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‘Nuclear’ Torah: Judea and Samaria Are Here

Ori Kerman
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Jewish settlers stand at a view point overlooking the West Bank city of Jericho from the settlement of Mitzpe Yeriho, 2020
Jewish settlers stand at a view point overlooking the West Bank city of Jericho from the settlement of Mitzpe Yeriho, 2020 Credit: Oded Balilty,AP
Ori Kerman

A little over four years ago we in Free Givatayim began our struggle against the brand-new Garin Torani – literally, a Torah nucleus or core group – that had arrived in our city then from the West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Yericho.

Alongside many citizens who quickly recognized this problem, there were also those who were scornful of our struggle and wondered why we were getting so upset about a few religious families coming to live in our city. This perplexity was echoed in a report about the issue that was published in the Haaretz Hebrew edition in July 2017.

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At that time, we explained what has now become clear to more and more people: The so-called Torah nuclei are not just “a few religious families that have come to live in the city.” This movement constitutes a partisan-political project of the messianic nationalism that calls itself “Religious Zionism.”

It consists of branches of the settlement project in the territories, underwritten by the state, in communities in Israel proper with a certain character and coloration. It is bringing to them, with funding from state coffers, the outlook of zealous Orthodoxy straight from the settlements – i.e., the idea of the superiority of messianic religious Judaism.

The first Torah nuclei arose toward the end of the 1960s and became a real movement in the 1980s, initially in outlying towns among underprivileged populations, in order to help local inhabitants and, along the way, bring them closer to the messianic political path. In the 1990s the nuclei gained momentum with the slogan of “settlement in the heart,” locating themselves in cities with mixed populations of Jews and Arabs, like Lod, thus making inroads into the sovereign Israeli heartland.

After 2000, and particularly after the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, a new wave of Torah groups entered clearly secular cities, with the aim of establishing outposts in the “secular home front” and swaying the public there to the side of the settlers and the extreme religious right – once again with the help of generous state funding and wide-open doors in the state school system.

In contrast to the settlement enterprise in the territories, the Torah nuclei settlements in the cities of Israel always arrive in a disguise that is suited to the populace and to the goal. In the so-called mixed cities, the disguise is one of “preventing negative migration” and initiating “social projects,” with the true aim being showing the Arabs who the landlord is here and pushing them out.

Israeli riot police tries to block a Jewish right-wing man in Lod, central Israel, May 2021.Credit: AP Photo/Heidi Levine

In secular locales, the disguise is “bringing hearts closer” and “striving to achieve recognition and unity” – with the real objective being inculcation of a Jewish nationalist and messianic identity. In effect, this is all part of a colonialist project: establishing a culture of the superiority of settler Judaism while banishing the existing population and exploiting local resources, with strong backing from the “empire” – in this case, the government.

The local people in the story of the mixed cities are the Arabs, while in the case of the secular cities they are secular Jews, and the aim is expropriating the land and/or Jewish identity through Judaization or religionization – depending on the locale. This is always an alien and coercive entity, and it always comes wrapped in fine words about helping others; the aim is always one of taking control and not integrating.

In Givatayim we apparently managed to nip the local Torah nucleus in the bud. Authorization for it to enter the school system has not yet been granted, and it has not succeeded in expanding. Therefore, to the best of our knowledge, it has not managed to obtain funds from the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division. The division’s criteria for support are based mainly on two parameters: educational activity and numerical growth.

The inhabitants of Ramat Hasharon – where a Torah nucleus arrived 10 years earlier from the same West Bank settlement, Mitzpe Yericho – have already dealt with a more difficult reality of a sizable group of so-called hilltop youth in their city and of local activity by the Torah group. The Free Ramat Hasharon movement in the municipal council finally managed to expel that group from the city schools and from the council, thanks to the faction’s success in the local election – a success sparked by the reaction of residents to the proliferation of the Torah nucleus.

It is important to note that the first to be harmed by the advent of these nuclei are religious citizens. The messianic and hyper-religious Hardali (national-ultra-Orthodox) newcomers impose sweeping changes vis-à-vis the character of the existing schools in the religious state system, in the direction of gender separation from an early age and religious extremism in general. We have seen how the Torah nucleus in Lod, which is also strongly represented in local politics, has served as a bridgehead for the entry of the hilltop youth gangs.

Everything written here is in no way intended to ignore the violence of Arab nationalists in Lod, but is rather aimed at drawing attention to the fact that the Torah nuclei are introducing into the sovereign territory of Israel proper a reality that prevails in the West Bank.

True, the activities of the violent militias in mixed cities and religionization activities in secular cities are not one and the same thing, but they are two parts of the same big plan: Until such time as messianic nationalism succeeds in imposing Israeli sovereignty on the occupied territories, it is trying to impose the reality of the territories on sovereign Israel.

The writer is a member of the Givatayim Municipal Council, from the Meretz Free Givatayim opposition faction.

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