Ideological and Religious Motivations for Settling

In addition to the national-security motivation behind the establishment of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, there is another motivation, no less meaningful, that combines the religious, historical, and national dimensions. In this national-religious front, Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful) played a central and crucial role. It was a national-religious movement which was engaged in establishing, expanding, and promoting the construction of Israeli settlements, mostly in the West Bank. This movement was also active in the Gaza Strip until the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

Gush Emunim was established in February 1974 in reaction to the crisis experienced by the Israeli society in the aftermath of the 1973 October War. Since its very beginning, Gush Emunim represented a unique mixture of values, rights and objectives, including Judaism, Zionism, the right of settlement, security and salvation. Similarly, its members combined the central believes of the early Zionist movement, such as redemption of and settling in the Land of Israel, with a radical religious ideology that advocated establishing greater Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel); a religious imperative which was part of the implementation of an overall divine plan.

Ideological infrastructure

The ideological infrastructure of Gush Emunim was derived from the composition and combination of three key factors: the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel. In their view, the People of Israel were essentially different from the rest of the nations of the world, a difference from which this people’s unique role derives. They believed that the Jewish people’s mission derives from a divine biblical imperative, the adherence to which includes, among other things, settling in Eretz Israel. The latter extends over a much larger territory than the modern State of Israel. In the heart of Eretz Israel are the lands of the West Bank in which many of the constitutive events of the People of Israel took place.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, son and successor of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, was the main adjudicator and mentor for the leaders of the movement. About a month after the establishment of Gush Emunim, The Jerusalem Post published his call: ‘This entire Land is ours, completely, belongs to all of us. It cannot be given to others, not even partially (…) hence once and for all, these matters are clear and absolute, that there are no ‘territories’ or ‘[Palestinian] Arabs’ or ‘Arab Lands’. Rather, it is all Jewish land, our eternal, ancestral inheritance.’

Basic standpoint

Rabbi Haim Drukman

Rabbi Haim Drukman

This view formed the basic standpoint of the members of Gush Emunim as far as Palestinian residents of the Land were concerned. They completely rejected any Palestinian demand for national expression in ‘Judea and Samaria’, and did not recognize the existence of a ‘Palestinian People’ as a collective. However, there was no consensus amongst them on the best way of dealing with the existence of Palestinians in the area. One approach saw their expulsion as ‘first and foremost a Zionist mission, no less and perhaps even more important than settling Jews in the Land’, while others supported developing ‘relatively normal life, with neighbours, as long as they do not wave the national flag’. Part of the secret of the movement’s strength was the dual attitude its members had towards the State of Israel. On the one hand, they considered it to be ‘a state from which the light of the Messiah bursts and rises’, in the words of Rabbi Haim Drukman describing Kook’s attitude eulogizing him, so that he ‘considered the tanks, the cannons and the aircrafts of the IDF [Israel Defence Force] to be religious objects, holy objects, for they serve the imperative of settling the Land of Israel’. On the other hand, at a similarly profound level, they perceived Israel, since it was a modern nation state, as a tool of which one should make use wisely.

This dual attitude also manifested itself in the political practices they used. They embraced the constituting ethos of the Zionist movement, and saw and presented themselves as the real heirs and successors of the founders of the State. They also maintained continuous contact with high echelons of the Israeli regime and worked gradually to integrate themselves into the central security, educational, and political institutions of Israel. However, when they felt it necessary, they did not hesitate to engage in radical activism, including breaking the law and clashing with the Israeli security forces. This way, they expressed their determination and commitment to something larger and more essential than the framework of a state. This helped them to recruit new, young members and to gain influence over Israeli politicians who feared confrontation.

Click to enlarge or visit the website

Click to enlarge or visit the website

Right wing government

The establishment of the right wing government in 1977 introduced a change in the movements’ methods. The reduced need for putting political pressure on the government, since the latter held a similar ideology, brought about a decline in Gush Emunim’s activities as a popular protest movement and to the institutionalization of operational wings. In 1979, they established Amanah, a wing of the movement in charge of the creation and support of new settlements. At the end of 1980, they established the Yesha Council, a non-governmental organization uniting heads of councils and mayors of the settler population.

Peace Now

Demonstration of Peace Now / Photo HH

Demonstration of Peace Now / Photo HH

An extensive survey conducted by Peace Now, an Israeli movement opposing settlements, indicated that, as of 2002, ‘ideological settlers’, historically identified with Gush Emunim, constituted some 40 percent of the West Bank‘s settlers. Some additional 30 percent were considered to be ‘standard of living settlers’, who had migrated to settlements from financial motivations and from motivations related to their quality of life. Some additional 30 percent were ultra-orthodox Jews, who would rather live in the West Bank both for financial reasons and because of the possibility of living in homogeneous communities. In spite of the low number of ‘ideological settlers’ in relation to the overall number of the citizens of Israel, Gush Emunim has had a strong influence over the settlement enterprise and Israeli society as a whole, even years after the movement ceased to exist.

Related Articles

Special File | Jewish Settlements
March 25th, 2011  /   November 3rd, 2015