Treating the forces come to usher the Jewish settlers out of Gaza as brothers, not enemies. And before giving them marching orders police and soldiers prayed with them. The aim of cooperative gestures is to avoid widening the fracture already dividing Israeli society, over the Gaza pullout.
Rabbi Meir Muler cites scripture in which God backs the Jews’ original claim to supremacy in Gaza: “And you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell therein for I have given you the land to possess it.”
Ancient ideology grew modern muscles in 1967 when Israel conquered the territory during the Six-day War. Analysts describe two visions of a ‘Greater Israel’: the military and the religious.
The faithful saw their sacred duty in settling the land, illegally if they had to. De facto acceptance came later. Rabbi Moshe Levinger, one of the founders of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, strongly influenced the country’s politics. Shalom Rosenberg, professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University, explains the depth of religious significance in driving roots into the land.
“Their point of view is that in a way Israel is the place where we have to meet God, that we have to meet the holiness. That means this is the place of redemption.”
Some settlements were mainly economic or security considerations. But for those who believe that Jewish settlement here will hasten the coming of the messiah being evicted is tantamount to betraying their religion. Many cursed prime minister Ariel Sharon. He argued for flexibility:
“It is no secret that I, like many others, believed and hoped that we could hold on to Netzarim and Kfar Darom forever. But the changing reality in this country — in this region of the world — required reassessment and another changing of positions.”
It is hard to tell if the settlers have understood or even listened to this point of view.
“Whoever saved us from the mortars and terrorist murderers will save us from those rulers: Only God,” said settler Amnon Trebelsi.
The military and religious union in Gaza has ruptured, yet the firmest believers are far from giving in to dispair.