Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 14, 2009 - 1:00am

For decades the settlers have been stealing the helpless peasants' land and Israeli governments have been paving the settlers' roads. Every year during the olive harvest, Jewish malefactors raid olive groves in the West Bank, and the long arms of the security forces are too short to assist the Palestinians. In the rare cases when they do catch the culprits, a charitable judge "takes the circumstances into consideration."

But to set fire to a mosque - and on the Festival of Lights? This time they have really gone too far. Even the president cannot ignore such a "sinful act," as he described it. By the way, this is the same Shimon Peres who as defense minister had the honor of planting the first tree in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, most of whose homes are built on private Palestinian land.

If the settlers would have set fire to yet another Palestinian wheat field, the report of the event would have been at best shunted to the nether regions of the news programs. The charred walls of the mosque make for much better photographs, though. Besides, if we do not denounce the burning of a mosque on the west bank of the Jordan, what will we say tomorrow, when a synagogue is burned on the right bank of the Seine? Even Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of the Yesha rabbinical council announced after the torching in the village of Yasuf that "the holy places of the three faiths are beyond the struggle." How nice that a prominent rabbi from a hesder yeshiva denounced the arson. This way it will be easier for the state coffers to continue paying the salaries of the religious fanatics and for the induction center to send them more soldiers.

Make no mistake. When the settler rabbis talk about "the struggle," they don't just mean opposition to the dubious construction freeze orders in the settlements, or even opposition to military orders (virtual, for the time being) to evacuate outposts. As the rabbis themselves attest, they have declared a struggle against the sovereign - the laws of the state, the Knesset, the government, the courts and the law-enforcement authorities. Levanon said in 2000 that "the moment has come to take the scepter! To return to the period of King David and to know that the function of rabbis is not to teach Torah, but to establish a leadership, 'the rabbis as kingmakers,' who will be the true government of the people of Israel!"

Israel is not the only country experiencing a proliferation of religious fundamentalism. Quite a few governments in the West, the Middle East and Muslim countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan are dealing with extreme movements that seek to restore the glory of old. Israel is the only modern democracy in the world that is not only failing to put a stop to the danger of its Iranization, but is fostering and greasing it. Government ministries are channeling millions of shekels to yeshivas like Od Yosef Hai, whose spiritual leader wrote in a new book that "a national decision is not required to decide that it is permitted to shed the blood of an evil kingdom. Even individuals within the kingdom being harmed may harm them."

Israel has become a paradise for fundamentalist groups like Ateret Kohanim, which is astoundingly taking over real estate in the holy basin in Jerusalem. Mati Dan, the founder of the Ateret Kohanim non-profit association, told Haaretz in June 2006 that "our actions are part of the natural process of Israel's return to its home, to the place from which it was exiled. This is a divine command and the words of the prophets." Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the police have showed Dan and his comrades that divine orders trump municipal and legal ones. For months the group has been violating the instructions of the municipality's legal adviser, Yossi Havilio, to evacuate and seal a building that Ateret Kohanim built without a permit in East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood.

Religious fundamentalism is slowly spreading and metastasizing throughout society. It begins with a former chief rabbi and religious court judge who told Israel Defense Forces soldiers before the disengagement from Gaza that "the prime minister is not the boss, the boss is the Holy One Blessed be He" (Rabbi Avraham Shapira, December 2004) and ends with a justice minister who calls for the gradual implementation of Jewish law (Yaakov Neeman, December 2009). The fire that was set this Hanukkah in a mosque in Yasuf is the warning light on the slope of Masada.


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