Did the Israeli Army Wage a Jewish Jihad in Gaza?

Religious Extremists’ Rapid Rise Through the Ranks

Nazareth — Extremist rabbis and their followers, bent on waging holy war against the Palestinians, are taking over the Israeli army by stealth, according to critics.

In a process one military historian has termed the rapid “theologization” of the Israeli army, there are now entire units of religious combat soldiers, many of them based in West Bank settlements. They answer to hardline rabbis who call for the establishment of a Greater Israel that includes the occupied Palestinian territories.

Their influence in shaping the army’s goals and methods is starting to be felt, say observers, as more and more graduates from officer courses are also drawn from Israel’s religious extremist population.

“We have reached the point where a critical mass of religious soldiers is trying to negotiate with the army about how and for what purpose military force is employed on the battlefield,” said Yigal Levy, a political sociologist at the Open University who has written several books on the Israeli army.

The new atmosphere was evident in the “excessive force” used in the recent Gaza operation, Dr. Levy said. More than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, a majority of them civilians, and thousands were injured as whole neighborhoods of Gaza were leveled.

“When soldiers, including secular ones, are imbued with theological ideas, it makes them less sensitive to human rights or the suffering of the other side.”

The greater role of extremist religious groups in the army came to light last week when it emerged that the army rabbinate had handed out a booklet to soldiers preparing for the recent 22-day Gaza offensive.

Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, said the material contained messages “bordering on racist incitement against the Palestinian people” and might have encouraged soldiers to ignore international law.

The booklet quotes extensively from Shlomo Aviner, a far-right rabbi who heads a religious seminary in the Muslim quarter of East Jerusalem. He compares the Palestinians to the Philistines, the Biblical enemy of the Jews.

He advises: “When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. . . . This is a war on murderers.” He also cites a Biblical ban on “surrendering a single millimetre” of Greater Israel.

The booklet was approved by the army’s chief rabbi, Brig Gen Avichai Ronsky, who is reportedly determined to improve the army’s “combat values” after its failure to crush Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006.

Gen. Ronsky was appointed three years ago in a move designed, according to the Israeli media, to placate hardline religious elements within the army and the settler community.

Gen Ronsky, himself a settler in the West Bank community of Itimar, near Nablus, is close to far-right groups. According to reports, he pays regular visits to jailed members of Jewish terror groups; he has offered his home to a settler who is under house arrest for wounding Palestinians; and he has introduced senior officers to a small group of extremist settlers who live among more than 150,000 Palestinians in Hebron.

He has also radically overhauled the rabbinate, which was originally founded to offer religious services and ensure religious soldiers were able to observe the sabbath and eat kosher meals in army canteens.

Over the past year the rabbinate has effectively taken over the role of the army’s education corps through its Jewish Awareness Department, which co-ordinates its activities with Elad, a settler organization that is active in East Jerusalem.

In October, the Haaretz newspaper quoted an unnamed senior officer who accused the rabbinate of carrying out the religious and political “brainwashing” of troops.

Dr Levy said the army rabbinate’s power was growing as the ranks of religious soldiers swelled.

Breaking the Silence, a project run by soldiers seeking to expose the army’s behavior against Palestinians, said the booklet handed out to troops in Gaza had originated among Hebron’s settlers.

“The document has been around since at least 2003,” said Mikhael Manekin, 29, one of the group’s directors and himself religiously observant. “But what is new is that the army has been effectively subcontracted to promote the views of the extremist settlers to its soldiers.”

The power of the religious right in the army reflected wider social trends inside Israel, Dr Levy said. He pointed out that the rural cooperatives known as kibbutzim that were once home to Israel’s secular middle classes and produced the bulk of its officer corps had been on the wane since the early 1980s.

“The vacuum left by their gradual retreat from the army was filled by religious youngsters and by the children of the settlements. They now dominate in many branches of the army.”

According to figures cited in the Israeli media, more than one-third of all Israel’s combat soldiers are religious, as are more than 40 per cent of those graduating from officer courses.

The army has encouraged this trend by creating some two-dozen hesder yeshivas, seminaries in which youths can combine Biblical studies with army service in separate religious units. Many of the yeshivas are based in the West Bank, where students are educated by the settlements’ extremist rabbis.

Ehud Barak, the defense minister, has rapidly expanded the program, approving four yeshivas, three based in settlements, last summer. Another 10 are reportedly awaiting his approval.

Mr Manekin, however, warned against blaming the violence inflicted on Gaza’s civilians solely on the influence of religious extremists.

“The army is still run by the secular elites in Israel and they have always been reckless with regard to the safety of civilians when they wage war. Jewish nationalism that justifies Palestinian deaths is just as dangerous as religious extremism.”

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. RG the LG said on February 4th, 2009 at 10:20am #

    The Israeli Government, taking a page out of their mentor’s playbook, have never been doing a Jewish Jihad. However, they have been continuing the tradition of finding a ‘final solution.’ Because of world opinion they do it in a slightly different manner than their mentor Adolf did … but he would be proud of their creativity in achieving their goal.

    Imagine the creativity of the Israeli Government and the goals of Hitler? It would have been awesome in its finality. But then, if you believe that Vrba was on to something about the Jewish leadership … then maybe, they were.

    Oh, does this count as ‘holocaust denial?’ I don’t think so … I do not deny the holocaust … but there had to be some complicity amongst the jews to have made the holocaust so successful.

    Am I anti-Semitic? No, some of my best friends are from the mid-east …

    RG the LG

  2. Tevye said on February 4th, 2009 at 10:44am #

    Israel is the Synagogue of Satan predicted in the Bible.

  3. Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said on February 4th, 2009 at 12:51pm #

    This is just horrible.

    I’ve always tried to insist that this conflict is purely about POLITICS, not religion (since both Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians are affected), but reading articles like this makes me doubt my own arguments.

  4. The Socialist Idealist said on February 4th, 2009 at 1:17pm #

    We need to be very wary of arguments that emphasize the “religious right,” in Israel. Oftentimes, people condemn the “extremists on both sides,” and suggest that most people are “moderates.” Since 80% of Israeli Jews supported the latest massacre in the Gaza Strip, it can hardly be said to be the policy of extremists, meaning a handful of hardliners in the population. In reality, the Israeli Jews are on the wrong side, while the Palestinians are simply fighting for freedom from occupation.

  5. Phil said on February 4th, 2009 at 1:57pm #

    I’ve always tried to insist that this conflict is purely about POLITICS, not religion (since both Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians are affected), but reading articles like this makes me doubt my own arguments.

    No, politics is just a small part of the equation. It’s a constant theme, from the Crusades to the Roman Empire to the Third Reich to the American empire to the state of Israel – politics is part of the means, not the driving force. No army (let alone population) could commit or enable crimes that heinous against their fellow human beings without some kind of mental conditioning… seeing the others as not human or less than human, a belief in one’s own rightness/superiority, a belief that God is on one’s side. That takes ideology, not just politics.

    The fanatical Jewish extremists aren’t only trying to exterminate what they consider a sub-human population; they’ve made it quite clear that it’s all toward the goal of taking over one certain parcel of land. All because their imaginary friend once promised it to their ancestors and declared them the one superior master race. What matters the lives of a few million Arabs in comparison to that?

  6. Daphne said on February 4th, 2009 at 5:32pm #

    I think what ties some Jewish rabbis in with fanatical atheistic Zionist Jews would be the Talmud. I have finally read part of this book (or set of books) and it would curl any gentile’s hair!

    Backed up by passages in the Old Testament, this Talmud lays out very clearly to Jews that gentiles are like animals, and they have the right to kill gentiles and gentile lives are worth nothing.

    In the cause of fairness, I’m trying to find out if some of these Jewish rabbis do NOT believe what the Talmud says. If anyone can help me here, that would be great.

  7. AaronG said on February 4th, 2009 at 8:57pm #

    Refer MSF report below:

    “Gaza: Beyond Humanitarian Speeches, a Population Caught in a Deadly Trap
    Palestinian Territories16.01.09

    Editorial by Dr. Marie-Pierre Allié, President of the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières.

    The three-week Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip is estimated to have caused the deaths of nearly 1,000 Palestinians, and the injuries of several thousand more people. One-third of the deaths that have occurred since the operation’s land phase began on Saturday, January 3 are believed to be among children and adolescents less than 16 years-of-age. Israeli authorities have not questioned these figures, which were provided by Palestinian emergency services. On the Israeli side, four civilians and ten soldiers have been killed, according to the Army. Beyond any speculation as to what would constitute a “proportional response,” the one to 100 ratio of losses on the two sides signals the excessive nature of the attack.

    Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been present during armed conflicts for nearly four decades. It is difficult to recall a comparable slaughter of civilians in so little time. Whether Mogadishu, Somalia, or Kivu, in the eastern Congo, Sri Lanka or even Darfur — none of these wars has involved operations that produced so many deaths by direct violence in such a short period of time. We must go back to the Russian army’s December 1999 bombing of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, to find equivalent death rates in such a short period. At least 260 people died in Grozny during the five-day period between December 2 and 7, 1999. When MSF received the Nobel Prize in Oslo, on December 10, 1999, we called on Boris Yeltsin to authorize us to obtain access to the wounded and, in particular, to stop the indiscriminate bombing. Our call was in vain. Calls by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been similarly unsuccessful in Gaza. Our purpose is not to create some kind of prize for the worst war horrors, but to state that the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip is being conducted as cynically, and with as little respect for civilians, as the wars that MSF teams have faced in recent years.

    Worse, this violence is striking a captive population that cannot flee to protect itself. An MSF team is working alongside exhausted Palestinian teams in overflowing hospitals. However, many wounded patients are not receiving treatment because they cannot reach hospitals or because medical workers cannot reach them as the bombs and gunfire do not spare ambulances, hospitals, the wounded or medical workers who try to move about.

    The daily three-hour lull in fighting, which was put in place on Wednesday, January 7, and applies only to Gaza City, is insufficient to organize the evacuation of and first aid treatment for the wounded. Incessant bombing continues on the periphery and there is no chance to aid the wounded. Despite yesterday’s scheduled pause, fighting inside Gaza City remained intense, with one of the hospitals being shelled.

    In this context, Israel must immediately terminate its offensive or radically change its methods of fighting in order to enable aid workers to reach the wounded, evacuate them, and treat them in conditions safe from bombing and shelling. And the population should be allowed to seek refuge and protection.

    As of this date, these minimal conditions, as provided for by the Geneva Conventions, are not being met.

    Contrary to Israeli government statements, the offensive in Gaza does not observe the fundamentals of international humanitarian law applicable to armed conflict. To claim otherwise only multiplies the violence by adding lies.

    Dr. Marie-Pierre Allié, President of the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières. “

  8. Gideon said on February 4th, 2009 at 10:14pm #


    If you have started reading Talmud you should be prepared for a long journey. It’s not for the dilettante! Jewish religious studies can take about 20 years! Yes it’s 20 years of continuous studies!

    Zionism – The political movement was formally established by the journalist Theodor Herzl in the late 19th century. He was secular. The movement encouraged Jewish migration to Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people.

    This name originally referred to Mount Zion, a mountain near Jerusalem. Under King David, the term “Zion” referred to the entire city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. In many Biblical verses, the Israelites were called the people of Zion.

    Zion,Land of Israel and different Holy places, is at the core of the Jewish religion and history. Jews have returned from diaspora to Zion after slavery in Egypt, slavery in Babylon and slavery in Roman empire – to the modern state of Israel. Two Temples were built on the Temple mount and were destroyed by occupying powers. Amazing and unique story.

    Zion is a core concept in Talmud, so this is your connection. That’s it.

  9. Did You Know said on February 5th, 2009 at 2:24am #

    This will tell you about Zionism. Definitely worth the read.


  10. john andrews said on February 5th, 2009 at 2:47am #

    Another good article Jonathan, keep it up. Can we have some news about Gaza now: you would be surprised to learn that the subject disappeared from our TV screens about the day after the emperor’s coronation, and it would be interesting to learn how well the ‘ceasefire’ terms are being honoured.

    The bible (and Talmud) assumes its central authority from God; but the existence of God cannot be proven, therefore the authority of the bible (and Talmud) is worthless.

  11. Gideon said on February 5th, 2009 at 10:47am #

    Did you know

    Jews are waiting for Messiah. When Messiah comes Utopia will descend on everyone on earth.

    Some orthodox streams of Judaism believe that only Messiah can bring people of Israel back to Zion and reestablish the kingdoms of Judea and Israel.

    Because Zionism is a secular political movement with a goal of maintaining homeland for Jewish people in Zion, these orthodox Jews believe that the State of Israel created by people is interfering with God’s intent and would defer the coming of Messiah. One group “Naturei Karta” that lives in Jerusalem believes they should take an active role in supporting every possible enemy of Israel in order to destroy it, so Messiah could come earlier.

    Well, everybody is entitled to an opinion. That’s why Talmud is so long. It’s a discussion between Rabbis that took a couple of centuries.

    From theological point of view, Rabbis in different streams of Judaism are still struggling with the questions of God and Holocaust.

    80% of Jews in Israel are secular / traditional and for them the answer it simple: Holocaust never again. Israel Defense Forces is the people’s army that would not allow that to happen.

  12. bozh said on February 5th, 2009 at 11:02am #

    ‘zionism’ by nonshemitic people of europe is just another particular kind of land theft by murder.
    but the criminal minds, want us to evaluate such an imperialism as an ideology.
    it may be, as ?all murders, expulsion, tortrure are also based on thinking/desiring.
    so thinking/feeling to carry out slaughter is labeled “ideology? ‘jews’ you can have it! ashkenazic people can have its relabeled murder. thnx

  13. brian said on February 5th, 2009 at 2:15pm #

    When the right man takes the wrong way, the wrong way becomes the right way:
    When the wrong man takes the right way, the right way becomes the wrong way.

    SO what we have is a lot of ‘wrong’ men gaining control in the sphere of religion. Its not religon per se that is the problem. Its the people who get elevated to positions of control.

  14. Gideon said on February 5th, 2009 at 3:06pm #

    Land theft?
    I am still waiting to hear from you:
    What percent of Israel’s territory under 1948 UN resolution, was purchased and owned by Jews?

    Is deficit of land the #1 challenge facing the Arab world?

    Population Density people/km2
    Jordan 64/km2
    Egypt 74/km2
    Syria 103/km2
    Lebanon 401/km2
    Iraq 66/km2
    Saudi Arabia 11/km2
    Lybia 3/km2

    Iran 109/km2

    Israel 324/km2

  15. albert said on February 5th, 2009 at 5:07pm #


    Hamas official stopped with £8 million in cash
    Egyptian police intercepted a senior Hamas official yesterday as he tried to enter the Gaza Strip with nearly £8 million in cash stuffed into his bags.

    Ayman Taha, a spokesman for the Islamist movement that rules the war-ravaged enclave between Israel and Egypt, was returning from talks in Cairo aimed at establishing a long-term ceasefire with Israel after the recent three-week war.

    He was part of a six-man delegation stopped by Egyptian police at the Rafah border on Gaza’s southern edge carrying nine million dollars and two million euros in cash. The delegates said that the money was needed to pay salaries in Gaza at a time when Israel has restricted the flow of cash in an attempt to stifle Hamas, which it deems a terrorist organisation.

    The Hamas delegation was returning home after truce talks became deadlocked over disagreements on border security and the Israeli blockade of Gaza but the negotiators are expected to return next week.

    UN accuses Hamas of stealing aid in Gaza
    ‘Human shields forced into the front line’
    Egypt had hoped to unveil its truce plan yesterday. Egyptian officials appeared unsure as to what to do with the large sums of cash, saying that they could deposit it at an Egyptian bank or allow it to stay with Mr Taha, who remained in Egypt.

    At the same time Israel said that it would grant permission for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which was driven out of Gaza by Hamas 18 months ago, to transfer almost $43 million to Gaza for the first time since the war there, to pay government employees.

    The move came after Gordon Brown urged Israel to help aid to get to the victims of the Gaza conflict. After talks at Downing Street with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Mr Brown said that it was in Israel’s interests as much as anyone’s to allow full humanitarian access as the true scale of the damage inflicted by its controversial offensive became clear.

  16. jgsman said on February 5th, 2009 at 8:10pm #

    Great piece. Bad title.

  17. Barbara said on March 27th, 2009 at 2:00am #

    Well I would say the answer is yes. Please go to my blog and see the posting I did earlier today on a Rabbinate gone Mad. This from Ha’aretz and another few Jewish newspapers. Time has proven that many of these young men and women are killing indiscriminately on the behest of crazy West Bank fanatical Rabbi. These men have their pamphlets snuck in like illegal goods and the soldiers do what they can because they too, many being West Bank, are of the same fabric. This does not mean the whole population of Israel is this way, but the IDF needs to toss the Rabbis out. We all know the Talmud directives about goyim, christian or arab. It is a very dastardly mix. And I agree wit RG, there was a holocaust but the numbers were hugely fudged to the benefit of guilt creation and manipulation of the international populace. And yes they DID sacrifice many of their own because without a blood offering they could not sit down and deal with other world leaders.
    If I knew that it was possible to save all the children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter, for before us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of the people of Israel. ~ David Ben-Gurion (Quoted on pp 855-56 in Shabtai Teveth’s Ben-Gurion in a slightly different translation).

    “Remember this: all the allies have suffered many losses, and if we also do not offer human sacrifices, how can we gain the right to sit at the conference table when the territorial boundaries are reshaped? [Israel] Eretz Yisroel will be ours only by paying with blood, but as far as our immediate circle is concerned, ATEM TAJLU. The messenger bearing this letter will supply you with funds for this purpose”.

    Weismandl interpreted the letter as follows: “The price of Eretz Yisroel is the blood of the men and women, hoary sages, and babes in arms – but not YOUR [Zionist] blood! Let us not spoil this plan by giving the Axis [i.e. Nazis] powers to save Jewish lives. But for you, [Zionist] comrades, I have enclosed carfare for your escape. What a nightmare! The Zionist agent “diplomat” comes to Czechoslovakia and says, “Shed your blood cheerfully, for your blood is cheap. But for your blood, the Land (of Israel) will be ours! (MIN HAMETZAR (p. 92) by Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl ZT”L Dean of Nitra Yeshiva)

    “WWII, like WWI, was contrived by the Illuminati to destroy German nationalism and nationalism in general. They used the war to purge Europe of Jews who weren’t allied to them. The holocaust created a rationale for the State of Israel, which was intended to dominate the Middle East, serve as an excuse for WWIII, and capital of the future Masonic world government. The Nazis collaborated with Zionists, and the Zionists betrayed their Jewish brethren during the war. Sabbatean Jews in the West prevented Jews from escaping from Europe.

    Oh and just for fun this sweet line from BIBI~ “My opinion of Christian Zionists? They’re scum, but don’t tell them that. We need all the useful idiots we can get right now.” ~ Bibi Netanyahu,

    Yes there was Zionist/Judaic collaboration on almost every major black op of the past century. INCLUDING the BIGGEST of all at the WTC on 9/11.