April 28, 2001
The Israelis are instigating a Jewish holy war staged in Jerusalem; and they are playing a superb game of propaganda painting the Palestinians as the "real" fundamentalists, despite the fact that the Knesset has more active right-wing political parties than any state in the civilized world. It’s a strategy that has caught the West by surprise as they continue to react with template disappointment.
Successive governments have supported colonization for decades; yet Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu’s recent moves have all but dispelled the façade of a secular rationale. Unfettered, expedited settlement construction in Jerusalem, with images of soldiers traipsing through Islam’s third holiest site in army fatigues, mark a new low for the Israelis; yet equally indicate a new level of brazen physical and psychological aggression that will result in a new intifada.
Netanyahu and the extreme right feel it is time to goad Palestinian Christians and Muslims into reacting with force (which has happened with minor riots in the past few weeks). Much of the Arab and Islamic worlds are limited to flaccid objections, following in the footsteps of the United States and the European Union who similarly are not interested in punitive measures. The Bibi Plan, therefore, is for Palestinians to rebel, face overwhelming military might, and lose Jerusalem once and for all under the premise of security concerns.
Yet this time, the violence will take on a distinctly religious theme. Although Jewish notions of holy war have been in play since the 1960s, albeit ill-covered by the media, Netanyahu has made official, and partially public, the premise that Jerusalem is proprietary to Judaism; and the use of this territory by gentiles is a privilege and not a right. Extremist religious and nationalist groups that play roles as coalition partners are vocal about this view; but rarely has a ruling party been as emboldened in acting upon this view as the current Likud.
Netanyahu draws his strength from many right-wing Zioinist parties, such as Yisrael Beiteinu, Gush Emunim (Ne’emanei Eretz Yisrael), Tsomet, Shas, Morasha, Shinui Ometz, the Jewish National Front (Hayil), and the National Movement (Herut) among others. Some are defunct, such as Kach, Kahane Chai and Tehiya (Banai), though their members formed other groups with the usual aim of building Greater Israel.
The significance of current Likud policy is an official adoption of what the aforementioned parties already advocate – religiously-justified expropriation:
"According to the legal scholars (leda’at haposkim), any war to conquer sections of the Land of Israel for the purpose of keeping them in our hands (and certainly with the goal of keeping the sections of the Land in which we are already settled) is considered commanded war based on the commandment of the settling of the Land of Israel." (1)
Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky who jointly authored Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel note for these religious groups "the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value; for Likud, it has limited value." (2) In fact, fundamentalist beliefs pervade even military manuals. For example, the Central Region Command of the Israeli Army instructs:
"When our forces come across civilians during a war or in hot pursuit or in a raid, so long as there is no certainty that those civilians are incapable of harming our forces, then according to Halakah [Jewish law] they may and even should be killed…. Under no circumstances should an Arab be trusted, even if he makes an impression of being civilized…. In war, when our forces storm the enemy, they are allowed and even enjoined by the Halakah to kill even good civilians…." (3)
The justification for current Israeli strategy is beyond ethnicity, it is religious-cleansing: "[W]hat appears to be confiscation of Arab-owned land for subsequent settlement by Jews is in reality not an act of stealing but one of sanctification. From their perspective the land is redeemed by being transferred from the satanic to the [divine] sphere." (4)
Since the 1960s, the religious colonial movement has concentrated itself around Jerusalem. It operates with negligible restraint, occupying not only fields and plots but even people’s homes, most recently in late 2009. In fact, official statistics indicate 2,000 homes have been pulled down with government support since 1967 while 15,000 "unauthorized" (without Israeli permits) await demolition.
The reality, then, is that the current Israeli government has no intention of seeking peace; but instead pays lip service to the ideals of equity while on the ground using any means necessary to render the Palestinians inconsequential, or at least attempt to do so. Where Jerusalem in particular is concerned, the official policy is to cripple normalcy for Palestinians while facilitating settler encroachment on all sectors of the city, as illustrated in Franz Elzenbaumer’s alternative travel guide, Decode Jerusalem.
Western governments are complicit in this strategy. Although we have witnessed numerous ministers, congressmen, mayors, governors and a slew of other officials criticize both Palestinians and Israeli actions these individuals are rarely decision-makers of policy. In fact, even high ranking officials seem averse to take on Israeli plans, perhaps for fear of committing political suicide if they attempt to do so.
Yet the current situation in Jerusalem requires a sea change in the thinking of Western Presidents, Prime Ministers and the fear-mongers who warn against confronting Israel. If action does not bolster words of principle, appeasement of the Israelis will result in what Jewish and Christian evangelical fundamentalists hope for – precursor battles to Armageddon.
Vice President Biden was only the latest in a long list of officials ignored or insulted by Israeli audacity; and America’s toothless indignation so far will only serve to embolden Netanyahu and his cohorts. Unless America and Europe muster the courage to act in the interests of justice and international law, holy war will take on a whole new meaning.
- Dr. Ahmed Yousef, the Deputy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & former Political Advisor to the Prime Minister.
(1) Rabbi Yitzhaq Kaufman’s opinion in his The Army According to Halakha: Laws of Army, quoted in Reuven Firestone’s "Holy War in Modern Judaism?" Journal of the American Academy of Religion December 2006, Vol. 74, No. 4, pp. 954 – 982.
(2) Shahak, Israel & Norton Mezvinsky. Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 1999, 168 pp., 11.
(4) Op cit. Shahak & Mezvinsky, 67.