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Religious Zionism - which is essentially the sole motivating force behind the struggle against the withdrawal from Gaza - bears a bleeding wound, so one hears from every quarter in recent weeks, and it is threatening to open another front: It will do anything to put an end to what the settler right defines as the rule of the liberal elite over the Israeli public.

Since for the first time in more than 30 years, society, via the state, has dared to rein in the wild conduct of the heads of the settler autonomy and their allies, intense feelings of frustration are erupting among the leaders of religious Zionism and its spokesmen. Now they also consider themselves entitled to psychotherapy, to emotional and political compensation, to unbounded love and embraces, whose practical meaning is nothing but the capitulation of secular society and its consent to the state's becoming semi-clerical.

Allow me to say at once that, despite the fact that the settlers daily trample underfoot the rights of others, they are entitled to have their own rights strictly safeguarded. However, these rights are universal rights, and not rights that are exclusive to opponents of the Gaza pullout. They are likewise vouchsafed to Arab shepherds and left-wing activists who demonstrate against the separation fence and are met in response by Border Police tear gas and rubber bullets.

Today the settlers and their supporters had their first lesson in the chapter on democracy in the civics textbook for beginners: The foundation of the institution of democracy are human rights, not the right to universal suffrage. Political equality is merely a means to preserve civil rights. Post-1967 Israel provides more laboratory proof of the long-known truth: Casting a ballot does not in and of itself guarantee the democratic and tolerant nature of a society and the liberties of its citizens and of all those under its jurisdiction, be they foreign workers or a conquered populace.

Pity we cannot go through a time warp back to the era before the Six Day War, when religious Zionism bore the faces of Moshe Haim Shapira, Zerach Warhaftig and the members of the Religious Kibbutz Movement. Back then, in the 1950s and `60s, the National Religious Party ministers were, along with the ministers from the United Workers Party (Mapam), the leftmost marker in the government: the secular and liberal public was therefore willing to accept more easily the Sabbath restrictions. Jerusalem was then locked down and fastened shut from the start of the Sabbath until its end. Private cars were rare, and people were doubly confined to their homes and neighborhoods - but the entire secular public, including its left flank, had common ground with the NRP members of the time.

That is not how matters stand today, when those speaking in the name of religious Zionism are Effi Eitam and Rabbi Haim Druckman, Pinhas Wallerstein and Zvi Hendel, not to mention the hilltop youth, the uprooters of olive trees and poisoners of sheep, those taking over territories that do not belong to them and trying to turn Israel into a colonialist country. Shapira, Warhaftig and Yosef Burg were living political proof of the fact that there is no contradiction between religious faith and political moderation and respect for the rights of others.

Today's leaders find the concept of human rights ridiculous. Only Jews have rights, and even among Jews, some are more equal than others: Is there anyone in the space between Hebron and Beit El and Elon Moreh who questions the excessive privileges of the Land of Israel's redeemers?

The secular and liberal public has no converse with the current NRP leadership, with the rabbis of the yeshivas in the territories. The secular and liberal public is disgusted by their attempt to make it an accomplice to every possible offense against principles dear to its heart. The disconnect is not just political, but is above all moral.

Furthermore, what this public has learned in recent weeks is that only force can stop force. The Europeans already experienced this last century. When a democratic regime is prepared to deploy against the wild revolutionary right, an organized and well-trained force, under a worthy command - the charge is blocked. When society is determined to enlist all of its strength to protect its liberal and democratic order; when it does not show weakness and does not hesitate - the fanatics retreat. Here is the real source of frustration being displayed by the ideological settlement enterprise. Its leaders know that - despite the unlimited resources at their disposal, despite the autonomous territorial base in the territories, despite their collaborators within the government - when it comes to an ability to prevent the Gaza pullout, the settlement movement is a paper tiger.

Nevertheless, make no mistake: what happened here in recent weeks was the closest thing to a rolling coup that a democratic society has experienced since the Algerian War. Had the system not withstood the test, as it has so far, the settlement movement would have taken control of Israeli society and transformed it into a colonialist society par excellence. The only thing still keeping Israel from sinking into open colonialism is the element of ephemerality and temporariness that accompanies occupation.