In an opinion column entitled “A Hanukkah Letter to the Hilltop Youth” that appeared in the Israeli daily Ha-aretz, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat criticizes violent settlers as acting contrary to Jewish tradition and values. Violent settler attacks on innocent Palestinians, anti-Arab racisim, their torching mosques and complete disrespect for the authority of the Israeli government and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have challenged Israelis at last to begin to address settler hostility towards the State of Israel going back to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Rabbi Riskin is himself a “settler,” albeit a relatively moderate one, and his column reflects the growing revulsion among Israelis and many settlers towards this radical and extremist element in their midst. He writes:
“It’s impossible…to preach to people who believe that they are the holy defenders of the Land of Israel; that they wave the banner of the pure and genuine Torah [word of God]; that they are eliminating… the obsequiousness of thousands of years of exile. ‘Price tag’ rioters who attack [innocent] Palestinians, desecrate mosques and set fire to copies of the Koran see themselves [in the mold of] the ancient heroes of Judea, who fought against the Greek-Syrians [that] desecrated the Temple and forced them to bow down to idols. And so I say to you: You consider yourselves the new… Maccabees who do not bow their heads before the [Hellenizers], who today, you believe, wear the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces.
“Because you are convinced that all your deeds are [in the name of God], you will never admit that you have sinned… I am telling you that you are making a fundamental mistake. If a country can be sacred, if there is sanctity in earth and stones, then [how much more] sanctity [there is in a human being] – whether Arab or Jew – who was created in God’s image? Don’t you understand that [to use Job’s phrase] there is no ‘portion of God’ in furrows of earth, but that there certainly is in peaceful Palestinians? Do you have any idea how great that ‘portion of God’ is in… the brigade commander, …and in each and every one of his soldiers who daily risk their lives to defend yours and those of your families from terrorists? …How do you dare desecrate these holy people? How did it enter your minds to take on the role of… the terrorists [yourselves]? How did your love of the land become so distorted that it turned into love of bricks and cement and caused you to forget all the rest?
“You did not throw stones at me, and still you have mortally wounded me. You have stolen from me one of the assets most sacred to me. I love the Land of Israel with all my heart and all my might. I left the United States, my birthplace, to help to build my beloved city of Efrat and to be built up in it. Wherever and whenever I speak, I present myself as a ‘proud settler’. And you have robbed this pride from me. You have turned the term ‘settler’ into a dirty word. You have caused me to be ashamed of being a settler, to be ashamed to be called by the same name as those whose love for the land has turned into hatred of human beings. The Torah is filled with the praises of the Land of Israel, but it never commands us to ‘love’ the land. It commands us to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18). And since… the words that end that verse, are ‘I am the Lord’, the medieval commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra explains that ‘thy neighbor’ in that context is every human being created in the image of God… Don’t sell your souls, your portion of God from above, even in exchange for our holy land.”
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