Blogs > Cliopatria > Gadi Taub: Review of Gershom Gorenberg's The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (Henry Holt)

Apr 10, 2006 1:37 am

Gadi Taub: Review of Gershom Gorenberg's The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (Henry Holt)

[Gershom Gorenberg's book] deals with a neatly demarcated period of ten years, almost to the month, all of it under Labor Party rule: from the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel acquired the territories, to the fall of Labor in 1977. This was a truly decisive period: by the time Menachem Begin and the Likud took power, settlements were already planted in the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. Gorenberg's central argument is that the settlement of the occupied territories was a collaborative effort: the work of an old ruling party and a new religious movement.

At first, in the great euphoria that followed the victory in 1967, amid the astonishing relief from the long sense of siege, the two partners scarcely noticed their differences. Both saw the Western Wall, the magnificent deserts of Judea and Sinai, and the ancient sites of biblical Samaria through teary, myth-struck eyes. The aging party, nostalgic for its vigorous youth, looked favorably on the younger religious movement, pioneering the new frontiers as Labor itself had pioneered the old ones under Turkish and then British rule. To be sure, there were significant differences. Concerned about international pressure against annexation, Labor's plans for settlement were more careful and hesitant, and they sometimes clashed with the messianic impatience of the younger religious movement. And the messianic impatience in those giddy days was indeed great.

The theological origins of the settlers' eschatological passion were to be found in the thought of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, who was a kind of Orthodox Jewish Hegelian. Orthodoxy had mostly viewed Zionism as a violation of God's punishment: God sent his children to exile, and they were not to return before the messiah called upon them to do so. But Kook saw secular Zionism and its Orthodox adversaries as the unexpected elements of a larger synthesis that lay in the future. And Kook's son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Hacohen Kook, with whom many of the early settler activists studied, thought that the future envisioned by his father had arrived. The "miracle" of the lightning victory of 1967 was proof of it, and an unveiling of its course: it would proceed through the "redemption" of the land. In Kook the son's teaching, settlement was "heaven's politics," and no earthly politics could ever stand against it....

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