Arab-Free Theocracy: Veteran Settler Offers Rare Glimpse Into Religious-Zionist Vision for Israel

Daniella Weiss opens up to the Haaretz writer who called her movement more dangerous than Hezbollah

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A view of the Israeli settlement of Kedumim, near the Palestinian town of Nablus.
A view of the Israeli settlement of Kedumim, near the Palestinian town of NablusCredit: AFP PHOTO / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH
yossi klein
Yossi Klein
yossi klein
Yossi Klein

I ask Daniella Weiss whether, thanks to her, I could get a window bed in the detention camp for leftists. That won’t happen, she says, for our ways are ways of pleasantness and our paths are peaceful. The religious-Zionist state that will be established here, she says, will not have camps like that.

Weiss is a veteran settler, from the founders generation, whose members were adept at cloaking violent acts in soft speech. I remind her that I recently wrote that the religious-Zionist movement is more dangerous than Hezbollah. Fine, I didn’t read that, she says, but as far as she’s concerned, I can write what I want.

She’s in favor of freedom of expression and of demonstrations. Yes, even next to the home of the attorney general. Hey, she even reads Haaretz. Really? Why? Because, “It’s such fun to read whining leftists.” “The extremism of the left engendered the extremism of [Meir] Kahane,” Weiss said once. She won’t put them into any sort of camp. Why should she, they’re her brothers – alright, “retarded brothers” or “brothers who are not right in the head,” but she won’t fight them. Nor will there be any need to.

Within 20 or 30 years, Weiss is confident, with God’s help and the help of a productive, religious-Zionist womb, the oppressive near-stalemate between the left and the right here will change. The right, which will constitute 80 percent of the Jewish population, will easily defeat the secular leftists who in any case are already helpless weaklings. You’ll be surprised, she says to calm me, but there will be a place for you people, too, among us. That’s Daniella Weiss for you, a democrat from head to toe.

At my request, Weiss sketches a portrait of the state in which, she is sure, the religious-Zionist movement will rule: borders, laws, regime. She’s only too willing to oblige. The fact that she is forthcoming shouldn’t be taken for granted. As a rule, religious Zionists refuse to lay out the parameters of the country they will rule when the day comes. Not that they don’t have an accurate picture of it – that’s precisely why they take great care to keep it a secret. They keep the laws of their longed-for state as secret as the rituals of a persecuted cult. Why? Because they’re worried about the shock, the fear and the opposition that revelation will generate. When some hard right-winger like Bezalel Smotrich dares to reveal a detail or two, they immediately categorize him as belonging to the “lunatic fringe.”

What will be the borders of the state in which our children will live as lords and masters? According to Weiss, they will extend from the Euphrates to the River of Egypt and from the sea to the Jordan. Megalomaniacal and arrogant. Not implementable but definitely an ideological underpinning for the trigger-happy. An empire on that scale is bigger than us and our dreams. We’ll have a hard time coping with it. It’s for our sake that the religious-Zionist movement invented a special language, utopian and soft – a gleeful, joyful language of occupation.

This is the language that accompanies Daniella Weiss and me throughout our meeting. The language is manipulative and not always clear. It’s a lesson in newspeak. Words that create reality instead of describing it. The facts, more or less, are the same facts, but they carry the opposite meaning. It’s a language whose aim is to justify the religious Zionists’ violent incursion into the homes of strangers by force of an ancient promise that was made to their forefathers.

Weiss’ violence is wrapped in a verbal layer that’s as smooth and satisfying as honey. Even a word as readily understandable as “optimism” acquires a meaning that adjusts itself to the state of mind and not to the state of things as they are. She’s always optimistic. (“My family knows: With me they’re not allowed to talk about life’s pessimistic sides.”) Even the despairing phrase, harrowing in its honesty – “We shall live by the sword forever” – sounds optimistic here suddenly, rife with joie de vivre.

Four-hundred-thousand settlers across the Green Line are, in my perception, a resounding failure for their movement, but in Weiss’ eyes, they’re a dizzying success. (She calls them mitnahalim and not mityashvim, using the classic Zionist term for “settlers”; the settlers’ recoil from the use of mitnahalim, she explains, is due to “their inferiority feelings.”) The religious-Zionist movement’s refusal to present its national vision to the public is, she says, “smart behavior.” Take note: smart. Not genuine, not honest and not open. It turns out that expressions such as “smart behavior,” “encouragement of emigration” or “ways of pleasantness” are a reverse language, pure euphemism. They conceal an alternative truth that we faithless types are not yet ripe to be exposed to. George Orwell, if he could, would rise from his grave, bow and even acknowledge this with applause. He’s unlikely to find a better example of what he warned against than Daniella Weiss.

Within 20 or 30 years, Weiss is confident, with God’s help and the help of a productive, religious-Zionist womb, the oppressive near-stalemate between the left and the right here will change.

The language of the occupation is brimming with misleading terms; nonetheless, there are also some that hurl the truth straight into your face. “State of halakha” is one such term. A state of halakha is one in which the laws are those of the Torah: That’s it, there’s no way to misinterpret that. But, how Weiss dislikes that term! Let there be no misunderstanding here – it goes without saying that what she’d like to see here is a state of halakha. But there’s also “smart behavior,” remember?

Not everything has to be spoken or revealed. Weiss would be happy to erase “state of halakha” from the settlers’ lexicon. Within seconds she has resolved the conflict between the need to reveal and the obligation to conceal: Obviously it will be a halakha state, she says, and proceeds to pile on mounds of qualifications and conditions. But they aren’t genuine. They’re only intended to calm those who wouldn’t want to eat only matza on Passover by law.

She knows, too, that the true vision of the halakha state would turn off even those who view the religious Zionists as innocent agents of Yiddishkeit in a country that’s losing its identity. For their sake she sets the record straight: “Not a state of halakha but a state whose halakha laws will not contradict the rules of democracy.” Not because she doesn’t believe in a halakha state but because expressing support for it might anger people. In her words, she doesn’t want “to cause strife.”

When Weiss talks about a halakha-based state, she’s referring to a package deal. All-inclusive: Torah laws, Sanhedrin, Torah sages and of course the Temple. Those who are apprehensive can rest assured – it will all be done gradually and without coercion. Well, now we know what the story is. Still, I ask, what will happen if a contradiction emerges between democratic laws and Jewish law?

The Torah sages will decide.

Who are the Torah sages?

In the past, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, today Rabbi Dov Lior.

In other words: (A) Use of the term “halakha-based state” is dangerous. Right away people conjure up Iran and the ayatollahs, so it’s best to minimize its use. (B) In contrast, it’s desirable to invoke the term “democracy” in its various declensions. The religious-Zionist movement has become familiar with the frisson of pleasure that shoots down the spine of secular leftists whenever they hear “democracy.” (C) It would be interesting to know how Lior and Levinger would rule in the event of a contradiction between Torah and democracy.

‘Emigration,’ not ‘transfer’

Until the democratic state of halakha is established, millions of Arabs in the religious-Zionist empire have to be got rid of somehow. Probably the most efficient way to evacuate them and cleanse the area is to load them on trucks and dump them on the other side of the Jordan River; in a word, to transfer them. Here’s a tip: Don’t mention the word “transfer” to Daniella Weiss. It irks her. It is, in her opinion, “an inappropriate word,” even insulting; it’s not smart to mention it. It’s “too aggressive,” she says. It’s hard for her to cope with the “transfer” idea that sticks to the settlers like chewing gum on the sole of a shoe.

She can’t abide the aggression that the word broadcasts. “You know, we have already agreed that all will be done in ways of pleasantness,” she says, and while we’re on the subject of ways of pleasantness, why not recruit the Jewish womb again, which won’t rest for a minute. Weiss holds out great hopes for it. She believes that a trained womb will be able to wage a heroic fight against the numerical superiority of the Muslims and will produce millions of little Smotriches who will bodily block the hole in the demographic dam. “Arabs can live here only if they accept our absolute lordship,” she said on another occasion.

And if the womb proves lazy, it will always be possible to take Smotrich’s three points, as delineated in a meeting of religious Zionist leaders a month ago, and with their help dispense with the two million Palestinians who insist on remaining here and the millions more who fill the empire from the Euphrates to the River of Egypt. Here, then, a la Smotrich, is how to solve the Arab problem:

1. War. Because in war anything can happen. 2. Rights. But only certain ones, and only to those who are loyal. 3. Emigration. We have to encourage emigration.

To encourage emigration? What’s that, a new definition of transfer?

“No, it involves financial grants, all kinds of programs, all by ways of pleasantness.”

And if Jews like me won’t agree to live in a country that encourages emigration of that kind?

Uh, leave. You’ll be such a small minority anyway. We’ll get along with you, alright.

I try not to draw a connection between Daniella Weiss’ “encouragement of emigration” and the “encouragement of emigration” that got my father expelled from Germany, but I too have to admit that her term does sound more conciliatory and happier than the dismaying and gloomy “transfer.” The listener can sink into his armchair, calm down and comfortably imagine Smotrich entering a Palestinian home and encouraging a Palestinian family politely and with ways of pleasantness to uproot themselves.

‘Temple idea’ – not ‘destroy Al-Aqsa’

Weiss’ violence is wrapped in a verbal layer that’s as smooth and satisfying as honey.

Whereas the “transfer” idea is repellent to Daniella Weiss, the Third Temple puts the glint back into her eyes. The temple that will be built in the religious-Zionist state can’t be hidden behind whitewashed words. After all, this isn’t a case of wishful thinking; this is a large, tangible structure that can’t be disguised by soft, consoling words. Asked where the temple will be built, Weiss replies: On the Foundation Stone. It’s a logical choice. The Foundation Stone is a rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City that is said to have been the location of the Holy of Holies. The Third Temple deserves to be built above it. The trouble is that the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque are already there. What do you do with a hazard like that?

Demolish Al-Aqsa? No way, we’re not talking about a deed but about an “idea.” To illustrate the “idea,” Weiss scatters over it the lovely words “yearnings” and “faith” and “longings,” the way you dust a cake with powdered sugar. I remind her that, unlike “encouragement of emigration” and halakha state, we’re talking here about two vast stone edifices, one that exists and the second that’s slated to supplant it. How to supplant it? By demolition? No old warhorse like Daniella Weiss will fall into such a transparent trap. You will not hear her say: We have to blow up the shrines on the Temple Mount. You don’t have to teach Daniella Weiss not to say everything.

There’s no need to say everything, but what she does say is enough to raise concern. At the same time, let’s remember that she’s a 72-year-old retiree who was removed from the decision-making centers with regard to Judea and Samaria. Daniella Weiss doesn’t represent anyone but herself. She, who was secretary general of the Gush Emunim settlers movement and was removed from that post, who isn’t invited to meetings any longer, is far from the political arena and is not a member of any party. She is not planning a political comeback and she is beholden to no one for anything. She’s as relevant as Ehud Barak. But if you peel off the pretty words from her ideas, you discover a cruel world that the spokespersons of the political wing of the religious-Zionist movement are trying to conceal from us.

What does she do nowadays? Seven years ago she founded an organization called Nahala. Nahala helps young people settle in what she calls “new outposts” and we call “illegal outposts” and the government calls “unrecognized settlements.” Given the boot from the center of the action, she hooked up with the margins, where she finds her natural place. Amazingly, she finds herself alongside the more “moderate” of the so-called hilltop youths. The moderates are, in her term, “state-oriented” – those who believe that it’s still possible to do something with the existing state. The others believe that everything needs to be torn down and rebuilt. The ways are different, but the destination is the same: a state of halakha with a holy temple at its center.

Daniella Weiss, then head of the Kedumim Regional Council, being arrested at the Sa'ad Junction, near the Gaza border, in 2005.Credit: Uri Lenz / Baubau

Daniella Weiss is a large, energetic woman. She recalls nostalgically how police officers had a hard time removing her in one of her confrontations with the law. “Lady,” they said to her, “maybe you’ll be so good as to evacuate yourself, it’s hard to drag you.” She is also a pleasant woman and a generous hostess who happens to possess an appalling worldview. What she hides with a thousand laundered, purified and cleansed words, Smotrich has slammed down on the table.

Weiss fits all the definitions of the lunatic right. She is certain to this day that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a third party and that the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in the Tomb of the Patriarchs prevented the murder of Jews.

George Orwell is unlikely to find a better example of what he warned against than Daniella Weiss.

Weiss established the settlement of Kedumim with her friends in Gush Emunim 42 years ago. Kedumim is a government-recognized, authorized settlement. Its white houses are small, handsome forts with blossoming gardens and red roofs. Like in Switzerland. A journalist who comes to talk to Weiss has to first undergo a softening-up tour. At its heart is the “Look how beautiful it is here!” speech. She instructs me and Alex Levac, the photographer, to follow her in our car. We ascend roads that go around the settlement in a circular motion that’s like peeling an orange, and we stop for a look from Hill 510. “There isn’t a hill here that I wasn’t dragged off,” Weiss says like a veteran general who’s scanning an old battlefield.

The view is all-encompassing. Were it not for the Elon Moreh Yeshiva that’s stuck in the middle, it would be possible to take in the region with a gaze of 360 degrees. I was never thrilled by the melancholy landscape of the rocky hills of Samaria, and I’m not moved by the fact that neighboring Nablus (Shechem, in Hebrew) is mentioned in the Book of Joshua. Five years ago, Weiss promised the journalist Amnon Levy that she would “move to the center of Schechem to live,” yet she’s still with us here, she with an outstretched arm.

With that outstretched hand she names one by one the settlements on the surrounding hills. Not one hill does she skip. Every cabin has a name, every tent is meaningful. Here’s Immanuel, here’s Karnei Shomron, there’s Revava From here you can see Nablus and Tel Aviv. The aim of the softening-up: to persuade the skeptics, to induce them to think that only a crazy person would give back to the Palestinians a place as beautiful as this. That’s the overt message. The covert message is: Look how close Tel Aviv is to here, one missile from here and you’ll be blown sky-high.

Not in the sky, but directly opposite us, close by, in your face, squats a large gray bloc. It’s a Palestinian village whose name (as I learned later) is Jit. Daniella Weiss’ hand motion as she shows us the settlements in the region skips lightly over it. From her point of view, it doesn’t exist, it’s void of name and identity. Maybe it’s a bad dream that with one – optimistic! – blink will be removed from the world. Together with all the Palestinians.

‘Smart behavior,’ not ‘cowardice’

Kedumim is Daniella Weiss’ private kingdom. There’s no one who doesn’t nod to her in greeting or exchange a word or two with her. She’s the town sheriff.

Her beautiful home is perched on a hill. In the beginning, she lived there in a tent, afterward in a cabin, afterward in a trailer and finally in a prefab cube of eight square meters. Her house today has an area of 220 square meters; its market value, according to Weiss, is about 1.8 million shekels ($507,000). That’s a dream price for a fine, large house that looks out onto a gray rocky landscape. At these prices, a young couple of the optimistic variety who believe in a halakha state, a temple and the evaporation of the Palestinians, could buy a three-room apartment here (if there were one) for under a million.

But young couples in a country with a housing crunch aren’t hurrying to come here, nor are travelers. On Saturdays the radio reports heavy traffic on the coastal highway – not on Highway 5, which leads to Kedumim. In its 42 years of existence, it has reached a population of 5,000. A failure, I say; a huge success! Weiss replies.

But the truth is that the settlement project in the territories did not settle in the hearts of the people. The sweeter-than-honey verbiage of Gush Emunim, Daniella Weiss’ sit-down strikes and Smotrich’s racism have not brought millions of Jews to the territories. Apparently the Zionist ardor of Habayit Hayehudi has also faded somewhat.

You say that the left is weak and feeble, I put it to her, but what about your camp? You are self-righteous impotents: Where is the struggle to apply Israeli law in the territories? Where is the passion of the battle for annexation? Where is the threat to resign? Your people sit in the government, distribute funds to cronies and enjoy life.

“They are gritting their teeth and restraining themselves,” Weiss replies unperturbed; in her opinion, this is “smart behavior.” For her, “being at the ear of the prime minister” is more important than a demonstrative walkout from the government.

When Daniella Weiss, who has behind her some 10 indictments, which have resulted in criminal convictions, suspended sentences and countless public-service sentences, praises Naftali Bennett’s political passivity as “smart behavior,” we can take it that something in her has cracked, too.

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