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Marwan Bishara: Israeli Religious Forces on the March


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.

Dramatic increase

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’.

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  • Payanta

    It is about time that the Israelis brought some religion into the mix. Isn’t a religous Jew closer to Islam than a secular Jew?

  • Yes Les, and Isherif, good to see you too:)

  • iSherif

    Yup, I believe BMD is Nabeela….it’s great to have her back!! 🙂

  • Les


    Did you post here under the name Nabeela? Your writing style and views are familiar.

    (I’m not accusing you of anything)

  • Ustadh

    “Oppression is oppression, and if an Israeli Rabbi state wanted to forcefully expel Christians and say Muslims it is okay for you to stay, then I won’t be celebrating. That is cowardice in my book. These are divide and conquer politics.”

    But we have those same policies Ustadh,. Don’t we ban non Muslims from Mecca and Medina on theological grounds?

    Besides, the Israeli Rabbinate has accepted Chrisitans into the Bani Noach status that they give to monotheists. I know that the Muslism, the Druze, and others are signed to it, i think they accepted Christianity as a form of monotheism so they wouldn’t expel them. This doesn’t mean that extremist Jews will express their disapproval at this, just that, it’s all they will be limited to.

  • Les and Stephen Parker, thank you for the info.

    My point was, that this dispute is over land, and the land was under European colonisation at that time. divide and rule, as in other places of the world where colonisers went.

    individual acts and beliefs by groups may influence how people think, at a particular time, as in Marwan’s deduction, but it doesn’t reflect the bigger and more important picture.

    For example he did not explain what difficulties he would face, if say there were a theocracy, i mean difficulties that they are not already facing, what rights would be taken away that they have now.

  • Ustadh

    You seem to think the rise in religious-nationalists isn’t a negative. It surely is as it allows for a supremacist government in Israel to take over. There are enough right-wing readings of Talmudic scripture and Torah, enough Rabbis who view Muslims as heathens to put into jeopardy the Muslim population in Israel-Palestine. Even a “more” accepting reading Jewish law states that gentile residents are to be treated as second class citizens. Also as far as the waqf, this is a smoke screen, that was transferred over to Muslims under pressure from Israeli secularists, look at what is happening in Hebron at the Tomb of the patriachs, ie. the Ibrahimi Mosque.

    I don’t believe we should blur the line between religious obligations and politics either, but your analysis is off base. Theocracies are dead, the pluralism that Islam advocates would be under threat by such a Jewish kingdom. Oppression is oppression, and if an Israeli Rabbi state wanted to forcefully expel Christians and say Muslims it is okay for you to stay, then I won’t be celebrating. That is cowardice in my book. These are divide and conquer politics.

  • Ustadh

    I agree with you, that Palestinan Christians are more understanding of the problem, simply because they’re part of the oppressed, and also that the SECULAR ATHEIST Zionists don’t care about the religious moral values.

    However, that should not blind us to the fact that Arab Christians were the first to enthusisastically embrace anti semitic teachings, when european colonisers came to the Middle East, They couldn’t do this whilst under Muslim rule, for whilst the Muslim rulers may have at times acted “lordly” and treated their ahl kitaab population as second class citizens, they didn’t let them persecute each other. What happened in EUrope and other Christian places wasn’t allowed in Muslim lands. All this changed when Christian colonisers came to the Middle EAst, Arab Christians could freely vent their anti Jewish sentiment then, and even Daniel Pipes an Islamophobe blames EU christian colonisers for poisoning Arab minds against Jews.

    You say an Israeli theocracy would be a threat to Palestinains, but traditional Islamic belief dictates that Jews would return to Israel, how can a theocracy be a threat to Palestinians? Ben Gurion and early Zionists were all atheist secular commies. As is most of the Israeli population at least till about 10 yeas ago. Are you saying it’s better not to follow the Torah? This is no different to those who say we shouldn’t follow the Quran.

    Regarding Jewish laws being a threat to Palestinians, why would that “oppress” Palestinians? The Rabbi’s wouldn’t force Palestinians to observe Sabbath.

    I think you misunderstood what i said, or maybe i’m not clear, a theocracy wouldn’t be forced on non Jews, they didn’t plan on “overseeing their lives”, it was for themselves only, however the reason the Christians opposed it, is because their beliefs are considered idolatry and they reject the laws, which is not permitted in the land of Israel according to jewish law. The Rabbinate did hand over the site of Al Aqsa to the Waqf, would they have done to that to a Christian ruler? Answer = No. The Rabbinate has also affirmed that if the land (in a peace deal) were to revert to Muslims it wouldn’t be a theological problem as Islam a Monotheism. Remember, during the Crusades, Jews fought with us, to keep the land out of Christian control, the age old hostility between the two faiths is definately a part of Bishara’s make up.

    Religious Jews don’t accept Christianity as a monotheism, that’s part of the problem with Arab Christians UStadh, people like Arafat clearly forgot about the Crusades, and the blood our ancestors spilt fighting the savages of those days, they bear the same hostility towards Muslism that they did to the Jews, had Arafat been more aware of his Muslim heritage instead of embracing commie/marxist/ views and embracing Christian EU nonsense, the Palestinians may have had a state by now. Remember Bush’s EVANGELICAL regime was the Crusader of the day, and though they pretended a friendship with Israel, they didn’t like Judaism or Jews, it’s the same with all forms of Christianity.

    I bear no hostility to the Bishara’s and want Palestinan Christians to get justice along with other Palestinians, but at the same time i don’t believe that we should blur the lines between our religious obligations and our political conveniences. Thanks for your input, i always enjoy reading your posts:)

  • Ustadh


    Palestinian Christians are correct to note that a Jewish theocracy would be a threat to them. It would also be a threat to Muslims, who may suffer the most from any such state that would severely hamper and impede their right..

    I think Marwan sees things perfectly clear. I think you’re putting too much emphasis on his Christian background, while ignoring the fact that Christian Arabs have to a very strong degree been influenced by Islam and Muslims as well. From what I understand Marwan’s brother is an atheist, a cultural Christian and the same may be true of Marwan.

    As far as Israeli Muslims supporting the Rabbinate, I don’t know about a statistic which essentially says that Muslims wouldn’t mind being oppressed. They might support their function as Rabbis to the Jewish community but don’t want them to oversee their lives.

  • Sorry, but that link didn’t come out right; it should be

  • Beautiful Muslim Doll – I did a quick Yahoo search on Marwan Bishara, and found this statement he made about himself:

    “Marwan Bishara says of himself that

    ‘Growing up in Nazareth, an Arab in a Jewish state, a secular Christian in a traditional Muslim society, a leftist in a Baptist school, I learned firsthand how managing ideological, religious and national differences helps us evolve peacefully. Succumbing to them generates fundamentalism andantagonism. Applying brute force to overcome them-as Israel, my country, has done to my people, the Palestinian Arabs-fails utterly.'”

    The brief biography can be found at

  • Les


    Yes, they’re brothers. Christian Palestinians from Nazareth.

  • OK, it appears that Marwan is the younger brother of Azmi Bishara.

    The Bishara’s are Christian, and therefore see Jewish theology as being hostile to Christians. It has to be mentioned that the nationalist Arafat’s party, had influential Palestinian Christians. Often Arafat himself, who was more of a marxist, had views that went against traditional Islamic beliefs.

    Christian Palestinians believe that a Jewish theocracy would be a threat to them. It has to be mentioned that Israeli Muslims supported (80%) the Israeli Rabbinate, when they put it to question if Israel should be a theocracy. Christians opposed it, the Muslims didn’t.

    That is just some background to Marwan’s thinking…he see’s it from a Christian viewpoint, which may not necessarily be compatible with the Muslim one.

  • Does anyone know, is Marwan Bishara a Christian or Muslim?

    Azmi Bishara, the Knesset member, was a Christian

  • Interesting,

    Though i’m not sure that it’s the “religious” part that is the problem, i’d say it’s the “nationlist” part that is

    As a parallel, this is exactly what is going on in many Muslim countries. Nearly all are headed by unpopular secular governments, when their populations want a religious leadership, not a Taliban or Iran style one, but one that is spiritually and morally more fulfilling than tin pot dictatorships with dubious alliances with foreign powers.

    It’s this desire that leads to the radicalisation in the first generation of a revolution.

    So the problem isn’t limited to Israel. Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are two countries that also have this problem. Saudi Arabia masquerades as a theocracy but is in reality a corrupt desert monarchy, with tribal (often unIslamic customs) passing as religous “values”, inflicted upon the people, whilst a corrupt monarchy is propped up by a secular foreign power only interested in oil.

    This status quo will have to end, it will never last, people won’t let it.

  • Les

    Zionism in action! The IDF is really the IOF, Israeli Offense Forces.

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