in such a direction. [54] 

It is obvious that the democratic rights enjoyed by Israeli Jews have been of little benefit to most Palestinian Arabs. Indeed, these institutions of democracy have been used to bring about and sustain their dispossession. However, the replacement of such institutions by military or fascist rule will obviously only increase the oppression of the Palestinian people. Thus, the matter is not moot. It is not an accident that in colonial settler states the oppressive measures directed against the indigenous people eventually corrupt the culture and undermine the limited democracy enjoyed by the settlers themselves.

The drift to the right in Israeli politics was not checked by the June 30, 1981 elections. Many western commentators have seized upon the gains made by the Alignment as an indication of disenchantment with Begin's policies. In so doing they neglect the fact that the Likud itself gained five seats over their position in 1977. The strength of the Likud vote in the Israeli Defence Forces may also be indicative of the mood of many Israeli youth - a particularly bad omen for the future. The 1981 elections also brought 3 Knesset seats to Tehiya to the right of Likud and saw the evaporation of the "dove-Zionist" Shelli Party.

The outcome of the election is not the only indicator of the reactionary mood among Israeli voters. The widespread violence and harassment surrounding the campaign was a relatively new phenomenon on the Israeli scene. These attacks emanated almost invariably from Likud or other groups on the right.

Included among the various rhetorical excesses of the campaign was Begin's explicit election day oath:

I, Menahem, the son of Ze'ev and Hasia Begin do solemnly swear that as long as I serve the nation as prime minister, we will not leave any part of Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. [55] 

It came as no surprise that this oath was greeted enthusiastically by his audience which was gathered in the settlement town of Ariel. According to pre-election Jerusalem Post polls, approximately three-quarters of all Israeli Jews favoured continuing settlement on the West Bank. [56] Thus Begin's position enjoys great acceptance in the public at large.

While the election dust was still settling, one member of Likud was already threatening the news media. Charging that the state news media was anti-Likud, MK Ronnie Milo said that one of Likud's first tasks would be to "deal with the state radio and television networks." He threatened that, "Now things will be different. We can't touch the press. But the electronic state media are something else again." [57] 

Such a drift toward fascist censorship would certainly please Rabbi Kahane. Unburdened by any pretensions of democracy, Kahane proposed a law which included among its various repressive measures a clause advocating a five-year prison term for non-Jews found guilty of sexual relations with Jewish women. (As with the Nazis, Kahane's fanaticism displays a warped sexual double standard. [58] Although Kahane failed in his bid for a Knesset seat, he was not prohibited from running. It seems such prohibitions are reserved for Arab groups such as al-Ard.

The election results allayed the settlers' greatest fear - that an Alignment victory might bring about a partial withdrawal from the occupied territories. The settler council representing 40 settlements stated in December 1980 that it "... considers any proposal intended to hand over parts of Eretz Israel to foreign sovereignty as a disavowel (sic) of the Jewish people's destiny and the aims of the Zionist enterprise, and as an illegal act." [59] 

The Likud victory assures that settlement and dispossession will continue in the occupied territories. Should Ronald Reagan alter the official US government position and persist in terming the settlements legal, then the movement to take over the West Bank will gain strength. The petition drive to annex the Golan Heights will almost certainly be revived. And, if the maps distributed by the Israel Tourist Administration are any indication, even the status of Southern Lebanon is in danger. The Lebanese-Israeli border is designated by hatch-marks described as indicating "cease-fire line, 1967." The so-called "green line", of course, does not appear at all. All indications are that the process of Israeli expansion will continue. What the maximalist Zionist forces cannot achieve within the boundaries of the law, they may be expected to attempt extralegally.

Throughout the history of the state of Israel, there have been outbreaks of extralegal and illegal activities. Generally, these have been a result of actions of the extreme right wing of the Zionist camp. The policies of Begin's own Herut Party during the formation and early years of the state clearly fit this category." [60] This is why Ben-Gurion confronted them over the Altalena. Often the right has used such tactics to gain disproportionate leverage over policy formation. They have succeeded in achieving this influence through their abilities to manipulate the political and religious fundamentals of Zionist ideology. Within Zionism the only definitive answers to such key questions as - What are the final borders of Israel? Who has more right to the land? Who is a Jew in the eyes of the state? - have come from those relying upon strict religious formulas. Those with more universalist religious interpretations or more liberal political analyses have not succeeded in putting forward alternatives capable of neutralizing the maximalist arguments. They respond weakly when faced with the question: if history and the Bible entitled us to Haifa, how much more are we entitled to Hebron? Or also the correlative: if we abandon our rights and withdraw from Hebron will we not be forced to withdraw from Haifa?

Virtually all factions within the Zionist movement, in their effort to create the state of Israel, accepted and used - at least in a limited fashion - the historical and religious claims to the land. As a result, the maximalist position has an element of "truth" to it which the moderates are seldom prepared to deny or refute. While in times of relative peace and security, pragmatism may retard the expansionist and exclusivist elements of Zionism, in times of stress and disorder the extremists gain in strength.

At the present, the contradictions of settler colonialism are catching up with Israel. Occupation and democracy (even for the settler population) do not mix. The requirements of defense and settlement are placing an enormous strain on an economy which has never been self-reliant. The inability to resolve the political contradictions latent in Zionism and the ensuing economic hardship are already evoking calls for greater authoritarianism. The editor-in-chief of the widely read Yediot Aharonot commented in September 1979:

If we cannot obtain economic independence under a democratic regime, we will have to opt for a less democratic rule, provided it is strong enough and firm enough to assure our survival, because our existence is more important than the individual freedom of each one of us. [61] 

Not only did he call for a more authoritarian regime, he worried lest it not be "strong enough and firm enough." MK Haim Druckman candidly remarked of late that the unity of Eretz Israel is more important than the democracy of do-gooders. [62] Amnon Kapeliouk describes the danger:

Democratic principles are the first to suffer from this crisis atmosphere. Certain quarters increasingly flout democratic laws in the name of what they call their "idealism." They consider themselves in effect to be above the law and proclaim themselves representatives of a "divine authority." Their nationalist ideology, coloured by religious fanaticism, consists of an unshakable determination to annex officially and definitively all the Arab territories in the regions occupied since 1967.... The religious authorities almost as a body provide moral support and a "religious cover" to the ideology and methods of the extreme right-wing nationalist groups. We have not heard of a single rabbi who, in regard to Israeli occupation of the occupied territories, has condemned or even mentioned the immoral aspect of the domination of one people by another. [63] 

Dissident Israelis may someday find themselves living under the same political oppression as their Palestinian neighbours. A countervailing force to the maximalists has yet to coalesce in Israel. The Peace Now movement is neither ready to respond to the right with the extralegal tactics of the Gush Emunim, nor is it capable of manipulating the historical imperatives of Zionism for its own ends.

The Palestinians in the occupied territories, already the victims of creeping expansionism and expropriation, must prepare themselves for another danger emanating from the settler movement. They must anticipate the possibility that the Gush Emunim and its rightist allies will through illegal and fascistic methods precipitate a conflict which will be used as a cover for the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied territories. An expulsion through such a means will likely enjoy the support of elements of Israeli society beyond the right who will welcome the resolution of the last fourteen years' paradox. Such events would destroy the possibility of achieving peace through the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. Continued settlement and expropriation already have almost rendered this irrelevant. The Palestinians for their part must secure allies and find means of defense (political means may prove as effective as military means against the powerful Israeli army).

Historical examination reveals that the settlement movement (and the Gush Emunim particularly) has roots deep in the philosophy of Zionism. It draws strength from these in the present moment, yet it also bears the seeds of self-destruction. It has the potential for inflicting further hardship and dispossession upon the Palestinians and, ironically, may bring unseen grief to the Jewish people as well. Virtually the entire world has recognized the illegality and injustice of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. For the peace of all, settlement must be halted and the right of the Palestinians to self-determination realized through a state of their own.


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Donald S. Will is Resource Specialist, Middle East Affairs, United Methodist Office for the United Nations. This paper in its original form was prepared for the First United Nations Seminar on the Question of Palestine, held in Arusha, Tanzania from July 14-18, 1980; it was subsequently updated by the author.

1 Cf. Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, ed., The Transformation of Palestine (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971). 

2 Jerusalem Post, International Edition, March 16-22, 1980.

3 Yoseph Zuriel, Maariv, March 23, 1979. (This and subsequent translations from the Hebrew by Prof. Israel Shahak unless otherwise specified.)

4 Christopher Walker, London Times, February 23, 1981. 

5 Aryeh Rubenstein and Asher Wallfish, Jerusalem Post, International Edition, March 9-15, 1980.

6 Yosef Goell, Jerusalem Post, International Edition, April 13-19, 1980.

7 Judy Siegel,Jerusalem Post, International Edition, December 14-20, 1980. 

8 David Shaham, Yediot Abaronot Supplement, April 13, 1979.

9 Yosef Goell, Jerusalem Post, International Edition, June 7-13, 1981.

10 Arthur Samuelson, "Israeli Expansionism," Harper's, February 1980. 

11 Dr. Israel Eldad, "The Real-Politik of Our Sages," in a pamphlet simply entitled: GUSH EMUNIM, Department of Information, Elon Moreh, Kedumin, Sak Naul - Jerusalem.

12 Jerusalem Post, International Edition, June 8-14, 1980.

13 Yosef Goell, Jerusalem Post, International Edition, April 1 3-19, 1980. 

14 Jerusalem Post, International Edition, April 5-11, 1981.

15 Jerusalem Post, International Edition, March 29-April 4, 1981.

16 Haaretz, March 27, 1981. From Israleft, April 7, 1981.

17 Jerusalem Post, International Edition, April 12-18, 1981.

18 Yehuda Litani, Haaretz, December 30, 1979. 

19 Bulletin 9-10, United Nations Special Unit on Palestinian Rights, September-October 1979, p. 8. 

20 United Nations Document A/36/341, June 23, 1981. 

21 Yosef Goell, Jerusalem Post, International Edition, April 13-19, 1980.

22 Prof. John Ruedy, Washington Star, October 29, 1978.

23 Haaretz, March 23, 1981. 

24 Larry Ekin, Testimony submitted to the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA on behalf of the Middle East Research & Information Project (MERIP). Washington, D.C., February 13, 1980.

25 Jerusalem Post, November 16, 1979. 

26 Dani Rubinstein, Davar, April 3, 1981.

27 Dani Rubinstein, Davar, April 24, 1981.

28 Yehuda Litani, Haaretz, May 16, 1980.

29 Hirsh Goodman, Jerusalem Post Magazine, June 13, 1980. 

30 Baruch Meiri, Maariv, September 18, 1979.

31 Joshua Brilliant, Jerusalem Post, May 11-17, 1980.

32 Yehuda Litani, Haaretz, May 16, 1980.

33 For example, Nahum Barnea in Davar, May 9, 1980. Among the best compilations of such events are the monthly Occupied Territories chronicles to be found in the journal Israel & Palestine, published in Paris.

34 Haaretz, June 6, 1980. 

35 Newsweek, International Edition, June 16, 1980.

36 Amnon Kapeliouk, Al Hamishmar, June 4, 1980.

37 Haaretz, June 3, 1980. From Israleft, June 13, 1980. 

38 Newsweek, International Edition, June 16, 1980. Yossi Dayan also credits Chief Rabbi Goren

for his rapid release from prison the one time he was jailed.

39 Jerusalem Post, June 4, 1980. From Israleft, June 13, 1980.

40 Haaretz, June 3, 1980. From Israleft, June 13, 1980.

41 Hatzofeb, editorial, June 3, 1980. From Israleft, June 13, 1980.

42 Newsweek, International Edition, June 16, 1980.

43 New York Times, June 21, 1980.

44 Jerusalem Post, International Edition, December 30, 1979-January 5, 1980.

45 Haaretz, May 23, 1980.

46 Al Hamisbmar, May 16, 1980.

47 Cf. Jerusalem Post, International Edition, April 13-19, 1980; Amnon Kapeliouk, Le Monde Diplomatique, No. 309 (Dec. 1979). The latter is translated into English and reprinted in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. IX, No. 3 (Spring 1980). Also cf. Haaretz, October 23, 1979, and Maariv, October 24, 1979.

48 Kapeliouk, Le Monde Diplomatgque, No. 309 (Dec. 1979).

49 Haaretz, June 13, 1980. 

50 Newsweek, International Edition, June 16, 1980.

5 Shimshon Eherlich, Haaretz, June 26, 1980.

52 Nahum Barnea, Davar Weekly Supplement, January 9, 1981.

53 Zeev Schiff, Haaretz, June 3 and 4, 1980.

54 Eliahu Hasin, Monitin, February 1981. 

55 David Richardson,Jerusalem Post, International Edition, June 10-16, 1981.

56 Mark Segal,Jerusalem Post, International Edition, June 10-16, 1981. 

57 Jerusalem Post, International Edition, July 5-11, 1981.

58 Robert Alkor, Al-Fajr, June 28 - July 4, 1981.

59 Christopher Walker, London Times, February 19, 1981.

60 Cf. Eliahu Selpter, Haaretz, June 6, 1980. 

61 Yediot Abaronot, September 14, 1979. Quoted in Kapeliouk, Le Monde Diplomatique, No. 309 (Dec. 1979).

62 Haaretz, June 13, 1980. 

63 Kapeliouk, LeMonde Diplomatique, No. 309 (Dec. 1979).