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Zionism: Radical Messianic Zionism

Until 1967 religious Zionists in Israel were marginalized both by the secular majority and by the more visibly religious groups that seemed to offer a more authentic, uncompromising brand of religion.

The Six-Day War of June 1967 resulted in the capture of East Jerusalem and other territories of the Biblical Land of Israel.

The long-range fate of these territories, and their Arab inhabitants, became a major controversy among Israeli policymakers. From a purely secular perspective, the choice was between the military security offered by the expanded borders and the relative demographic stability that would be achieved by excluding their large Arab population from the domain of a Jewish state.

A religious claim provided strong justification for those who wished to hold on to the disputed territories: If the State of Israel was viewed as unfolding a Messianic scenario, then the miraculous victory of the Six-Day War was an essential stage in that process. The territories belong to the Jewish people (i.e., the State of Israel) by Divine decree, which may not be handed over to foreign hands.

The issue of territories, viewed in an eschatological context, became the defining feature for broad segments of religious Zionism in the post-1967 era.

Under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Kook’s son Zvi Yehudah Kook, with its center in the yeshivah founded by the elder Kook, Jerusalem's Merkaz Harav, thousands of modern young religious Jews campaigned actively against any territorial compromise. They established numerous settlements throughout Judea and Samaria. Though initially founded illegally, many of these settlements were subsequently granted official recognition by the Israeli government.

The most powerful political voice of the movement against territorial compromise became Gush Emunim (the Bloc of the Faithful), founded on February 7, 1974, by the younger Kook’s students.

The fundamental policies of Gush Emunim filtered down to religious educational networks in which a land-centered nationalism was presented as the highest form of spiritual virtue, and the histories of Zionism and the State of Israel were viewed as irreversible steps in the unfolding Messianic fulfillment.

The aspirations of Gush Emunim were tolerated by the Jewish public as long as Arab intransigence made the return of the territories a far-off theoretical possibility. When peace agreements with Egypt (1977) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (1993) put the return of disputed lands onto the political agenda, Gush Emunim found itself in active opposition to the policies and laws of the State of Israel. In 1979, Geula Cohen established the Te?iyyah Party, which advanced the views of Gush Emunim and others who objected to Israel’s withdrawal from any part of the territories.

In 1979-80, a group from Gush Emunim radicalized and formed the Jewish Underground. This organization conducted several terror attacks and plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock. On April 27, 1984, 25 members of the underground were arrested for attempting to blow up five Arab buses in East Jerusalem. Others were later detained for other plots, including the murder of three Hebron college students on July 26, 1983, and the maiming of two Palestinian mayors on June 2, 1980.

The Yesha Council was founded in the 1980s as the successor to Gush Emunim to promote Israeli communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley (Yesha) as the birthplace of the Jewish people.

In the 1990s, some mainstream rabbis ordered religious Jews to disobey military commands to evacuate disputed lands and branded Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a traitor to the higher Jewish cause. A follower of these views assassinated Rabin in November 1995.

The Gush Emunim movement, like the secular right-wing parties, was generally vague or ambivalent about the status of the non-Jewish residents of the disputed territories. Meir Kahane took a more extreme position. He formed the Kach Party, which scorned democracy as an un-Jewish import. He advocated laws prohibiting sexual and social contact with Arabs, actively calling for the eviction of Arabs from territories that belonged by rights to the Jews.

Sources: Prof. Eliezer Siegel.
“Gush Emunim,” Wikipedia.
“Jewish Underground,” Wikipedia.