Girls at War
How a group of teenage believers could reshape the Israeli-Palestinian struggle
(Tablet) -- by Elizabeth Rubin --
...In 1996 Gadi Ben Zimra and his wife Nurit founded a sleepaway school for girls from 14 to 18 in Ma’ale Levona, a well-defended settlement on one of the highest hilltops in the West Bank. The school, steeped in the teachings of Kabbalists, would nurture a new kind of girl—smitten with God, righteous, ideological, ready to fight and procreate for the cause of restoring biblical Israel. This was the late 1990s, and teenagers were bored by the gray beards and dusty books that were standard fare at old-school rationalistic Yeshivot. They yearned for mystical teachings sewn into drama, song, ecstatic dancing, and the lure of religious climax. Ben Zimra and Nurit tapped into a wave of national religious euphoria and radicalism rising out of a widespread spiritual angst among Israeli youth and a backlash among the settlers against everything that Oslo stood for.
Ben Zimra’s beginnings give no hint of the radical to come. He was born in the Golan Heights to Italian immigrant parents, grew up in a suburb of Tel Aviv, and attended the traditional Orthodox Yeshiva Mercaz Harav when it was run by Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, one of the inspirations behind the religious settler movement. At some point the bourgeois trappings of the old yeshivas and right-wing religion must have seemed inauthentic or too removed for Rav Gadi. He found his way to one of the most mystical and extreme yeshivas in the West Bank: Od Yosef Chai High School at Joseph’s Tomb, then located outside Nablus, and led by Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, native Missourian, mathematical genius, philosopher, Kabbalist, and Talmudic scholar whose political leanings could be described as Jewish-monarchist.
While Ginsburgh has written more than a dozen books—with titles like Awakening the Spark Within: Finding Your Soulmate; Kabbalah and Meditation, and Interpretation of Dreams and Paranormal Experiences—he is best-known for his notorious essay “Baruch Hagever,” praising Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 murder of 29 Arabs in the Cave of the Patriarch. Goldstein, he wrote, was following the five halakhic principles: sanctifying God’s name, saving life, revenge, eradication of the seed of Amalek, and war. Gadi Ben Zimra was Ginsburgh’s disciple, and over the last two decades he has—as news reports and many of the girls have attested (often with pride)—acquired a sizable rap sheet with Shin Bet. During the Second Intifada he was part of the settler vigilantes or “price tag” groups who believed in eye-for-an-eye justice and had no faith in and no patience for the law or the state. If Palestinians attacked, he and the vigilantes attacked Palestinian villages, torching wheat harvests, smashing cars, slashing tires, and shooting up water tanks and houses, some of them with children inside.
When Gush Katif was evacuated, Ben Zimra, like many radical rabbis at the time, practically severed his ties not just with the state—because “this is not a state loyal to the laws of the Torah”—but also with the Yesha Council, which represents the West Bank settlements. In an interview shortly after the evacuation, he said, “What the Yesha Council should have done, when the evacuation from Gush Katif took place, is say to all the rabbis and soldiers and officers in the army that the expulsion is against the Torah, and refuse to be a partner to this crime.”
He knew that what he was saying was revolutionary and he took it a step further. “The religious Zionist person says there is a state and I’m part of it. We say the opposite. We are the state.”
Shortly after the evacuation of Gush Katif, the IDF got orders to evacuate a small settlement of nine houses called Amona. As special police galloped on horseback into packs of settlers kicking up clouds of dust that swirled around their bodies, Rav Gadi sent girls from Ma’ale Levona to defend the Amona families. Hundreds of people were injured and some of the girls were sexually mistreated by the police, the girls told me. The violence, much of which was televised live, gave Israelis a taste of what a real civil war might look like. It also breathed new life into Gush Emunim, the messianic political movement that helped to inspire and organize the settlers’ fervent resolve to build on the lands conquered in the 1967 war.
Rav Gadi’s inspiration—what makes him an innovator, if you like—was to encourage girls to become front-line troops in the family combat between the settlers and the state. In an interview with a settler magazine, Rav Gadi says that the role of the body is “to express and reveal after contemplation the entirety of man’s internal infinite essence.” By now, the state and nation should be the macro for this private expression. That’s what his mentor Rav Kook had envisioned. But it hasn’t happened yet, and Rav Gadi is impatient to get there. “I crave the kingdom,” he writes. “Don’t wait until the Lord, blessed be he, brings us redemption. Get up and initiate.” Rav Gadi and his flock have to work harder to build a physical home for the divine presence. And who better to serve as the handmaidens of God’s kingdom on earth than a flock of adoring, fervent teenage girls?...MORE...LINK
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