The Gush Emunim Settlers Movement Is Established

This week in Haaretz 1974

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The shock waves that jolted Israel after the Yom Kippur War, and the talks on interim arrangements, including partial withdrawals from the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, caused some young members of the National Religious Party to found the Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful ) movement. Feeling that Israel's political leadership lacked strength and unity, the movement coalesced around leaders Hanan Porat (later a member of the Knesset ) and Rabbi Moshe Levinger, among others.

On February 5, 1974, Dan Margalit wrote in Haaretz, the idea to have the "NRP negotiate a demand for a 300 million lire annual investment in the occupied territories arose at a meeting of NRP leaders with settler representatives. In this way, the number of settlers in the West Bank was to rise by 30,000 people living in 8,000 housing units within four years."

Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Hanan Porat celebrating the establishment of the first West Bank settlement in 1975.Credit: Moshe Milner

At the same meeting it was decided that the NRP, also known by the acronym Mafdal, would resign from the government if its demands were not met, and Rabbi Haim Druckman (who later became a Mafdal MK ) reported that "there were rumors [in the army] about preparations for a withdrawal" from the West Bank.

After many years during which the NRP was an obedient partner to the reigning Mapai Party, the frontrunner to today's Labor, and a significant element in the government, its young people rebelled.

An article by Yehuda Litani appeared in Haaretz at the end of January 1974 saying that "a new bloc in the NRP has decided to act to ensure [the existence of] the Greater Land of Israel and its settlements."

This new group was to give birth to the generation of national religious figures symbolized by their knitted skullcaps.

Litani wrote in Haaretz about an internal NRP meeting attended by 300 people that took place in Gush Etzion, southeast of Jerusalem, and in which it was decided to "establish a new bloc to include the entire settlement population, yeshiva heads, scientists and educators, rabbis, settlers and youths, that will act to ensure Israeli sovereignty over all of the Land of Israel and develop settlements in it."

Among those attending the meeting were NRP MKs Zevulon Hammer and Dr. Yehuda Ben-Meir, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Dr. Joseph Goldschmidt, religious kibbutz representatives and the heads of the Kiryat Arba and Golan Heights yeshivas.

"The new bloc will be called 'faithful,' ('emunim' ) and will include public relations and educational staffers to penetrate all public sectors with the idea of the Greater Land of Israel," Litani wrote.

During the first week of February that year, many people reported meetings held by all the factions in NRP, which included representatives of most of the settlements beyond the Green Line.

Spiritual leaders of the new movement included Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. After the Yom Kippur War, the yeshiva had reportedly ordered its students "to close your [religious] books" and set out to gain control over all parts of the Greater Land of Israel, including the territories conquered in 1967.

While the official announcement of the establishment of the Gush Emunim movement was made on the Hebrew date of the holiday of Tu B'shvat (the 15th of Shvat, which fell on February 25, 1974 in the civil calendar ), its guidelines had already been drawn up on February 7, including the declaration that the bloc's purpose was a complete implementation of Zionism in spirit and deed.

It appears the bloc was also founded to ensure continued Israeli presence across the Green Line. Haaretz quoted the remarks of a meeting held in Kfar Etzion on February 5, attended by representatives of 23 settlements, who announced their support for Gush Emunim "out of concern for future developments in the entire Land of Israel and the future of the settlements."

While Gush Emunim was a success, it also caused damage. According to the outlook of its spiritual leaders, a greater authority existed above that of the state. This undermined the rules of the political system and led to an understanding that the law could be broken if this served "higher" aims.

At first illegal settlements without government sanction were erected, and then a small Jewish terror underground took form.

Finally, there were demonstrations against the government and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. (Yael Gruenpeter )