Ever since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Israeli media outlets have tried to market the nation as a secular state, which has managed to gather its children from the Diaspora and return them to the Promised Land, as stated in Jewish scriptures and teachings. The media claimed that Israelis lived their lives in a socialist, cooperative manner, in simple collective communities called “Kibbutz”. The word was derived from the Yiddish language that was spoken by Eastern European Jews. This image was further reinforced by the portrayal of Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, with his white hair and simple clothes, working as a farmer.
The early beginnings of the State of Israel were orientated around this image. Yet this was followed by the rise of Likud, a hard-line religious party. Likud was initially led by former terrorist leader Menachem Begin, with the assistance of his young acquaintance, future Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Begin was also the head of Irgun, a Zionist militant group linked to numerous murders and bombings. When Likud rose to power, the voice of extremism began to surface publicly, in a shameless manner, and in many different forms. Who could forget Ariel Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, or the rest of the racist Zionists who wholeheartedly reject the idea of peace?
Today, Israel is undergoing a transformation, which is considered by some leftists as a problem, whilst being perceived by other political groups as a reassuring sign: There is currently a significant rise in the number of fanatical religious Jews joining the Israeli army. A large portion of them have taken up leadership positions, at a rate which vastly exceeds their actual demographic in Israeli society. The question now raised by the Israelis, particularly the leftists, is this: Could we rely on the Israeli army, with its wide range of elements and cadres, to observe the strictest conditions in any future agreement with the Palestinians, which might stipulate an Israeli withdrawal from some territories, and the evacuation of settlers from their homes by force?
Several defence experts within Israel share the deep conviction that this increasingly hard-line attitude amongst Israeli troops might lead to the genuine possibility of a military mutiny. A large number of hardliners serving in the army are settlers who resided in the occupied territories after the Six Day War of 1967, and carry unlicensed firearms.
Despite the lack of sufficient data on the religious inclinations and identities of conscripts in Israel, 30 percent of recruits who graduate from the preliminary army course describe themselves as “Religious Zionists”. This is a dramatic increase compared to the figure 20 years ago, which stood at just 2.5 percent. Considering that only 12 percent of the current Israeli public would describe themselves as “Religious Zionists”, this means that they are twice as prominent in the Israeli army.
During the 1990s, after the Israeli war on Lebanon and its invasion, numerous left-wing Israelis opted not to extend their sons’ service in military establishments, beyond the 3-year compulsory period. They did not believe in the ‘foolish adventures’ being carried out by the Israeli army. At the same time, Israeli hardliners were regretting their absence from the political scene in general, and for not being able to shape the identity of Israel. They felt they were leaving that mission in the hands of the ‘uncommitted’. As a result, state institutions had transformed into secular entities, which the hardliners rejected. Thus they decided to enlist in the army, as it was their only means to make up for lost time.
In Israel, there are several ‘academies’, serving as a qualifying stage prior to army enlistment. In such establishments, puritanical Rabbis lecture on the Torah, the Talmud, and hard-line Jewish philosophy, for a period of two years. They stress to their cadets that they are simply and solely on a religious mission, and not a patriotic duty. (This is a source of concern for Israeli leftists, because they believe this is the final nail in the coffin for the idea of a secular Israel).
These academies have contributed to changing many objectives, values and patterns of behaviour, within the Israeli army and among its individuals. Thus, there is growing apprehension in Israel as the moment of truth approaches. Who will religious fanatics in the Israeli army listen to? Would they take their orders from the Rabbis, or the army commanders? The answers to these questions are starting to unfold, as several hard-line Rabbis have warned Israeli troops of the consequences of evacuating Jewish settlers from their homes. Those Rabbis caution against performing such an act, because it is in violation of the Ten Commandments revealed to Prophet Moses from God Almighty (according to their belief).
A comparison is being drawn between the situation in Gaza, which holds less than 10,000 settlers, and the West Bank, which now accommodates more than 300,000 settlers. In short, religiously fanatical troops will be caught between a rock and a hard place [if ordered to carry out a forced eviction], with regards to following military orders or acting on their religious convictions. For fanatical Jews, the West Bank has become far more important than the Gaza Strip.
Today, security orders against settlers are constantly being leaked. Such information comes from sympathizing troops, informing the settlers so that they can prepare themselves and fortify their defences, before any probable confrontation. The end of secularism in Israel, along with the rise of extremism, will complicate the inner Israeli crisis and make it even harder to implement the non-existent peace process.