They were not statements Israeli Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu With the “Kol Bram” radio broadcast at the beginning of this November, in which he called for the killing of everyone who belongs to the Hamas movement or the Palestinian Authority, dropping a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip, and rebuilding the settlements there, these are just passing statements driven by the heat of the war. It expresses a trend that is pervasive within Israeli society and has influence within political decision-making circles.
On December 29, 2022, form Benjamin Netanyahu His new government consists of 37 ministers, including a number of his religious allies, led by Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism Party, who assumed the position of Minister of Finance, in addition to being appointed Minister of an independent directorate within the Ministry of Defense in a position created specifically for him.
As appointed Itamar Ben Gvir A follower of the rabbi Meir Kahana Minister of National Security, both of whom share with the Zionist right in adopting policies aimed at weakening and dismantling the Palestinian Authority, promoting settlement and annexing the West Bank to Israel.
The roots of religious Zionism
Religious Zionism was born at the beginning of the 20th century from the marriage of religion with political Zionism, and was supported by Avraham Kook, the chief rabbi of the Jewish community that existed in Palestine before 1948, where Kook argued that the Jewish secular nationalist movement constituted a divine tool and a step toward final salvation in the end times.
Before his death in 1935, he agreed to establish a secular Jewish state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in which Jews would live under complete self-sovereignty, which laid the foundations for cooperation between the religious and secular wings of the Zionist movement.
Religious Zionism contradicted the fundamentalist Jewish trend, which believes that the State of Israel should be established only when the Messiah the Savior appears, and considers that working to establish it before that violates Jewish law.
The 1973 war as a turning point
The 1973 war was a shock to Israel’s future and undermined confidence in the left-controlled government, prompting leaders of religious Zionism to found the Gush Amonim Which sought to preserve the gains of the 1967 war by strengthening settlement in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
This contributed to the increase in the number of settlers in the West Bank from 2,800 settlers in 1977 to half a million settlers today, according to Hassan Al-Barari in his book translated into Arabic entitled “Zionism, Israel, and the Arabs: One Hundred Years of Conflict.” These developments coincided with the Zionist right’s victory in the Knesset elections in 1977 for the first time.
Later, religious Zionism, with its various formations, opposed the Oslo Accords, and organized widespread protests in refusal to give up lands from the West Bank and Gaza under the slogan, “This is our land.”
Yigal Amir, a religious Zionist student at Bar-Ilan University, killed the prime minister Yitzhak Rabin In 1995, under the pretext of his negligence in the Land of Israel. This was after the extremist Baruch Goldstein was executed The Ibrahimi Mosque massacre In Hebron in 1994.
Withdrawal from Gaza
Religious Zionist groups were shocked when the Israeli Prime Minister decided Ariel Sharon Unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank in 2005.
These groups discovered that the policy of imposing a fait accompli through settlement failed to prevent the evacuation of 8,600 settlers from Gush Katif in Gaza and 680 from the northern West Bank, which left them with two options: either to cling to the land and reject the decisions of the Israeli government, or to respect the government’s decisions and maintain internal unity to escape the specter of fighting. The Beni, which historically caused the destruction of the ancient Jewish kingdoms, chose the latter option.
After the withdrawal from Gaza, the leaders of religious Zionism saw that “the arena on which the fate of the Land of Israel is determined is politics and the media,” so they decided to focus on accumulating power within state institutions and political parties, as well as on launching popular campaigns to convince others of their political positions.
They saw an opportunity to penetrate inside Likud Party In which the hawks remained only after Sharon withdrew from it to establish the Kadima party, and thus the number of religious Zionists in the party increased until Netanyahu said, “It was usual to say that the Likud is the one who walks with his hood in his pocket, but now we find a group of Likudists walking with their hoods on their heads. We have to “We should be proud of them.”
Religious Zionists were also keen to join the Israeli army, as their percentage in officer training courses increased between 2000 and 2012 from 15% to 43%, and their number in the police also increased.
Reaching power and blowing up the situation
Religious Zionism represents heterogeneous groups that differ on religious, social and political issues, but they agree on rejecting the evacuation of settlements, annexing the West Bank, justifying violence against non-Jewish “gentiles” and expelling them from what they claim to be the Land of Israel or killing them, as well as striving to build the Temple.
Their numbers are estimated, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, at about 600 thousand people, or about 10% of the Israeli population.
Religious Zionists were not content with their increasing presence in the Likud Party, but rather formed several parties, such as the Jewish Home in 2008, led by Naftali Bennett, the Jewish Force in 2012, and Religious Zionism, led by Smotrich.
By forming a coalition government with Netanyahu in the 2022 elections, they succeeded for the first time in winning sensitive ministerial positions such as the Ministries of Finance and National Security, which guaranteed them two seats within the mini-security cabinet, and employed state institutions to implement their plans.
Within less than a year of the Netanyahu government assuming power, Ben Gvir stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque several times, the first of which was in January 2023, a week after he assumed his ministerial position, while Minister Smotrich called last March for the eradication of the village of Huwwara near Nablus from existence. Following attacks against settlers, in addition to his statement that “the Palestinian people are an invention that is not more than 100 years old.”
In the same month, the Knesset approved the repeal of the disengagement law, which required the abolition of the ban on entry and residence in 4 settlements previously evacuated in the northern West Bank since 2005. Following the adoption of the law, Settlement Minister Orit Struck spoke about Gaza, saying, “Gaza is part of the Land of Israel, and the day will come when We come back to it.”
Minister Smotrich also deducted more than 260 million shekels from the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenues, under the pretext that they were paid to the families of prisoners and martyrs. He intensified his efforts with the aim of doubling the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank from half a million to one million settlers.
He gave legitimacy to the construction of 10 new settlement outposts, and allocated a quarter of the Ministry of Transportation’s budget to develop settlement in the West Bank, while the activities of Zionist “Hill Boys” groups increased their attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank by uprooting olive trees, plundering herds of livestock, and burning homes.
Religious Zionism after October 7
With the start of the Israeli aggression on Gaza on October 7, the influence of religious Zionism suffered a major blow, as Netanyahu rushed to form a war government with figures of the left with military experience, such as Benny Gantz, the army chief of staff, the former defense minister, the head of the Blue White party, and the chief of staff. Ex-military Gadi Eizenkot.
The role of religious Zionist ministers in security decision-making declined due to their lack of military and security experience that would qualify them to lead the current war.
On the other hand, the activity of the religious Zionist Minister of National Security, Ben Gvir, focused on supporting the plan to displace Palestinians from the West Bank, as he distributed about 26 thousand automatic rifles to Israeli civilians, which was reflected in the increase in armed settler attacks in the West Bank since October 7, as it rose from 3 Attacks daily, reaching 7 attacks daily currently, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.
This led to the displacement of the residents of at least 16 Palestinian herding communities, with a total of close to 900 people, according to the Israeli organization B’Tselem, in addition to the martyrdom of 8 Palestinians at the hands of settlers in separate attacks. Which threatens to further aggravate the West Bank.
Minister Smotrich called for the inauguration of sterile buffer zones around the settlements, which means annexing more Palestinian lands and further restricting the movement of West Bank residents.
The policies of religious Zionist ministers have contributed to rapidly pushing the scene in Palestine towards explosion, just as they have contributed to increasing the sharp political polarization within Israel with the opposition forces regarding the package of legal amendments.
However, their political influence is likely to diminish after the end of the war against the backdrop of the Netanyahu government’s responsibility for the security and intelligence failure in confronting the October 7 attack, Netanyahu being forced to seek the assistance of former ministers and leaders with military experience from the left who represent the deep state and the sovereign agencies, and the proven failure of religious Zionist ministers to provide The security they were previously promised, and they caused one of the biggest security disasters for Israel.