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Gaza Withdrawal Shakes Fundamental Roots of Zionism

August 8, 2005
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The Jewish people are in the grasp of a powerful catalyst called the disengagement plan, which envisions the unilateral withdrawal from Israel’s settlements in the Gaza Strip and parts of Samaria. Whatever the result of the plan, Israelis must come to grips with its implications on Judaism, Zionism and even democracy. Disengagement forces upon us decisions that can no longer be postponed and the effects of which will be present for decades.

For many, including myself, the anti-disengagement protest last month at Kfar Maimon was the first real statement regarding these issues. There was a sense of unity that is impossible to describe in words, a sense of harmony and purpose that came from within each of the tens of thousands of people who attended. What I witnessed gives me hope and even confidence for a reaffirmation of the Jewish roots of the State of Israel.

If disengagement happens, it will be the first step in the endeavor to empty the rest of Judea and Samaria, including half of Jerusalem, of its Jewish presence. The sociological and political ramifications of this attempt already are shaking the foundations of the Jewish return to Israel. Whatever happens will produce an earthquake.

The danger of disengagement is so great precisely because it has nothing to do with peace. Peace will not come because of disengagement, nor will terrorism cease. Quite the contrary, disengagement is the greatest reward that Palestinian terrorists could have hoped for, and it will further whet their appetite. Everybody knows this, from the supporters of the plan to its most vociferous opponents.

Rather, it has to do with the changing of the guards: The tired and morally bankrupt secular elite trying to halt the growing and ideologically charged religious settler movement.

To those who support disengagement, the excuse given is that leaving the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria behind means taking Jewish soldiers and citizens out of the heart of a hostile Arab populace. The deeper truth is that it’s a declaration of divorce from the Jewish settlers. Economic wealth and corrupted values are the sole interests today, and that is the true motivation for disengagement.

To those who oppose disengagement, uprooting thousand of Jews from their homes signals the loss of Jewish claims over all parts of the Land of Israel. It is a painful recognition that the ruling minority wishes to crush the remnants of early Zionism and Jewish revival in the Land of Israel.

Disengagement can really be described as a cultural civil war. It is a symptom rather then an imagined cure, the catalyst that will bring deeper processes occurring in Israel today to the forefront of national redefinition.

Secular Jewry is slowly abandoning the most rudimentary vestiges of Judaism and political Zionism, while religious Jewry is becoming more and more fundamentalist and suspicious of the secular state, from the court system to the media and government.

In fact, the disengagement plan is the expression of an exhausted and ideologically bereft, left-wing populace no longer willing to come to terms with a hostile external reality. By willingly sacrificing what many see as their “problematic” and “fanatical” Jewish brethren, they are pleading for recognition by the world of their non-Jewish tendencies. It is an excuse for moral breakdown and ideological surrender. The settlers bring to the surface that old Jewish malady of exhaustion, corruption and fear of the gentile expressed through anger towards those who are “too aggressively Jewish.”

The chiefly religious settler movement is saying that even if hard and costly, it’s a divine right and privilege to reassert our Jewish presence in all parts of the Land of Israel. Their view may be termed biblical Zionism, which means a much bolder and primal Jewish response to the world than has existed since Zionism took root and, really, since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

The issues have been delineated: How is the Zionist claim diminished or strengthened by disengagement? What is Jewish or even Zionist about secular post-Zionism? How is religious Jewry to relate to the state after it uproots thousands of predominantly religious settlers? What is the cost to Israeli democracy of a plan that goes against the government’s mandate, especially in light of the prime minister’s refusal to conduct a national referendum? Is the State of Israel primarily a secular democracy or a Jewish state with Jewish values ensconced in its institutions? What is the impression on Diaspora Jewry of the current cultural war in Israel?

Disengagement may happen, but it is without seed. It cannot produce an ideological framework for the left because in truth it is ultimately no more then an excuse for corruption. Jewish businessmen, including those with contacts at the highest levels of the Sharon government, want to open a casino where today a settlement stands. It is an attempt by the exhausted and empty secular elite to try to bring peace through capitulation and economy through corruption. In the long run it will fail.

At Kfar Maimon, the proper response was provided. There can be no stopping the Jewish resurgence. This understanding is not solely cerebral: at Kfar Maimon the tents of Israel were firmly rooted in the ground of the Land of Israel. It is something that is felt from within; a truth that can only spread to all corners of the Jewish world.

Asher Keren, originally from Detroit, Mich., is a biologist who has lived in Israel since 1982. He is married with four children and has lived in Samaria since 1993. He is also the author of a new book titled, “A Time For Change,” to be published soon by Gefen Publishing.

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