Website of Rabbi Shai Gluskin


Brothers, the village is burning

By Avirama Golan

Four days after the deadly ambush in Hebron, one can clearly discern who uses what language to describe the event. It is hard to blame the media for the fact that on Friday night - when the confusion was great and everyone thought the terrorists had attacked worshipers - they drew parallels with Baruch Goldstein (who murdered 29 Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994) and spoke hastily of a massacre. But on Saturday night, as the facts began to come to light, so did the tendentiousness.

Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke heatedly of a massacre. Hatzofeh, a newspaper affiliated with the National Religious Party, termed the incident "Hebron's Death Valley," while ultra-Orthodox papers concocted a description of a pogrom against Jewish worshipers. Soon the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff were being accused of providing insufficient army protection to the worshipers, their wives and their children. As if everything had happened in some small town in Galicia, and the Polish officers had turned their backs while the Cossacks committed a massacre.

Against the background of these voices, one very different voice stood out clearly: In an interview with Channel Two television Saturday night, an IDF conscript wearing a knitted skullcap stressed that "there was no massacre. There was a battle. We are a strong army and, with God's help, we will win every battle." The soldier spoke with pain and empathy but kept coming back to the issue of sovereignty, which he apparently felt was important. But the settler leaders - as well as the politicians who are eager to please them - are deaf to this voice of reason, even though it comes from someone very close to them.

This is not merely a matter of semantic nuance: The settlers are deliberately choosing terminology from the Diaspora. They are consciously creating a distorted comparison between the distress of weak Jews in the face of cruel non-Jews who carried out pogroms and the situation in the territories. Now they have once again succeeded in diverting the debate from the question of their problematic residence in Hebron in particular, and in Palestinian population centers in general, via a frightening description of an attack on innocent worshipers - and there is nothing better than this for stirring up the nation's most painful memories. Brothers, the village is burning. And not just the village of Kiryat Arba. No. Our entire village is burning. The Jewish people is in danger.

The real danger lies elsewhere - and it threatens not the Jewish people, but the sovereignty and independence of the state of Israel. The settlement movement, after two years of intifada and 35 years of occupation, has reached the peak of its power - and this is, therefore, the moment of greatest danger for the movement of which it pretends to be an extension: Zionism. The settlement movement is not an extension of Zionism. On the contrary: It is the epitome of anti-Zionism - and it is liable, 100 years later, to destroy the achievements of the movement that established a national home for the Jewish people.

Gush Emunim, the organization that spearheaded the settlement movement, initially misled Yigal Allon and his colleagues in the Ahdut Ha'avoda and Mapai parties into thinking that the religious Diaspora terminology it used was part of the normal messianic-Zionist rhetoric. Sebastia, the first settlement, reminded people of the "tower and stockade" days. Kiryat Arba sounded like David Ben-Gurion's enthusiastic embrace of biblical heroism. Only some years later did the fanatic religious rhetoric, so resonant of the Diaspora, begin, like a poisonous dust, to strangle the last breaths of Israeliness in the settlements. Pregnant women and day-old babies were secretly brought to Beit Hadassah in Hebron for the sanctification of God's name; new holy gravesites were discovered every morning; and the wearers of knitted skullcaps suddenly sprouted long beards, started wearing their tzitzit (ritual fringes) outside their shirts and began following rabbis who issued rulings against the army and refused to pray for the welfare of the Rabin government.

Thus the settlers turned into a new breed of Israelis: They serve in the army and speak in the name of national values, but they act and think like Diaspora Jews. It is therefore not surprising that a settler from Hebron screamed at Ha'aretz correspondent Amira Hass: "That scoundrel! She spoke to the police!" - as if Hass had informed against Jews to the non-Jewish police.

For now, the settlers have the upper hand. Most of the public considers it natural for a brigade of paratroopers to defend, with their own bodies, a group that insists on praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs on Friday nights (thereby requiring the soldiers to violate the Sabbath). Most of the public is also not disturbed by the exaggerated cost of the security that the IDF provides to a family that, for instance, lives in the middle of the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

And because the current war was successfully defined by the settlers as a defensive war of the Jews against the Palestinians, the IDF - the strong arm of the nation that is supposed to defend the sovereign state - is rapidly becoming enfeebled: In between dismantling settlement outposts and fighting bloody battles along "Worshipers' Way," it is disintegrating into mutually opposed political factions that refuse to obey the other's orders.

Rabbis from Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan whisper fearfully that "if Rabbi Zvi Yehuda [Kook] were alive today, this wouldn't happen." But Rabbi Zvi Yehuda, a messianist who insisted on respect for the state, is dead - and soon we will forget that a little state once existed here that did not rule over another people and tried to realize the modest Zionist dream of normal sovereignty. Our whole village is burning.