A new rallying point

Although much has changed since 1967, developments in Hebron, Homesh show that much stays the same.

Homesh 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
Homesh 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
On the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, history is repeating itself. In Homesh and Hebron, idealistic settlers are once again vying to increase the Jewish population on the West Bank in a bid to prevent a Palestinian state. Men with crocheted kippot and women with long skirts are once again making headlines. Scenes from Homesh 2007 contained all the idiosyncratic ingredients of, say, Sebastia 1975. Settlers dodged army roadblocks and grappled with soldiers. The IDF, much more comfortable fighting enemies than idealistic fellow citizens, half-heartedly enforced orders issued by politicians to prevent the settlers from reaching their destination. Activists who were arrested and released, regrouped and tried again. They pitched tents, sang songs and showed their loyalty to the Land of Israel.
Jerusalem celebrates 40 years of unification
Hebron's Beit Shalom, a four-story residential building populated at the end of March by dozens of young religious families, brought back memories of the Park Hotel on Pessah 1968, or Beit Hadassah on the eve of Independence Day 1979. There were the same calls to renew the Jewish presence in the City of the Patriarchs, which was abruptly interrupted by the Arab pogroms of 1929. There was the same feverish activity to equip the building with the accessories needed for a permanent stay. Today, as in the past, the cabinet is split between those, like Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, who are sympathetic to the settlers' cause and those, like Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who oppose it. Now, as in the past, the IDF is ensuring the settlers' security without assuming formal responsibility for them or their actions. The new developments in Hebron and Homesh seem to prove that while many things have changed since the Six Day War, much remains the same. The Olmert government - like those that preceded it - has yet to decide the fate of thousands of square kilometers of land in Judea and Samaria that includes some of the Jewish people's holiest, history-laden sites. But Homesh and Beit Shalom are also a testimony to the staying power of religious Zionism's special blend of theology and nationalism over the past four decades. While other ideological movements have come and gone, while men like Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert have undergone radical ideological overhauls, religious Zionism, with all its challenges and disappointments is still alive and kicking. Its leaders still preach the same Greater Israel creed that fuses the secular Zionist ideal of realization (hagshama) or "creating facts on the ground," with the religious faith that the Jewish people's return to the Land of Israel is the advent of a fundamentally unique spiritual reality. ALTHOUGH MODERN religious Zionism was born after the Six Day War, its intellectual roots date back to the thought of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, who died in 1935. Kook's radical innovation in Jewish theology was two-fold: First, he saw secular Zionism as a stage in God's redemption plan. Therefore, cooperation with secular Zionist pioneers, shunned by the vast majority of Orthodox spiritual leaders, was not only possible, it was essential to bringing about redemption. But more significantly, he saw the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as a chance for the advent of a new era which would include the use of physical power, including military strength, for holy purposes. The most obvious example of this is a passage in Orot, a revolutionary theological work first published in 1920, in which Kook likens the merits of physical exercise by youngsters in the Land of Israel to those accrued through the recitation of psalms by King David and the mystical unifications of the kabbalists. Rabbi Moshe Harlap, Kook's closest disciple, defended the passage, probably the most criticized by mainstream haredi rabbis of all of Kook's writings. Harlap said that for Kook the stirrings of physical prowess on the part of secular-minded Zionist youth was an outward manifestation of a deep, positive, psychic transformation occurring with the return from exile to the Land of Israel. However, implementation of the far-reaching implications of Kook's approach to Jewish physical power by his students and spiritual heirs would have to wait. The chance came more than four decades later. On the night of May 4, 1967, the evening of Independence Day, Kook's only son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda, addressed hundreds of students, alumni and guests in the dining room of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. The yeshiva, established by the elder Kook, was the flagship of religious Zionist thought. The younger Kook, who took over as its head after his father's death, began his annual Independence Day sermon. Utterly out of character, and to the shock of his students, he began to shout, devastated by grief. "He spoke like a man whose soul was torn asunder," said Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, head of the religious kibbutz movement's yeshiva in Ein Tzurim, who was in the dining room that evening. "It was as though his grief emanated from the deepest spiritual reservoirs. It was a chilling experience. No one present that night remained the same." The speech has since become one of the centerpieces of religious Zionist legend, a quasi-prophecy heralding a new stage in the Jewish people's redemption process. Kook told his audience in a nearly hysterical voice how, 19 years earlier, when the United Nations had voted to partition the land and create a Jewish state, the entire nation flowed into the streets to celebrate. But he could not participate. "They have divided my land!" shouted Kook. "Where is our Hebron? Have we forgotten it? And where is our Shechem? Have we forgotten it? And our Jericho, will we forget them? And the other side of the Jordan, it is ours, every clod of soil, every bit of earth. I was torn to pieces, I could not celebrate." Kook could not have known it, but that very evening, chief of General Staff Yitzhak Rabin relayed to prime minister Levi Eshkol information that thousands of Egyptian troops were streaming into Sinai. Nor could Kook have known that within less than a month the holy places mentioned in his speech at Mercaz Harav - except the east side of Jordan - would be conquered by Israel. THE VICTORY was a defining moment. Jews around the world - both secular and religious - were overwhelmed with pride in a Jewish state that could valiantly destroy its enemies. True, some were uncomfortable with the use of force. For instance, Rabbi Eliezer Shach, the undisputed spiritual leader of haredi Lithuanian Jewry, attacked what he saw as Jewish jingoism. "In these actions," he said shortly after the war, "Jews deviated completely from the behavior and the path that we followed all the days of our exile. Until now we were a sheep among 70 wolves... and now the sheep has become a player and a decider among the wolves. This is not the behavior of Israel... Since we are still in exile and have not been redeemed, we must behave as befitting Jews in exile." But Kook's students had an altogether different take on the implications of the war. The Six Day War was part of a great, divinely directed process, as though God Himself had forced the Jewish people to liberate Jerusalem, Hebron, Shechem (Nablus), Bethlehem and Jericho. God was sending a message that the Jewish people had entered a new, more advanced stage in the process of redemption. It included using force when necessary to assert Jewish sovereignty. And Kook had sensed, in some metaphysical way, the change that was about to happen. "We drew strength from the victory," recalled Benny Katzover, a Mercaz Harav alumnus and one of the founders of Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), as he sat on the patio of his house in Elon Moreh smoking a cigarette and reminiscing. "Until that point religious Jews deferred to the secular Zionists. We were along for the ride, but we never sat in the driver's seat. We had our own little religious corner where, as individuals, we did our little religious things. In the army, we were embarrassed of our kippot. Many of us simply took them off. "But after the Six Day War, the unification of Jerusalem, the push to return to Shechem, to Hebron, we as a group were slowly transformed. We no longer were embarrassed by our kippot, our religiosity. We walked proud and upright. It was about this time that religious guys started competing en masse to get accepted into elite IDF units. We broke with the old guard in the National Religious Party, men like Zerah Warhaftig, Yitzhak Raphael and Haim Moshe Shapira, who were still behaving like they were still in exile. "This process of empowerment gained steam after the Yom Kippur War, when the secular Zionist leadership began to show signs of weakness. As Rabbi Harlap wrote, 'The Land of Israel is the spiritual epicenter. Every Jew has to clarify his ties to the land.' Those who did not come to terms with their connection to the land lost their bearings." A VETERAN of 40 years of settlement activity - first in Hebron and later in Sebastia, Kedumim and Elon Moreh - Katzover, 60, has plans for the future. From his patio in Elon Moreh, which overlooks Nablus, he points in the direction of Homesh. "Homesh has all the elements needed to become a rallying point for a settlement renaissance," he said, visibly excited by the prospect. "From a practical perspective it is easy to organize demonstrations and marches because Shavei Shomron, which is just a few kilometers away, can serve as a base. "Also, unlike in Gush Katif, the IDF never retreated. Actually, exactly the opposite is happening. High-ranking officers want to build an army base up there because they realize the strategic importance of the area. And there is also a core of 30 families that want to live there." Katzover looked out across the valley past Nablus. He took a last drag from his cigarette and slowly crushed the butt into an ashtray. "If we can bring a million Jews to Judea and Samaria, we will solve all our problems. Homesh is just the beginning."