The full pioneering spirit

Those who founded the state were not just breaking new ground. They believed in democracy.

zion ben gurion found 88 (photo credit: )
zion ben gurion found 88
(photo credit: )
Ads in the Hebrew press last weekend carried nostalgic photos of Jezreel Valley pioneers in the 1920s era. This was as a backdrop to a call for traditional left-wing supporters of the settlement drives of those days to demonstrate against the scheduled evacuation of Israelis from the disputed Arab souk in Hebron. The ads bore a well-known photo of five pioneers, four men and one woman, bearing scythes, mattocks and a pitchfork. The juxtaposition of the revered name "Nahalal" (Moshe Dayan's old moshav) with the "Hebron" of today's religious settlers was enough to make anyone sit up and take notice of the strange ways of today's politics. It should also serve as a useful peg to consider the claim of today's settlers that they are the natural heirs to the mantle of halutziyut - pioneering - on which this country was founded, but which those founders' third-generation successors sold out. The ads bore witness to the determination of today's right-wing, religious settlement movement to mobilize the support of left-wing bodies for the settlements in Samaria and Judea, support which was prominent in the late 1960s and 1970s, but has since evaporated. THE NUANCES of the Hebrew are important for an understanding of the issues. The words hityashvut and hitnahlut (settlement on the land), both biblical in origin, are nearly synonymous. The first, however, has traditionally been used to describe the kibbutzim and moshavim set up in pre-state Mandatory Palestine and during the first three decades of an Israel governed by the Labor Party. The second was adopted to describe the right-wing settlements in the territories taken from Jordanian and Egyptian occupations following the whirlwind Israeli victory in the 1967 Six Day War. The ads in question purposely use the term Hebron hityashvut rather than hitnahlut and address the call to members of the hityashvut ha'ovedet (laboring settlements). All of it is plainly-understood code language for traditional right- and left-wing affiliations. An interesting dilemma arose in regard to the settlements on the Golan Heights, all founded after 1967, but mostly by Labor-affiliated kibbutz and moshav movements. By and large they, and the largely failed settlements in the Jordan Rift Valley, are described as hityashvuyot, to differentiate them from the right-wing, religious settlements in Judea and Samaria. Apparently one of the lessons learned by the religious Zionist movement from its failure to win widespread public support for its settlements in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's determination to expel them last August, is the need to overcome its appearance of elitist exclusivity. The religious Zionist movement was the mainstay of the hitnahluyot; its demands for religious Orthodoxy in those settlements, however, limited wider support among politically powerful secular and traditional populations. THE READINESS of several tens of thousands of young settlers to devote their lives to living in and defending daunting parts of the country in the midst of hostile Arab populations, to be a life-long halutz, or pioneer, is what eventually made possible the establishment of an independent Israel as the result of the UN Partition decision and victory in the ensuing War of Independence. The religious Zionists were on the sidelines for nearly all this formative period. Following the 1967 war, however, they began to assert themselves and to think and eventually openly express their determination to succeed the old, burnt-out left-wing elites with their own younger generations. These new elites became very visible in the army's officer corps, in academe, and even in the left-wing dominated media. What the religious Zionists elites often forgot, however, was that the code word halutziyut also contained a second half. Pioneering, indeed - but as part of a readiness to apply that pioneering spirit to the national goals as set out by democratic processes. The fact that the settlement drive in the new territories was largely bulldozed forward by Arik Sharon in his various ministerial guises, and using every possible subterfuge to keep information about what was happening away from the public, resulted in a failure to build public support for what turned to be a very invidious, expensive policy. Not only has the National Religious Party and its educational and social offshoots failed to mobilize such widespread support for the settlements, it is now on the verge of sliding into political irrelevancy in the forthcoming elections. The sort of pioneering ethos which the young religious Zionists have developed is needed more than ever in a "post-ideological" Israel. But these new elites will not be welcomed into leadership positions in the system unless they openly accept that national goals can be set only by democratic means, and that elites are dedicated to leading by personal example, not by coercion.