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The radical settler threat
Special: IDF lieutenant who was part of messianic camp says Israel faces grave danger

Micha Regev says that he is an anxious citizen. When the IDF Lieutenant (res.) hears talk of settlement evacuation, he is overwhelmed by horrific scenarios. For example: Settlers firing at soldiers and Palestinians. Such scenarios, he says, are not unthinkable. Some people are already working on formulating them.

 

“We are facing a much graver danger than the murder of a prime minister,” he says. “The radicals may reach the stage of rebellion, and possibly even mass suicide.” Regev’s words merit extra attention because once upon a time he was there himself, a religious youngster with fire in his eyes who joined the IDF in order to turn it into a “religious messianic army.”

 

The 54-year-old Regev was born to a national religious family. When he was 15, he joined his friends in archeological digs near Gush Etzion. There, he first met settler leader Hanan Porat and was captivated by the appeal of salvation.

 

“Porat, a master of words and brimming with charisma, promised that we are close to the Messiah’s arrival and that the Six-Day War was a divine miracle en route to complete salvation,” he recalls. “We admired every word that came out of his mouth. In retrospect I realized that we, the youths, were the fuel of that revolution.”

 

After completing his studies at a high school yeshiva, Regev joined the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem and on his breaks helped his friends advance the settlement enterprise. “When the group of salvation believers expanded we learned that with a little determination and plenty of disregard for the law we can gain land and a housing solution almost for free in a new settlement. The government’s helplessness turned this phenomenon into a strategic threat for the rule of law and State’s pillars,” he writes in his recently published book.

 

Regev performed his military service at the Golani elite reconnaissance unit, also viewing it as a messianic mission. “In preparation sessions ahead of enlistment, representatives of the salvation movement repeated the idea of sanctifying the military by turning it into a religious messianic army…the message was that we should take up key positions,” he says.

 

Warning to Rabin 

Yet eventually things started to change for Regev: “In one of our training sessions I discovered for the first time kibbutz members celebrating the Shavuot holiday. I was stunned; I discovered secular people who were no less moral and impressive than us, the settlement pioneers.”

 

Regev says that Egyptian President Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977 and Prime Minister Begin’s call “no more war, no more bloodshed” were the turning point in his life. The words that impressed him so deeply sounded disastrous to his rabbis, and question marks began to crack the faith he grew up with. Despite this, he continued to serve in the army as a proud religious commander, sporting a beard and taking part in a series of secret operations.

 

Lebanon, which was part of Regev’s life for 20 years, claimed the lives of his young brother, Daniel, who was killed in 1982 and was awarded a citation posthumously. “During the Shiva, the realization that there is no point in sacrificing life for the sake of delusional notions took shape within me. Risking soldiers for the sake of Joseph’s Tomb or the Kasbah in Nablus seemed senseless to me. If God wants to demand sacrifice from us, he should do it with His own voice, as He did with Abraham,” Regev says.

 

In 1984, after a Jewish underground that killed Arabs was uncovered in the West Bank, with two of its members being former close friends, Regev’s ties to his past were completely undermined. “It was clear to me that the zealousness of salvation is not a truthful path and that salvation theory is unfounded,” he says. He removed the kippah from his head, moved to Mitzpe Abirim in the Galilee to raise cattle, and today lives there with his wife and three sons.

 

In November 1993, a few months after the Oslo agreement was signed, Regev was a cadet in a division commanders’ course. When Prime Minister Rabin arrived to address the soldiers, the cadets were asked to prepare questions. When it was Regev’s turn, he turned to Rabin and said: “I’m a very close associate of the settlers and fear that your life and the lives of other officials are in danger.”

 

“Rabin shook his head, smiled his modest smile and told me that Israel has excellent security services and that there was no reason for concern,” Regev recounts. “I realized that my message wasn’t grasped. I got up again and told him that his response is so wrong that I feel like crying.”

 

‘The rabbis sinned’ 

“The Oslo Accords provoked immense hatred in the Right. My settler friends made an effort to explain to me that Rabin, who is about to hand over parts of our homeland to foreigners, is a traitor, and that in an enlightened state he would be sentenced to death,” Regev says. Referring to Rabin’s assassination, he says: “It doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger and it doesn’t matter that the rabbis said the murderer did not come from their midst. The sin of this murder hangs over the rabbis, who turned an elected prime minister into a traitor and criminal.”

 

Yet the danger has not passed. The opposite is true, as the voice of the “salvation rabbis” grows louder. Regev decided not to remain silent, and for some two years wrote his book, The Intoxication of Salvation.” “I wrote the book as an active partner in the religious salvation movement based on the doctrine of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook and his followers, who view our era as a period of messianic salvation, with those who stand in the way being criminals. For years I was a part of it, until I sobered up,” he says.

 

“I can’t forget the boy who was evacuated from his Gush Katif home during the Gaza disengagement and urged IDF soldiers to kill him. I have no doubt he meant it, because for months the rabbis told him that evacuation is worse than death,” Regev says. “I also can’t forget the marches of children with a yellow Star of David on their clothes, as if IDF soldiers were Nazi thugs. While this was a minority, it was backed by the ideologists of salvation messianism. To my regret, in recent years we are seeing radicalization among national rabbis too, who seemingly accept the authority of the State and of democracy.

 

“The fact that Rabbi Dov Lior, for example, viewed Jewish killer Baruch Goldstein as a saint shocked but didn’t surprise me, because the rabbi represents all the dangers inherent in the salvation movement,” Regev says. “The fact that he is an eminent rabbi with immense knowledge only makes the danger even graver and proves this is not a marginal group. Its hard core leads a mystical, violent line. Torah laws are more important for them than the State and than democracy, and in the wake of a trigger like settlement evacuation they may resort to unprecedented violence.”

 

 

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