Marwan Bishara is an interesting political analyst and host on AlJazeera. His program, Empire is a very insightful view into the modern political landscape and how the power brokers in that landscape are shaping the world. He has penned a penetrating piece on AlJazeera’s website about the rise in the IDF of Jewish religious-nationalists. A fact that will make the Israel-Palestine issue even harder to resolve, while also raising the spectre of an inevitable religious war. This piece was written at a favorable time considering our last piece on the ignorance of Bill Maher.
Israeli Religious Forces on the March by Marwan Bishara
As the Israeli Palestinian ‘peace process’ marches in place, religious-Zionism is marching into the leadership of the Israeli army, rendering an improbable peace mission impossible.
If as expected their number continues to increase at the same rate, no future Israeli leader will be able to evacuate Jewish settlements in the context of a peace agreement.
The radicalisation of Israeli society and polity is evident not only in the most right wing government in the country’s history, but also in the make up of its professional military.
Recent revelations in the Israeli media show how the Israeli military, which was once a bastion of ‘secular Zionism’, is slowly but surely falling under the influence of extreme religious Zionism with a wider role for radical rabbinical chiefs.
The disproportionately high numbers of religious-nationalists in elite units and the combat officer corps is transforming the Israeli military and its relationship to the occupation and illegal settlements.
In 1990, the year before the peace process started between Israel and its neighbours, two per cent of the cadets enrolled in the officers’ course for the infantry corps were religious; by 2007, that figure had shot up to 30 per cent.
Moreover, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz:
“This is how the intermediate generation of combat officers looks today: six out of seven lieutenant colonels in the Golani Brigade are religious and, beginning in the summer, the brigade commander will be as well. In the Kfir Brigade, three out of seven lieutenant colonels wear skullcaps, and in the Givati Brigade and the paratroopers, two out of six. In some of the infantry brigades, the number of religious company commanders has passed the 50 per cent mark – more than three times the percentage of the national religious community in the overall population.”
Worse still, according to the Israeli Peace Now organisation, the number of religious nationalists continues to grow at a worrying rate.
Its sources estimate that “more than 50 per cent of the elite combat units now are drawn from the religious nationalist sector of Israeli society”.
Professor Stuart Cohen of Bar Ilan University estimates that during the second intifada (2000-2002) the overall number of religious Zionist soldiers – as defined by those who wear knitted caps, or kippah seruga – in the infantry units may be roughly twice their proportion of the Jewish male population as a whole.
Many of these soldiers live in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Some live in so-called ‘illegal outposts’, which the International Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) insists on dismantling and which Israel considers ‘unlawful’ according to its own narrow standards.
And increasing numbers live in the so-called “illegal outposts”, or those new Jewish settlements considered illegal by the International Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) and according to Israel’s own narrow standards.
Despite Israel’s commitment under the 2003 ‘roadmap for peace’ to evacuate tens of these outposts, they remain standing and are even expanding.
A ‘higher authority’
Clearly, many of those who live in the settlements cannot be expected to help evacuate their own homes if such a time comes. And they are making it known.
Recently, soldiers in the infantry brigade waved placards with the slogan “we did not enlist in order to evacuate Jews” as they paraded in Jerusalem to mark the end of their training.
A number of rabbis have issued religious edicts against such evacuations.
Most of these religious Zionist settlers see settlement in the occupied West Bank (using their biblical names Judea and Samaria) or the overall “land of Israel”, which includes the territories occupied in 1967, as a religious duty.
Although Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli prime minister, succeeded in evacuating the marginal Gaza settlements in 2005, it is doubtful that any such evacuation from the tens of small scattered settlements in the West Bank is possible.
The nationalist religious camp is making it clear that the ‘word of God’ as they see it, takes precedence over the secular leadership.
Reportedly, the top military brass is quite fearful of such a scenario.
Soldiers and settlers
Lately, there have been reports about tensions between the Israeli military and some of the most violent settlers as the military tries to reign in some of their more extreme provocations.
In general, however, the military has been the settlers’ best friend and defender in the occupied territories.
And despite increased settler violence and vandalism against adjacent Palestinian towns and villages, the occupation army has been no less than complicit in the daily harassment of Palestinian residents and farmers.
Many settler-soldiers seem to deploy around their settlements, allowing them to man check points and harass and humiliate Palestinians at road blocks, turning the country’s military into their own private militias.
In the process, Palestinians find themselves held hostage by an Israeli government that has neither the will, nor increasingly the capacity, to deal with the settlement issue – the engine of violence and the terminator of the two state solution.
Eventually, they will march straight into a destructive religious war that is far harder to contain in or outside the ‘Holy Land’.