A founding father of the settlement movement, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, died on Saturday at age 80.
He was known for his leadership roles in the founding of the Kiryat Arba settlement, the return of the Jews to Hebron and the 1975 attempt to settle Jews near the ruins of the former Sebastia train station in Samaria, all of which engendered controversy.
Levinger was a founding member of the Gush Emunim settlement movement and the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria.
“He was the father of the Jewish community in Hebron and of the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria,” said Deputy Defense Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi).
“This is a great loss,” his son, Malachi Levinger, who is the head of the Kiryat Arba Council, said.
“The passing of my teacher and father, on the eve of Jerusalem Day and Hebron Day is symbolic of the great spirit and love that pulsated within him for the Land of Israel,” he added. “His great spirit will continue to pulsate in all of us as we continue to build the nation and the land.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Malachi Levinger to express condolences on the death of his father.
A Jerusalem native, Levinger was a child of German immigrant parents and a student of the religious Zionist leader Rabbi Tzvi HaCohen Yehuda Kook.
He first entered the limelight in April 1968 when he organized a group of Jews to re-establish a community in Hebron, a city which had just passed from Jordanian to Israeli hands during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Levinger rented out rooms in the Park Hotel in the city, to hold a seder. But when the first day of the holiday was over the group refused to leave. After a month they were relocated to a nearby military base, where they remained until the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba was built.
He recalled those historic moments for a short 2013 video that was produced when he received the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism.
“We decided to go to Hebron… It [Hebron] symbolized an ancient place. Abraham use to live there. He bought the cave of the patriarchs,” Levinger said.
“A group was established and we met with Shlomo Gazit, one of Moshe Dayan’s chief assistants,” Levinger said.
“His title was Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. He said bring me some plans. We gave him plans but he did not give us an answer,” Levinger recalled.
“When we saw that the answer was delayed we decided to move in without permission and to get the OK afterwards,” he said.
“Once we arrived in Hebron we didn’t know where to go. We had two possibilities, one was to rent a hotel the other was to settle on one of the empty hills in Hebron,” Levinger said.
“Eventually we decided to rent a hotel, which we did a month before Passover,” Levinger said.
A month later, he recalled, “they moved us from the hotel to the military administration building so the army could look out for us. “Eventually after two years of pressure, they let us establish Kiryat Arba. In 1970 the building of Kiryat Arba began,” Levinger said.
“By 1979 after Kiryat Arba was firmly established we decided that we ought to be in Hebron itself,” he said.
“That was when a group of women moved into Beit Hadassah and the settlement was developed in Hebron,” said Levinger, who was among the Jewish families that then moved into the city.
In 1988, Palestinians stoned Levinger’s car as he drove in Hebron.
In response he took out a pistol and shot at nearby Palestinians, killing one and injuring another. After a two years of legal proceedings, he was convicted of causing death by negligence and served a three month shortened sentence in 1990.
Two years later he tried to run for a Knesset seat as the head of a party, Torah VeHaaretz, but it failed to pass the threshold.
After the 2005 evacuation of 21 settlements from the Gaza Strip and four from northern Samaria, Levinger was among the leaders of the settlement movement who called on activists to build more outposts in the West Bank.
“After the evacuation of Gush Katif, we didn’t give up,” said Levinger in the Moscowtiz prize interview.
“We said if we could not live there, we would do what it takes in Judea and Samaria,” he said.
“We decided not to despair but to keep building,” he said.
On Saturday night, after his death, politicians on the Right and the Left published messages of condolences.
Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said he had disagreed with Levinger but had respected him as an ideological leader of the Right.
MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said, “his voice has been silenced but his teachings will continue to lead us.”
Levinger will be buried on Sunday in the Jewish cemetery in Hebron.