The definition of Zionism has many facets. Before one can discuss this highly charged subject, it would be helpful to define Zionism in general terms. Zionism is the national revival movement of the Jewish people. It holds that the Jews have the right to self-determination in their own national home, and the right to develop their national culture. Historically, Zionism strove to create a legally recognized national home for the Jews in their historical homeland. This goal was implemented by the creation of the State of Israel. Today, Zionism supports the existence of the state of Israel and helps to inspire a revival of Jewish national life, culture and language.
Today, since the establishment of Israel, Zionism has lost its relevancy. It is alive and kicking in the comfortable armchairs of Diaspora Jewry, most of whom do not intend to leave the fleshpots where they live in order to settle in Israel.
However, religious Zionism – an offshoot of general Zionism, has an ideology based on occupation and with it very extreme self-righteous racism. This occupation gained tremendous impetus after the Six Day War of June 1967 whereby successive governments in Israel encouraged illegal settlements in the occupied territories.
In 1968 a group of religious fanatics under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Levinger founded the settlement Kiryat Arba near Hebron. These were the predecessors of Gush Emunim. In 1974, following the shock of the Yom Kippur War, the organization was founded more formally, by students of the younger Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who remained its leader until his death in 1982.
In late 1974, an affiliated group named Garin Elon Moreh, led by Rabbi Menachem Felix and Benjamin (Beni) Katzover, attempted to establish a settlement on the ruins of the Sebastia train station dating from the Ottoman period. After seven attempts and six removals from the site by the army, an agreement was reached. According to the agreement, The Israeli government allowed 25 families to settle in the Kadum army camp southwest of Nablus/ [[Shechem]. The Sebastia agreement was a turning point which opened up Samaria to Jewish settlement. The small caravan site with 25 families eventually became the municipality of Kedumim, one of the major settlements in Judea and Samaria. The Kadum army camp settlement model was copied over the years in Beit El, Shavei Shomron and other settlements.
The religious Zionist Zealots believe that greater Israel (which includes the territories occupied since the Six Day War) was ordained by God for Jewish settlement. They established settlements. They built religious institutions on Palestinian lands as well as palatial homes in these settlements.
Another well-known right-wing rabbi who was the champion of the settler movement and one of its ideologues was the late ex-chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Avraham Shapira who died at the age of 94 years in October 2007. He was a very divisive religious leader. He urged soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate the Gaza Strip in 2005. Shapira believed that the territory Israel had won in 1967 was promised by God and belonged to Jews in perpetuity. He felt that “surrendering an inch of sacred turf was tantamount to blasphemy”. After leaving the chief rabbinate he co-founded the Rabbis' Union for the Complete Land of Israel. Its 500 clerics attacked the Oslo Accords for transferring land to Palestinians - forbidden under Jewish law, they claimed. In 2003 Shapira asked the Knesset to boycott a ceremony honoring the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. American evangelicals, he claimed, were deceiving Jews and Christians into imagining a "common faith shared by both".
Shapira inspired thousands as dean of the Mercaz Ha-Rav Kook Yeshiva, one of Israel's largest talmudic academies and the flagship of religious Zionism. He probably wielded more influence in that post than as chief rabbi, as most settlement rabbis are Mercaz graduates. Many national religious Jews, who make up two-thirds of Israel's 12% observant minority, considered Shapira the gadol ha-dor - greatest authority of his generation on Jewish law.
Palestinian agricultural lands were severely compromised as a result and many Palestinians suffered hardships because of being uprooted from their homes by the encroaching settlements. This is one aspect of religious Zionism in action. This did not contribute to improving relations between Palestinians and Israelis. The religious settlers behaved in a brutal manner towards the Palestinian population. They uprooted their olive tree plantations and destroyed much Palestinian agricultural land. They also regarded themselves as superior to the Palestinians. These Zealots were imbued by the spirit of their faith in their right to occupy lands that was not theirs. Here we have a perfect example of religious Zionism being a racist colonizing ideology. Religious Zionist adherents must share the blame for the deteriorating situation between Israelis and Palestinians.
According to a B’tzelem report, the establishment of settlements on the West Bank violates international humanitarian law, which establishes the principles applying during war and occupation. Moreover, the settlements lead to the infringement of international human rights law.
International humanitarian law prohibits the occupying power to transfer citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory (Fourth Geneva Convention, article 49). The Hague Regulations prohibit the occupying power to undertake permanent changes in the occupied area, unless these are due to military needs in the narrow sense of the term, or unless they are undertaken for the benefit of the local population.
The establishment of the settlements leads to the violation of the rights of the Palestinians as enshrined in international human rights law. Among other violations, the settlements infringe the right to self-determination, equality, property, an adequate standard of living, and freedom of movement.
The illegality of the settlements under international humanitarian law does not affect the status of the settlers. The settlers constitute a civilian population by any standard, and include children, who are entitled to special protection. Although some of the settlers are part of the security forces, this fact has absolutely no bearing on the status of the other residents of the settlements.
Taking Control of the Land
Israel has used a complex legal and bureaucratic mechanism to take control of more than fifty percent of the land in the West Bank. This land was used mainly to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements.
The principal tool used to take control of land is to declare it "state land.” This process began in 1979.It is based on a manipulative implementation of the Ottoman Lands Law of 1858, which applied in the area at the time of occupation. Other methods employed by Israel to take control of land include seizure for military needs, declaration of land as "abandoned assets,” and the expropriation of land for public needs. Each of these is based on a different legal foundation. In addition, Israel has assisted private citizens purchasing land on the "free market.”
The process employed in taking control of land breaches the basic principles of due procedure and natural justice. In many cases, Palestinian residents were unaware that their land was registered in the name of the state, and by the time they discovered this fact, it was too late to appeal. The burden of proof always rests with the Palestinian claiming ownership of the land. Even if he meets this burden, the land may still be registered in the name of the state because it was transferred to the settlement "in good faith.”
Despite the diverse methods used to take control of land, all the parties involved - the Israeli government, the settlers and the Palestinians - have always perceived these methods as part of a mechanism intended to serve a single purpose: the establishment of civilian settlements in the territories. Accordingly, the precise method used to transfer the control of land from Palestinians to Israel is of secondary importance. Moreover, since this purpose is prohibited under international law, the methods used to secure it are also unlawful.
Israel uses the seized lands to benefit the settlements, while prohibiting the Palestinian public from using them in any way. This use is forbidden and illegal in itself, even if the process by which the lands were taken were fair and in accordance with international and Jordanian law. As an occupying power in the Occupied Territories, Israel is not permitted to ignore the needs of an entire population and to use land intended for public needs solely to benefit the settlers.
The High Court of Justice has generally sanctioned the mechanism used to take control of land. In so doing, the Court has contributed to imbuing these procedures with a mask of legality. The Court initially accepted the state's argument that the settlements met urgent military needs, and allowed the state to seize private land for this purpose. When the state began to declare land, “state land,” the Court refused to intervene to prevent this process.
The involvement of the religious orthodox establishment in Israeli politics in practice curtailed religious freedom and resulted in many laws that are prejudiced towards non-Jewish citizens. There is no separation of religion and state in Israel. It is all dependent on coalition deals in the Knesset between the ruling parties and the religious parties. Today, the National Religious Party (Mafdal) is part of the extreme right wing Herut Party and sits on the opposition benches.
The extremist Shas Party remains in the Government in order to coerce the government to look after its own interests which are very narrow indeed. It takes its orders from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (the Sephardi ex-chief Rabbi) who is well known for making insulting statements directed at those whom he considers heretics who do not hold his bigoted world view tinged with racism.
Reactions to Rabbi Yosef's "political" quotes have ranged from laughter to fury among more secular Israelis, both in the political sphere and among common citizens. Shas spokespeople and Rabbi Yosef's followers argue that his quotes are taken out of context and that they include technical religious terms which the average person is not familiar with, and therefore, misunderstood. For instance, in April 2001, Rabbi Yosef was widely criticized for what was interpreted as a call for the unconditional annihilation of Arabs, saying, "It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable” and "The Lord shall return the Arabs' deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them, devastate them and banish them from this world." However his second comment was in fact a slightly modified quote from Obadiah 1:18, referring to the descendants of Esau. A Shas spokesman defended Rabbi Yosef, saying the speech had been in reference to "Arab murderers and terrorists", not all Arabs, and that the Rabbi had been saying that the state of Israel should pursue its enemies mercilessly, as God had commanded the ancient Israelites to fight against their own adversaries. .
If one were to substitute the word “Jew” in the place of “Arab”, in Yosef’s statement it would correspond to the kind of anti-Semitic utterances straight from the mouths of fanatic Islamist or Hamas Imams. This shows that Hamas and Shas ideology could be the mirror image of each other directed to their own communities. The so-called excuse of Yosef that “not all Arabs are terrorists” is pathetic. It is parallel to the anti-Semite’s denial of being anti-Semitic by saying “after all, my best friends are Jews!”
Israel’s discriminatory practices are rooted in Jewish religious law. In 1995, the rabbis of Safad, joined by then Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron, issued a judgment prohibiting Jews living in the Land of Israel to lease or sell any real estate property to non-Jews. These rabbis are on the State of Israel's payroll. Yet all too clearly, their judgment contravenes Israeli state laws proscribing public expressions of racism and utterances hurtful to human dignity. The situation is still very much the same today.
Another aspect is the religious monopoly the orthodox establishment has on Judaism, conversion and all aspects of Jewish religious life in Israel. The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel do not have the right to convert or marry couples. They do not receive state subsidies as the orthodox establishments do and are not considered on an equal footing. An example of this attitude was reported in the Jerusalem Post 19th November 2007:
“Reform and Conservative synagogues reek of hell [Gehinom] and a Jew should not even come near their entrance, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Mordechai Eliyahu said last week.
"Once I was invited to be the sandak (godfather) at a brit in a three-story building," recounted Eliyahu in his weekly flyer called Kol Tzofayich, which discusses various halachic issues.
"On the first story was a Reform temple, on the second floor was a Conservative synagogue and on the third floor was an Orthodox synagogue where I was invited.
"I wondered how I would manage to pass by those two synagogues that reek of hell. I asked if there was a way of avoiding those two entrances and I was told that there was a kitchen through which it was possible to reach the third floor. I announced that I would not go up any other way besides through the kitchen so as to avoid passing by those prohibited synagogues."
It is obvious that the authoritative orthodox rabbis in Israel do not bring any credit to Judaism at all. They are no examples to emulate. They are indicative of a society that is bigoted, discriminatory and intolerant. They claim to be religious Zionists. Many Jews, including myself, have been estranged from Judaism because of establishment orthodox bigotry and racism. Their attitude towards the Arabs is hateful. Orthodox Judaism is associated with the political right wing and maintaining the occupation. They are also on a campaign delegitimizing Reform and Conservative Jewish belief. The environment for Reform Judaism or any other non-Orthodox stream of Judaism is hostile in Israel.
Lately the Ethiopian children have also suffered discrimination at religious schools. The discrimination against Ethiopians is more widespread in Israel than one would wish to believe. Their Judaism is not recognized and they have to undergo a giur (conversion) process before being accepted.
All these incidents orchestrated by the Orthodox establishment of Israel have created much suffering and hardships to people whose Jewishness is questionable according to Halacha (Jewish Law). Religious Zionism is part of the Orthodox establishment in Israel and is discriminatory towards non-Jews (including Arabs and Palestinians in the occupied territories), Reform and Conservative Jews. This puts them into the racist category.