Ofra's rabbi looks for the positives

Police violence against settler youth at Amona will strengthen the more militant, extremist elements in religious Zionism and deepen existing feelings of alienation and disenchantment, Ofra Chief Rabbi Avraham Giesser said Thursday. "After [the evacuation of] Gush Katif, youth were frustrated and feeling that they were betrayed and hated by a large portion of Israeli society," he said. "The violence at Amona is living proof for many settlers that their feelings are justified. It is proof that the government, the army and the police are our enemies.
"The challenge for me and other educators is to somehow help youth look at the positive aspect of the State of Israel. To be thankful we have our own state that protects Jews from anti-Semitism, that supports Torah education, that enables us to settle in most parts of the Land of Israel." Giesser, a member of the Dovrat education committee who was present at nearby Amona during the violence, said the security forces treated the demonstrators brutally. He said the main challenge for religious Zionist educators was to help youth develop a more sophisticated outlook about the state and its institutions "Youth tend to see the struggle for Greater Israel in black-and-white terms, good versus bad, etcetera," he added. "But even very young children can be taught a more sophisticated view of reality. I can say to a small boy, 'See that policeman hitting that man with a club? He is doing a bad thing. But that policeman also helps us catch robbers.'" Giesser, who is also chairman of Chemed (the state religious school system that has some 200,000 pupils), said more moderate religious Zionists were better equipped to live with these contradictions. They understood that the state could be simultaneously a vehicle for the settling the Land of Israel and the executive arm for dismantling settlements, he added. Giesser said when the state did not adhere to the Torah, the moderate religious Zionist resolved the dissonance by understanding that the road to redemption was long and winding. "We have to leave something for the Messiah," he added. Giesser said it was difficult to tell how the youth's disenchantment with state institutions such the security forces, the Supreme Court and the Knesset would translate into action. "I definitely foresee a more cynical attitude," he said. "Settlers will be less likely to give their maximum for the state. Like haredim, some settlers might stop paying taxes to a state that does things they think are wrong." But Giesser also expects more grassroots activities that bypass official institutions, such as Panim el Panim (Face to Face), in which settlers go door-to-door in Tel Aviv and other cities, or Ma'agalei Tzedek, a social-action organization that helps the poor. Giesser said the traumas of Amona would be felt for a long time. "Amona will go down in history as a symbol of the limits of the struggle for Greater Israel, beyond which is death and abyss," he said.