How some Israelis see the sacred in settlements
The expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is driven by more than politics and security concerns. Religious Zionists say settling the land is ushering in a messianic age.
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Given the Holocaust and sufferings in the land of Israel over the past 100 years, he says, "then I can't say he's coming on clouds.... But it's coming."Skip to next paragraph
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Within the broader Jewish community, there is no unanimity on the exact characteristics of the Messiah or the prerequisites for his coming, says Bible scholar Israel Knohl of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
Previous figures seen by some as messianic include fighters like Bar Kokhba, who led a rebellion against Roman rule, as well as spiritual leaders like Shlomo Molko, a "very impressive scholar of Talmud and kabbalah," says Professor Knohl.
And some, Knohl adds, "see the state of Israel as a messianic response to the Holocaust. Namely, that it was a type of redemption to the people, which came after the Holocaust."
Building 'ruined places'
While many religious Zionists don't expect the Messiah to appear imminently, and some say it's a secondary point in settling the land, they see signs that the process is under way.
Three signs they point to are the return of Jews to this land, Israel's quick conquering of the West Bank in 1967, and the land becoming fruitful under Jewish cultivation.
"I see the liberation of Judea and Samaria, which is the heart of biblical Israel, in the 1967 war as just the next step of this amazing miracle and fulfillment of prophecy," says Sondra Oster Baras, a Columbia University-educated lawyer who lives in the Karnei Shomron settlement.
She also cites Ezekiel 36, a favorite among religious Zionists. The chapter includes the promise, "I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field.... Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate: I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it."
"God is basically beckoning you; and realize that all you need to do is do your part," says Ms. Oster Baras, an Ohio native who moved here and now serves as director of the Israel office for Christian Friends of Israeli Communities Heartland. "God doesn't put cities down from the heavens; he's never done that," she says. "He opens the opportunities, but humans have to make it happen."
Why compromise comes hard
But peace depends on dealmaking. And that can be a hard sell. Mr. Gorenberg, the historian, says that the lessons of previous Israeli territorial compromises – withdrawing from Sinai in 1982, pulling back from Palestinian cities under the 1993 Oslo Accords, and evacuating Gaza in 2005 – are that they can "provoke an extremely strong response, which can run from political protests up to the assassination of a prime minister from people who believe that state of Israel must hold on to all the territory."
Gorenberg's recent book, "The Unmaking of Israel," presents settlers as undermining the state. "I should stress that I think it would be a tremendous tragedy for any Israeli government to make its policies on the basis of the views of a radical minority and particularly on the basis of fear of a potentially violent minority within that minority."