What is a nice leftist like you doing at the site of a right-wing demonstration?
Thursday 14 b Tamuz
I just came back from Kfar Maimon, a sleepy,dusty village of 200 families in the middle of nowhere in the Negev, but also in the middle of the route from Netivot to Gush Katif. This week it was the site of a 25,000 person strong, three-day demonstration against the Gush Katif disengagement plan. I regret that I did not set out from Netanya early enough to get there until it was mostly over, but I was there emotionally, by listening to the minute-by-minute accounts on the radio. I decided to spend some time there afterwards and talk with participants to try to understand, kli sheni (second-hand) what transpired.
Intellectually I have been against the settlement enterprise since 1967 (5727) , but I found that my heart was with my friends in the religious-Zionist-settler demonstration in Kfar Maimon. Some 25,000 “right wing” demonstrators came to Kfar Maimon, and this elicited an (almost) equal and opposite reaction of some 15,000 police and soldiers. This was the largest joint army-police action in the state of Israel’s history.
In the picture below (Cross-currents July 21, “A 1000 words on disengagement”) we see religious soldiers praying minha along with, and on opposite sides of the fense from, the demonstrators whom they are supposed to be containing.
If I have to identify myself ideologically, I would say that I consider the position of the late Rabbi Shach ztz”l on the settlements to be pragmatic, and I have written about it at length (see website of Netivot Shalom Parashat Hashavua, English Behar-Behokotai 5762).
Rav Shach wrote that in the Land of Israel “we are not yet at home” in the sense of a metaphysical conception of the ephemeral versus the permanent, since we are still awaiting redemption, geulah.
“We are surrounded by people who hate us and want to destroy us…We have not yet reached a state of permanence in our Land, while we are surrounded by enemies. The only true feeling of permanence is when we are in the bet hamidrash, in the study hall. Establishing additional settlements in the Shomron will not guarantee our existence, and will not add to our security. The opposite is true, it will only increase the hatred of our enemies.”
I also have been influenced in my political thinking by Rav Ovadia Yosef and have written about his position. A one sentence summary I cite here does not do justice to his complex and nuanced approach. The references to his major work on this I cite in my essay on the Netivot Shalom website, English Parashat Aharey Mot 5763.
“If our statesmen and military experts will decide that danger to life exists… if we do not cede sections of Eretz Yisrael, while on the contrary ceding land will reduce the danger of war…it would definitely be permitted to return the territories for this purpose…”
The haredi sector, the majority of yeshiva heads and Chassidic rebbes, have been (for the most part) spectators in the unfolding drama of the evacuation/disengagement/uprooting (depending on your perspective) of Gush Katif.
Anticipating the closure of Gush Katif to outsiders, and wanting to better understand the situation, my husband and I went on a day-long visit a fortnight ago to the Gush Katif settlements. After the visit I felt awe towards what the settlers have accomplished and compassion towards those to be uprooted. Nevertheless, I support the disengagement for theological, demographic, security reasons). So last Shabbat when I read in a dozen synagogue pamphlets on Parashat Hashavua the call for participation in a 3-day march from Netivot to Kfar Maimon and from there to Gush Katif, I thought it was another in a long series of such gatherings and had nothing to do with me. But to my horror Monday afternoon I heard from friends who had gotten on 230 private buses from cities all over Israel to go to Netivot that police boarded the buses, confiscated the licenses of the drivers, and told the passengers to disembark. I, with my American background, was stunned, but my Israeli haredi neighbors were not. Many of my haredi neighbors appreciate the police and army and participate in limited numbers, but they do not have romantic notions about the security services, and therefore were somewhat less surprised by the halting of the buses by the police. If you want to read a fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of how this decision was made by the police, read Amir Oren’s account in Haaretz Friday “Democracy in Action”.
Despite the grounded buses, tens of thousands walked, hitched rides, and drove on their own to the gathering point in Netivot where the police stopped them, having revoked permission for the demonstration. With respect to the legality of attending the demonstration, going there was a “disturbance of the peace” (a lesser offense than “breaking the law”). For hours in the 90-degree Negev heat families with babes in arms, rabbis, yeshiva boys, ulpana girls, elderly grandparents, from all over Israel (not just the settlements) waited patiently in Netivot. There were hundreds of babies and toddlers among the demonstrators and the authorities feared that the police were overdoing it and they might cause real harm to the unarmed civilian protestors. Finally, because of the babies, the police “let” the demonstrators make the 8-mile trek to the night-time camp the demonstration leaders had set up in Kfar Maimon. The demonstrators reach Kfar Maimon after midnight, but awoke to an unpleasant surprise – during the night the police/army surrounded them, and during the next 48 hours caged the 25,000 demonstrators inside rolls of barbed wire. In the denouement Wednesday night the latter marched in rows along the inside perimeter path of Kfar Maimon, refused to engage in violence, and by Thursday morning dispersed.
Why do I care about Kfar Maimon, if I am in favor of disengagement as a painful necessity? I see this as a turning point from a religious-philosophical perspective. While the haredi position has always differentiated between the state (small “s”) of Israel and the Land (capital “L”) of Israel, most modern Orthodox and non-religious Jews do not understand this distinction. “Which seminary are you going to in Eretz Yisrael?” is how the youth in American Beit Yaakov schools and in the yeshivot speak, although from a practical perspective when they have to buy a ticket they will formally put down “Israel” (and not Eretz Yisrael) as the destination.
The penny seems to be dropping in the religious-Zionist public. See the interview with Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, soon to be head of the Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva in Alon Shvut. Rav Meidan was a staunch pro-settlement, pro-IDF, pro-State (capital S) of Israel supporter. He is crestfallen in the light of the trauma at Kfar Maimon. Here are some Questions and Answers from Friday’s Haaretz Magazine cover-story interview, “Nobody is Listening”. Take into account that Rav Meidan can be emotional and given to speaking in hyperpole.
Q: “Did you draw operative conclusions?”
Ans. “In order to forge an alliance with the secular elites, we neglectd our more natural alliance with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) public. Today I think that was a mistake. In the future, we will behave differently. In the past, with all the disagreements, I thought there was also something we could learn from the secular elite. After I saw the secular elite stick a knife in my back and turn away from its own values – democracy and human rights- I have no more to learn from them.
Q: “If so, your next dialogue will not be with the [secular] Democracy Institute but with the leader of haredi Judaism, Rabbi Elyashiv.”
Answer: “Correct. Only then, when religious Zionism and the haredi public stand together, will our place be different, will we be treated differently….This summer will be a very dramatic period in the contest for the internal identity of the Jewish peole and the state of Israel…I may be in prison… I will not be violent…but I will go to prison without batting an eyelash.”
Crowds: In describing the thousands who gathered at the siyum Ha Shas (completion of Talmud study after 7 and -a-half years) I wrote on Cross-currents (see March 4) that one of the main differences between the national-religious and haredi sectors is the problem of prioritization. The national-religious emphasize the Land of Israel along with Torah study whereas the haredi sector puts a higher priority on Torah study, though they also stress love of the Land of Israel. I documented statements where national religious leaders talked about mesiras nefesh (ultimate sacrifice) for the Land, in contrast to haredi yeshiva heads who referred to mesiras nefesh for study. One statement that encapsulates the haredi attitude, and that resonates with me, is from the Talmud, Shabat 119b “Ein mevatlin tinokot shel beit rabban afilu l-binyan beit hamikdash” – we don’t stop study (by children in schools) even for rebuilding the Temple.
Crowds: Imagine in your mind’s eye 25,000 civilians, dressed modestly, most in orange, with babies and children, elderly great-grandparents, rabbis, eating and sleeping outdoors, singing, dancing, STUDYING, praying. Avigayil Kling who lives in Kfar Maimon said her family’s cottage accommodated over 100 strangers, feeding them, giving them showers, and shade for 3 days. And outside the barbed wire covering the desert in all directions, mounted police, water canons poised, 15,000 police and infantry swarming around.
Denouement: The state (lower case “s”) of Israel is a “yeshua” – a means to save the remnant of the people of Israel, and I do appreciate and highly value it. Indeed 5 of my 6 children served in the army, as a necessary mechanism, but not as an institution with sanctity. Therefore, I want to end on a positive note.
The Yesha (Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza) leaders announced all day Wednesday that the demonstrators would line up in rows and start marching at 8 pm to Gush Katif. All of Israel heard these bulletins on the radio – highnoon tonight at 8. It seems to me that the demonstrators could have broken through the fence and headed to Gush Katif, despite the array of police and army. The police said no one would go out the gate, west to Gush Katif.
For the time being, there has been a happy ending. There was no violence, and the demonstrators sang, “We love you Tzahal (IDF), we love you police.”
Suddenly, Effie Eitan, one of the demonstration leader,a Member of Knesset and former head of the national-religious party, stepped forward and said to the head of the police, Bar-Lev, “I was your commanding officer when we were together in the army. Remember?” Then the two “adversaries” embraced in front of the crowd of 40,000 (demonstrators, army and police) and the demonstration formally ended.