Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Crisis in the Heart of Israel | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Ever since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, its media has been trying to sell the idea that Israel is a secular state that brought together its children from the Diaspora, returning them to the Promised Land, as was promised in their scriptures and religious teachings where they can live their lives according to socialist principles in collective communities called Kibbutzim [or a Kibbutz]. This is a Yiddish language word which was spoken predominately by Jews in Eastern Europe. This is an idea that is further reinforced by images of the founder of Israel and the countries first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, walking around wearing modest clothing whilst performing manual labour on a farm.

This was the view in the early beginnings of the state of Israel, however with the arrival of the extremist religious Likud party in power under the leadership of former terrorist Menachem Begin, who lead the Zionist underground movement Irgun which was accused of carrying out numerous crimes, different forms of extremism started to surface in Israel without embarrassment or shame. Begin’s successor, Yitzhak Shamir also had ties to the Irgun movement. And who can forget Ariel Sharon, his successor and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who all follow racist ideas and reject the idea of peace?

Today Israel is undergoing a transformation that is seen by some of the countries left-wing as a huge problem, whilst being perceived by others as a reassuring sign. The number of extremist religious Jews joining the Israeli army is currently on the rise. A large portion of these religious extremists have taken leadership positions in the Israeli army in a manner that substantially exceeds the proportion they make up of Israeli society. The question that is now being raised by the Israelis, particularly the countries political left-wing is; can the country rely upon Israel – with its wide range of cadres – to observe the strictest of conditions in any future agreement with the Palestinians given that this could call for Israeli withdrawal from some territories, and the forced evacuation of settlers from their homes?

A number of Israeli Defense experts believe that the increasingly hard-line attitude among Israeli troops could result in a military uprising in the near future, especially as a large number of these hard-liners serving in the Israeli army come from settlements occupied following the 1967 war, and these settlements are in possession of unlicensed arms.

Despite the lack of sufficient data on the religious inclinations and beliefs of Israeli military conscripts, 30 percent of recruits who graduate from the preliminary course required for joining the army describe themselves as “Religious Zionists”. This represents a huge increase from 20 years ago when the rate was closer to 2.5 percent. It must also be noted that today, only 12 percent of the general population of Israel describe themselves as “Religious Zionists” which means that the percentage within the Israeli army is more than double that of the general population.

During the Nineties, following the Israeli war on Lebanon, many leftist Israelis took the decision not to extend their 3-year compulsory military service due to their lack of belief in Israel’s military adventures. At the same time, Israeli hardliners regretted their absence from the scene in general, their inability to shape the Israeli identity, as well as their leaving the mission to those not committed to it. State institutes became more secular, therefore these hardliners took the decision to enlist in the army in numbers as the only way to make up for lost time.

There are several [military] academies for pre-army service where hard-line Rabbis lecture on the Torah, the Talmud and extremist Jewish philosophy for a period of two years. They impart all of this knowledge to cadets, stressing that they are solely on a religious mission and not a patriotic duty (This is a source of worry for the Israeli left-wing because they believe this is the final nail in the coffin of the concept of a secular Israel). These military academies have contributed to changing many objectives, values and patterns of behaviour in the Israeli army. There is growing apprehension within Israel about this forthcoming moment of truth. Who will the religious extremists in the Israeli army listen to? Will they take their orders from their commanding officers, or will they instead follow the commands of their rabbis? The answer to such questions are close at hand as a number of extremist Rabbis have begun warning Israeli troops against the consequences of evacuating Jewish settlers from their homes. These Rabbis caution against performing such an act because it is in violation of the Ten Commandments revealed to Prophet Moses from Almighty God (according to their beliefs).

A comparison is being drawn between the situation in Gaza which had housed less than 10,000 settlers and the West Bank which now accommodates more than 300,000 settlers. In short, these hard-line religious troops will be in a state of turmoil, trapped between either following military orders or following their religion convictions. Just for the record, the West Bank today is far more important to religious extremist Zionists than Gaza Strip. Today security orders against settlers are constantly being leaked [to the media] who obtain this information via soldiers who sympathize with the settlers revealing this, enabling the settlers to prepare themselves and fortify their position against any possible confrontation.

The end of Secularism in Israel and the intensification of extremism will complicate the internal Israeli crisis and make it even more difficult for any peace to be achieved!