Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

BIN NUN        


Apocalypse now   Interview with Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun

Response to Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun

Dear Editor:

The headline on the interview with Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun is correct 'Apocalypse Now".

I who wear a knitted kippa, never voted for Likud or Sharon and have always respected the Rabbi's moderate views and am distraught about the thoughts he expressed in your interview.

The Rabbi writes with an extreme 'messianic' mind set of cosmic struggles and uses apocalyptic thinking. In his view the only solution is we the Israelis win and the Palestinians lose or vice versa.   It is in fact the same thinking the resulted in the destruction of the both Temples. Jeremiah understood that we could not defeat the Babylonians. So it must have been foreordained and consequently Jeremiah called Nebuchadnezzer G-d's servant (Jer. 27:6). During the second Temple Yohanan ben Zakai, a disciple of Hillel (What is hateful to you do not do to others, that is the whole law (BT Shab. 31a)) understood that fighting Rome was fighting G-d. By escaping from Jerusalem he saved Judaism.

Rabbi Bin Nun's suggestion (perviously noted by Hillel Halkin) that the Israeli armed forces simply withdraw and allow the settlers to remain is either deceitful (which I prefer not to believe) or from a mind set that is totally unrealistic. We all know what Hamas and the al Aqsa Brigade would do to unprotected Israelis separated in the Gaza strip. Rabbi Bin Nun's winner take all politics will result in death and war.

Since American views are so important to Israeli's we should remember what Abraham Lincoln said about America's worst war - its civil war. In his second inaugural address Abraham Lincoln declared that the competing American armies and peoples both pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. Lincoln quoted Hillel and did not use terms like mutual 'hatred' and state that his enemies were 'striving to generate a violent collision' and leading 'us into a civil war'.

Is not managing the conflict through negotiation a better solution? We do have a democratically  elected parliament with opposing parties; let opposing input come from there. There is nothing wrong with a referendum, except Israel has never held one. We are and have always been a representative democracy from the Bible (Ex. 18:25-26) read the same week as the interview, from before the State of Israel in the first Zionist convention in Basle in 1897 until today.

Rabbi Bin Nun view is simply the softer side of rejectionists who proclaim my way or war.

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

Bet Shemesh

By Ari Shavit Photos by Eyal Toueg


Veteran settler leader Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, who heads the religious kibbutz movement yeshiva near Alon Shvut, warns that the disengagement in Gush Katif could turn into another Masada. And he implores the left to be wary of Ariel Sharon. The Prime Minister, he says, is leading the nation into another `wild gamble,' like the calamity of Lebanon  


Yoel Bin Nin is distraught. On a stormy night, with the rain falling in sheets, he sits in a Jerusalem cafe and wonders what he should do. Maybe a petition to the High Court of Justice. Maybe a hunger strike. Because what has to be done now is to shake the foundations, to rip apart the fabric of the world to wake the people from their apathy, to show the people what is happening and make them open their eyes.

 In a heavy parka, wearing a knitted skullcap, with a biblical beard, Rabbi Bin Nun is agitated. He is beside himself. He turns this way and that. He arrogates to himself the right of speech and the right of outcry. Don't the readers of Haaretz understand what is about to happen? Don't they see what is already happening? After all, the first shot was already fired, at the settlement of Yitzhar. And in the synagogues of Judea and Samaria Ariel Sharon is spoken of as a dictator. In backrooms he is also called "the converted one." He is likened to a Jew who, in the process of forsaking his religion, tears up sacred books in public. People are up in arms, seething. Zealots are already moving to Gush Katif, the Gaza Strip settlement bloc. All the seismographs are going wild, indicating that the coming earthquake will be far more dangerous than the one of the Jewish underground or the one that preceded the Rabin assassination. Don't the left-wingers understand this? Can't they read the map? Are there no people of conscience left among them?

The next conversation is held in Bin Nun's home in Alon Shvut, in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem. He built this home four years ago, after being compelled to leave the settlement of Ofra, in Samaria. After his spiritual stocktaking in the wake of the Rabin assassination created a gulf between him and his former colleagues in Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful). They should go to Yitzhak's grave and ask for forgiveness, Bin Nun said. They have to undergo a great tikkun - a purification of the soul - and seek atonement. After all, today it is clear that compared to Sharon, Rabin was a tzaddik, a righteous man. Today it is clear that in contrast to Sharon, Rabin never raised his hand against the settlement enterprise. Under no circumstances would he have uprooted Gush Katif. He always spoke with high regard for Gush Katif. He cultivated Gush Katif. He viewed it as vital buffer zone, which is a paragon of Zionist settlement.

Bin Nun, who heads the yeshiva of the religious kibbutz movement in the settlement of Ein Tzurim, near Alon Shvut, was born in Haifa in 1946. He attended Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem and in the Six-Day War was part of the Paratroop Brigade that liberated the Old City of Jerusalem. Not long after that, Bin Nun was one of the first to cross the Green Line and resettle Gush Etzion, which was an area of Jewish settlement until the War of Independence.

In 1974 he was one of the founders of Gush Emunim, the settlement movement. Two years later he was part of the group that entered Samaria and established Ofra. Did he make a mistake? Was he part of a terrible historic mistake? Bin Nun cannot conceive of that possibility. But he notes that already after the affair of the Jewish underground, in the first half of the 1980s, he understood that fanaticism was endangering the settlement project. And after Oslo, he understood that the settlement project would not be able to carry the dream of Greater Israel on its shoulders. That is why he created the close relationship with Yitzhak Rabin. And why he believed that the allies of the religious Zionist movement had to come from the left, not the right.

At the critical juncture, Bin Nun was supposed to be the bridge between the left and the settlers. But now, with the critical juncture of the evacuation having arrived, there is no bridge. Yoel Bin Nun feels that he is standing alone in the face of great tidal waves of zealotry from the right and from the left. From the rocky hills of Alon Shvut he watches as the turbulence descends on the land, asking himself whether it is still possible to avert the calamity.

You are considered the most moderate of the settlers - are you against the disengagement plan, too?

"The disengagement plan is a scandal. It is insane. The absolutely certain result will be the burial of the prospect for peace. From the point of view of anyone who wants peace and believes in peace, this plan is suicide."

Explain, please.

"Since the Six-Day War, the correct policy of every Israeli government was that there will be no withdrawal without recognition, without negotiations and without a peace agreement. That was the Israeli response to the Arab summit meeting in Khartoum [in the summer of 1967], which rejected recognition, negotiations and peace with Israel. That response worked. It obliged the neighboring Arab states and the Palestinians gradually to compromise with Israel; to reach agreements with us in order to get territories from us.

"The disengagement plan breaks that long-term strategy. As a result, it will build up Hamas and place Abu Mazen [as Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is known] in a trap. It will persuade the Palestinian street that every concession to Israel is stupidity, idiocy and folly. Thus, it will thwart every chance of reaching peace in this generation. As Oslo shattered the dream of Greater Israel, the disengagement will shatter the dream of peace. That is its true meaning."

Are you saying that by means of the disengagement plan Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is deliberately working to prevent peace?

"Of course. Sharon doesn't believe in peace. He also knows that it's impossible to achieve Greater Israel. So with one move he is now burying both those dreams, which sprang from the Six-Day War. He never believed in either dream. By giving up Gush Katif [the Gaza Strip settlement bloc] and by means of the trauma that can be expected to accompany the evacuation of the settlements, Sharon is hoping to save part of Judea and Samaria. But he is hoping to do this in a situation of prolonged absence of peace. That is the true rationale of his plan."

Or maybe you are against the plan simply because you are incapable of accepting the uprooting of any settlements?

"I feel deeply agitated these days. What shocks me is that after 120 years of Zionism, it turns out that the Jews are still different from other people. Jews are people who can simply be moved from one place to another. And in their own country, too, and by their own government. Look, if there was a situation in which there was no choice and that to reach a solution, both a Jewish settlement and a Palestinian village had to be evacuated, I might be capable of accepting that. Maybe. I'm not sure. It is a terrible idea, the difficulty is tremendous. But that's not the situation.

"It is perfectly clear that even if one Palestinian village blocks a general peace agreement, the village will not be evacuated. Because the Arabs are rooted people. They are planted in the soil. They have land and they have dignity, even if in the meantime they do not have a state. In contrast, Jews are people who can be moved. We ourselves are now coming and saying so. This is a destructive message for our future in this country. It is destroying both peace and Zionism. And it will lead to the Arabs becoming convinced that with a little more effort, a little more terrorism, it will be possible to go on uprooting us. So the disengagement plan is undermining the whole Zionist idea. It is a deep shock to the root of Zionism. And this agitates me. It is causing me great inner turmoil."

Do you, too, view the evacuation of settlements as a population transfer?

"The use of the word `transfer' is demagogic. Because in this case citizens of the state are being expelled within the state. But think for a minute what would happen if Israel were to decide to expel 8,000 Arab citizens from one place to another within its sovereign territory. Think for a moment what would happen if 8,000 Arabs were removed from their homes. What the court would say. What the media would say. The demonstrations that would be held in Rabin Square. The scale of the refusal to obey military orders. Who would support such refusal. After all, it is entirely clear that it would not be allowed to happen. It would be regarded as a brutal act that would be unacceptable."

So you are arguing that the human rights community in Israel has double standards, that the Israeli democratic elite is ignoring the rights of the settlers?

"Obviously. What a question. The settlers have no human rights. There is one sector in Israel to which human rights do not apply - the settlers. And now that truth has been exposed in the light of day. Now it becomes clear that all the human rights rhetoric was a bluff. One big lie. A total lie. Because if human rights exist, they are indivisible. Therefore I, for example, am against the expulsion of people from their homes by force in any case, be they Jews or Arabs. But I belong to a negligible minority. The great majority in the country supports the expulsion of Jews or Arabs, all subject to their political agenda. So this whole world of the Association for Civil Rights and the human rights organizations has now been exposed in its vacuity. It's all one big bluff. It's all one giant deception that is meant to serve the political goals of the left."

Are you accusing the Supreme Court as well?

"The Supreme Court prevented the transfer of the family of a terrorist from Nablus to Gaza even when this could have deterred suicide bombers. The Supreme Court prevented the expulsion of Bedouin who invaded firing zones of the army in the Negev. The Supreme Court defended the rights of Palestinians who were cut off from their land by the separation fence. Therefore I would expect the Supreme Court to prevent the expulsion of thousands of citizens from their homes by force.

"The willingness to send in the army against the settlers is appalling. Let people decide whether they want to stay or not. Don't send their army against them to crush their values and their homes and their world. I will give you an example: the Soviet Union settled thousands of Russians in the Baltic states to create a Russian foothold there. In terms of international law, that act was like the settlement enterprise in Yesha [the Hebrew acronym for the territories]. Not from my point of view; from my point of view, Yesha is the Land of Israel and the Baltic states are not Russia.

"But when Moscow withdrew and the Baltic states gained independence, no one thought the Russian settlers had to be expelled from their homes. The international community did not even consider the possibility. So why are the behaving differently in our case? Why is such a cruel act going to be done in our case?

"The State of Israel can decide that it is withdrawing and creating a new border. But the act of expelling people from their homes by force by means of the army is a violent act. It is an act that an enlightened court should prevent. However, after I prepared a draft petition to the High Court of Justice on this subject, it was explained to me that the petition stood no chance. There is no chance that this enlightened Supreme Court will rule that the expulsion of settlers from their homes is illegitimate.

"The Yesha people [the settlers] never believed in that court. I too was always suspicious. But it is clear - the system has no true moral value."

Do you have similar complaints about the media?

"The media are mobilized in favor of disengagement. There is no substantive discussion, they don't listen to any argument. They are not asking whether the disengagement is good or not good. They are not examining what it will lead to. Nor are they talking about the fact that it is creating a precedent that will make it easier for another government in the future to expel an Arab population from its homes for security reasons of one sort or another."

Over the years, you held an ongoing dialogue with people on the left. Do you now feel that your colleagues on the left have turned their backs on you?

"They have turned their backs on themselves. They have subordinated everything to the supreme goal of breaking the settlers. For them, breaking the settlers is worth the loss of peace. For them, breaking the settlers is worth trampling on human rights. Breaking the settlers is worth the betrayal of all their values. Not my values - their values. And all this because the settlers have become the enemy. What the Arabs are for the right, the settlers are for the left: the demonic, metaphysical enemy. So now they are ready even to support Sharon in order to break this enemy. To see Sharon uproot his favorites. You will agree with me that's insane. That it's totally irrational."

Does the settler public feel that they have been thrown to the dogs?

"It's not just a feeling. Look at the way they are written about. If you take the things your colleagues write and switch the word `settlers' with the word `Arabs' every time, you'll be appalled. The discourse is dripping with hatred. And it is a total, blind hatred. Therefore the settlers' feeling of rejection and sense of persecution is understandable. Not that they themselves have not contributed to the radicalization. We too share in the blame. The refusals to obey orders were a terrible mistake. The attempt to deter Sharon with threats only played into his hands. The settlers should have clung to the state-oriented line that the people of Gush Katif themselves spearheaded from the outset. The line of the human chain. The line of `We have love and it will triumph.'

"But now it is important for all of us to understand that the hatred between the Israeli left and the settlers has reached a level that is endangering the entire Zionist enterprise. From the left's point of view, Israel is losing its right to exist because of the settlers; and from the settlers' point of view, Israel is losing its soul if it follows the path of the left. We have here full parallelism. Everyone who feels such feelings of hatred should know that there are others who feel exactly the same hatred toward them. And between this hatred and that hatred we are liable to lose everything. Especially now, when the disengagement is leading us toward a frontal clash in which people are liable to be killed, in which blood is liable to be shed."

Do you really believe that the disengagement will reach the point of bloodshed?

"I remember Yamit [Israeli settlement in northern Sinai, which the army evacuated in 1982 so that the area could be returned to Egypt]. I was in Yamit. Yamit was far more dangerous than people remember. There was the bunker of the Kahane people. And there was a young person from the Golan Heights who barricaded himself in one of the settlements with booby-trapped grenades. And there was an uncompromising speech by one of the leaders of Gush Emunim who spoke about martyrdom, pure and simple. He was talking about mass suicide.

"So already in Yamit there were those who took fanatic logic to its end. All the way to Masada. It was only by a miracle that it didn't happen. Only by a miracle that it ended with foam sprayed on the rooftops. But now we are heading for a situation that is much more charged. Everyone in Yesha understands that the struggle for Gush Katif is a struggle for home. Because if Gush Katif is uprooted, all the settlements are undermined. The whole settlement enterprise is cast into doubt. Therefore Gush Katif will become our Stalingrad. The feeling will be that if this line is breached we are finished. Everything is finished. That feeling will bring thousands of people there, including hundreds of arms-bearing fanatics. And then a concrete danger will arise that some of the settlers will embark on the path of self-injury.

"I will fight against that. I will fight against refusal to obey orders in the army and against suicide. I prefer to surrender. To leave quietly, with rent clothes, with black armbands. But it's unlikely that I will be listened to. The zealots will have the upper hand. Gush Katif is liable to become Masada."

Are we headed for a second "Altalena"?

"If no national referendum is held, it is liable to be a huge `Altalena' [the `Altalena' w as a weapons ship of the right-wing Etzel (Irgun) underground movement which was sunk by order of the government of the nascent State of Israel off the coast of Tel Aviv in June 1948]. `Altalena' will pale in comparison to what is liable to happen in Gush Katif. Because you had [Menachem] Begin on the `Altalena,' and thanks to Begin the matter ended after 20 were killed. Zionism was extricated from the greatest danger it ever faced. But I don't see a Begin in the Yesha leadership. Sharon's refusal to conduct a referendum is causing the moderate leadership of the Yesha Council to lose status. Sharon is choking politically his good friend `Zambish' [settler activist Ze'ev Hever]. And by doing so he is strengthening the extremist forces, strengthening Rabbi [Zalman] Melamed and Rabbi [Dov] Lior and the rabbis who are calling on soldiers to disobey orders. So when the moment of truth comes, it's not certain that Yesha will have a moderate leadership that has authority and the ability to keep things under control. And without that kind of leadership, without the greatness of Begin, we could face a calamity."

Are you pointing a finger of blame at Prime Minister Sharon?

"I respect Sharon. I respect him in that he is the prime minister of Israel. But I have no choice other than to impute to him full responsibility and blame if, heaven forbid, blood is shed. Because he is entering the collision knowingly. With eyes open. And he is refusing any proposal, such as the idea of the referendum, which could prevent the collision.

"Sharon is a man of force. He proceeds by means of traumas. He is a master at creating traumas. He wanted a trauma in the evacuation of Yamit and he wants a trauma now. He needs a national trauma to impress upon both the Israeli public and the international community that it will be impossible to do this again. So it's not beneficial for him to reach understandings with the Yesha people - even though they themselves surrendered when they agreed to a referendum. They served up their surrender on a silver tray. They are actually only looking for an honorable way to give up. But Sharon won't accept that.

"He is not going to a referendum because he needs the collision for his scenario. So he is actually building up the extremist rabbis. Just as he is making the extremists the kings of the Palestinian street, he is making the extremists the kings of the settler public. He is convinced that, as at Yamit, he will again he able to control the height of the flames. To generate the necessary trauma without human loss. But I think he is mistaken. As he was in Lebanon. I think he will not be able to control the height of the flames. And therefore, unintentionally, he is liable to lead us into a situation of total lack of control. He is liable to lead us into a civil war."

That is an extremely grave accusation.

"I know. I am saying this with tears in my eyes. But I know Sharon. I understand his method of operation. The man is a strategic and tactical genius. He is one of the greatest commanders the Jewish people ever produced in its entire history. And he's in a league of his own compared to any other leader in this country. He is of a different order of stature. But Sharon has no brakes. He never did. And the State of Israel is now traveling in the brakeless car of Arik Sharon."

Is he dangerous?

"That's clear. He always was. The great sin of the Yesha leaders is that when he operated in a way that favored us they ignored the danger he embodies. And when the left screamed and yelled and warned about him, we didn't listen. We knew the way he worked, but we liked it. We committed a sin for which we are now paying. But exactly the same thing is now happening to the left. So I am appealing to the fair-minded people on the left and asking, Why are you mobilizing in his favor? Who better than you know how dangerous the man is? And now you are going to make him the ultimate leader of a whole generation? Will you take responsibility for everything he does? Have you forgotten Lebanon? Have you forgotten the 40 kilometers [the originally declared scale of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 1982]?

"Don't you see that the disengagement is a wild gamble exactly like Lebanon? Don't you understand that it won't end where you think it will end? Or is it that your hatred of the settlers is so powerful that you are foaming at the mouth and can't stop yourselves?"

Explain to me again exactly what it is that you accuse the prime minister of.

"I accuse Arik Sharon of striving to generate a violent collision with his faithful public of supporters whom he cultivated for years. Sharon doesn't want it to end in a disaster. But contrary to his desire, it is liable to end in a disaster. I say that he is playing a game that a prime minister must not play. A prime minister must not bring about a collision like this. That is why, when I saw how pathetic Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau are, when I saw that there is no longer a political force capable of blocking the move, I decided that I could no longer remain silent. I just cannot. Because I see the train of Israeli statehood and the train of the settlement enterprise hurtling toward a collision. And I see everything going black. I see red. I see a civil war. A civil war is the only thing that a prime minister of Israel has no right to bring about."

Is Sharon leading us into bloodshed?

 Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun in a field near his home in Alon Shvut, in Gush Etzion. "What the Arabs are for the right, the settlers are for the left: the demonic, metaphysical enemy."