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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While most religious Zionists have traditionally supported the state as an essential tool in resettling the land, conflicts arise when state interests diverge from settler goals.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Israelis and Palestinians: A tense coexistence
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And what happens if government policies conflict with the Torah? The answer is simple, says Mr. Wilder, the spokesman for Hebron.
"While I personally and others here see the state of Israel as the result of divine intervention in the world – the fact that we're here is a miracle – with all respect for the state of Israel ... if I have to decide between what the state of Israel says and what the Torah tells me to do, I'm going to do what the Torah tells me to do."
The impact on Palestinians
Sometimes the conflict between the state policies and settler goals turns violent, although Wilder opposes such activity. A small minority of settlers has increasingly engaged in "price-tag" attacks, in which Palestinian, Christian, or Israeli military property is vandalized in retribution for Israeli policies seen as antisettlement.
On Aug. 29, the day after the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the evacuation of the Migron settlement, vandals spray-painted graffiti in a Palestinian neighborhood near Beit El that read "death to the enemy, freedom for the homeland, price tag Migron, vengeance against Arabs, regards from those banished."
Khaled Amayreh, a US-educated journalist living near Hebron, says that secular Zionists tend to be more humane, while religious Zionists have been "indoctrinated in a kind of nihilistic theology which views all non-Jews as lesser human beings whose life has no sanctity."
Mr. Amayreh has engaged in dialogue with a religious Zionist, Rabbi Menachem Froman, but he says that those voices in the movement that are humane tend to get drowned out by the "vociferous" voice of extreme settlers.
In particular, he mentions Daniella Weiss, a former settlement mayor who drew harsh criticism even from settler advocates for backing a group of Jews who in 2008 took over a Palestinian property in Hebron in defiance of the Israeli government.
"She said the only way to deal with the Palestinians was the biblical way, Joshua's way, and you know what she was alluding to ... the waves of ethnic cleansings carried out by the ancient Israelites against Canaanite tribes."
A September report on Israeli settlements from the UN secretary-general condemned the settlement enterprise. Calling it an "existential threat to the viability of a future Palestinian state" that violates the Palestinians' right to self-determination, the report noted that the secretary-general "has called on the Government of Israel to begin the process of reintegrating the settler population into its own territory."
Ben Meir and other religious Zionists, who believe the redemption of the Jewish nation will uplift all peoples, say they hope for peaceful coexistence in the West Bank but that Palestinian terrorism has made it hard.
"I want to give all the people here equal rights. After all, I am Jewish and I grew up in the Democratic Party," he says. "But you can't give equal rights to people that are going to turn around and try to use those to kill you. So they have to accept that there's a Jewish state."