Radical Messianic Zionism

Until 1967 religious Zionists in Israel were marginalized both by the secular majority, and by the more visibly religious groups that seemed to offer a more authentic, uncompromising brand of religion.

The Six-Day War of June 1967 resulted in the the capture of East Jerusalem and other territories of the Biblical Land of Israel.

The long-range fate of these territories, and their Arab inhabitants, became a major controversy of Israeli policy makers. From a purely secular perspective, the choice was between the military security that was offered by the expanded borders and the relative demographic stability that would be achieved by excluding their large Arab population from the domain of a Jewish state.

A religious claim provided strong justification for those who wished to hold on to the occupied territories: If the State of Israel was viewed as the unfolding of a Messianic scenario, then the miraculous victory of the Six-Day War was an essential stage in that process. The territories belong to the Jewish people (i.e., the State of Israel) by Divine decree and they may not be handed over to foreign hands.

The issue of territories, viewed in an eschatological context, became the defining feature for broad segments of religious Zionism in the post-1967 era.

Under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Kook's son Zvi Yehudah Kook, with its centre in the yeshivah founded by the elder Kook, Jerusalem's "Merkaz Harav," thousands of modern young religious Jews campaigned actively against any territorial compromise, and established numerous settlements throughout Judea and Samaria. Many of these settlements, though originally founded illegally, were subsequently granted official recognition by the Israeli government, especially under right-wing regimes.

The most powerful political voice of the movement against territorial compromise became "Gush Emunim" (the Bloc of the Faithful).

However the fundamental policies of Gush Emunim filtered down to the mainstream, particularly to religious educational networks, in which a land-centered nationalism was presented as the highest form of religious virtue, and the histories of Zionism and the State of Israel were viewed as irreversible steps in the unfolding Messianic fulfillment.

The aspirations of Gush Emunim were widely respected by the Jewish public, especially as long as Arab intransigence made the return of the territories a far-off theoretical possibility.

When peace agreements with Egypt (1977) and the Palestine Liberation Front (1993) put the return of occupied lands onto the actual political agenda, Gush Emunim found itself in active opposition to the policies and laws of the State of Israel.

In the '90's mainstream Rabbis were ordering religious Jews to disobey military commands to evacuate occupied lands, and branding Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a "traitor" to the higher Jewish cause. A follower of these views assassinated Rabin in November 1995.

The Gush Emunim movement, like the secular right-wing parties, was generally vague or ambivalent about the status of the non-Jewish residents of the occupied territories. A more extreme position was taken by Meir Cahane, whose banned racist party "Kach" scorned democracy as an un-Jewish import, and advocated laws that would prohibit sexual and social contact with Arabs, actively calling for the eviction of Arabs from territories that belonged by rights to the Jews.

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