The media coverage of the Israeli hitnatkut from Gaza continues. I am deeply ambivalent about the whole thing, but I am relieved that violence against the IDF has been minimal, and apparently confined to Kfar Darom. The vast majority of the Gazan Jews responded to the evictions with pride and dignity. May God take heed of their sacrifices.
One misleading aspect of the media coverage (out of many) is how the settlers are described. The usual description is along these lines: "Members of a radical messianic movement that believes that the land was given to Israel by God." This implies that:
1. Messianism is radical.
2. Believing that the Land was given by God is radical.
3. The only motivations for religious Jews to live in the Territories are the above two, in a utopian or nationalist brew.
In fact, the religious community in Israel is far larger than the settler communities. All religious Jews must believe in the sanctity of the Land, and in the eventual coming of the Messiah. This does not immediately translate into support for the settlements. Even those who believe that the Messiah is on his way now do not usually live in the Territories; much the opposite, in fact. There is an attitude among many that when the Messiah comes, we will take control of the Land with the inevitability of Divine decree; therefore it is perhaps wasteful to worry too much about this or that specific plot of land in the short term.
It is true that some of the settlers believe that the Messiah will only come once we have reclaimed all of Israel, but this is a minority view. Most of the settlers are motivated for realist reasons.
I didn't understand this before I studied in Israel for a year. The main problem is that all of the maps we look at are flat. You miss the whole point that way; much of the land, especially the Territories, is hill country. During 1947 and '48, and then later in 1967, much of the fighting was centered on these hills, which controlled the road network. The defense of Israel is determined by topology. The settlements are conceived as defensive posts, and are so arranged to dominate the high ground and protect the vulnerable coastal plains to their rear. Indeed, when someone moves into a settlement, he is said to be "on a hilltop." The settlers see themselves as the first line of defense for Israel.
As well they should. In Gaza especially, the settlements were under constant mortar and rocket attack, to say nothing of attempted infiltrations in which terrorists murdered whole families. Yet the settlers stayed. Why? For most, it was not because of religious mandates, though their belief certainly gave them strength. It was because they knew that if they left, the terrorists would simply attack someone else.
Indeed, Israel is now spending NIS 300 million (nearly $80 million) to upgrade defenses for cities in the Negev proper, such as Ashkelon, who before now were mostly free from the terror threat. The front line has been moved back. Whether the end result will be good or bad I cannot say, but it is clear that much more of Israel is vulnerable now than before.
For the media to dismiss the settlers as religious fanatics is a terrible injustice, especially now, when their long years of sacrifice for the sake of their brothers in the cities has been rewarded by expulsion from their homes.