In Settling Hebron, Tamara Neuman presents the first critical ethnography of the Jewish settler populations in Kiryat Arba and the adjacent Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Hebron, considered by many Israelis as the most "ideological" of settlements.
2018 | 256 pages | Cloth $69.95
Anthropology / Political Science
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Table of Contents
Note on Transliteration, Translation, and Terms
Chapter 1. Orientations
Chapter 2. Between Legality and Illegality
Chapter 3. Motherhood and Property Takeover
Chapter 4. Spaces of the Everyday
Chapter 5. Religious Violence
Chapter 6. Lost Tribes and the Quest for Origins
Conclusion: Unsettling Settlers
Early on in my fieldwork, Rivka Ashkenazi, an elderly Parisian resident of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba took me to see the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the city of Hebron. As we walked before the monumental structure, she explained that this was the burial site of Judaism's most important matriarchs and patriarchs, and that few nations exist today that know exactly where their ancestors lie. It was in this sense, she continued, that the Jewish people were distinct. Approaching the massive outer walls of this seventh-century site, I took in the vast military panorama encircling the area—observation towers, camouflage netting, barbed wire, steel fencing, metal detectors, and checkpoints. Two towering square minarets, rising up from the diagonal corners of the site's rectangular outer wall, stood as staunch witnesses to the site's Islamic character. As I further observed the scene, Rivka recounted the suggestion by medieval Jewish philosophers that the area stood at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. The dissonance of seeing this heavily militarized zone while hearing her claim that we were standing before Eden remains etched in my mind to this day. Her projection of a biblical utopia onto an elaborate latticework of militarism was telling. Realities, to be sure, can be parsed in myriad ways, but it seemed impossible not to notice the deadening effects of the many soldiers deployed throughout a Palestinian urban area. Rivka's Eden was part of a claim to an exclusive site of Jewish origin, underwritten by a sense of permanent belonging. This claim has great existential as well as political ramifications. When seen through the lens of religious settlement, much of the conflict it has fueled comes about by creating resolute ties to recreated Jewish sites in Palestinian areas and making changes in the landscape to affirm their self-evident biblical link to the past.
On Seeing and Believing
It might seem easy to dismiss Rivka's assertions as an illusion. Yet in remaking and residing in sacred places such as these, Jewish settlers establish a putative sense of the real, which arises from the very materiality of the scene. Being able to see in this particular way, to look beyond the presence of actual Palestinian lives and be invested in Jewish origins alone, comes from the ability to bound off discordant elements of an ideological vision as "alien" or as falling outside an arena of concern. Yet in fact Rivka was confronted by an array of conditions that might in other circumstances have disrupted her religious vision. There was no mistaking, for instance, the crumbling state of many uninhabited Palestinian buildings that had fallen into disrepair or the tension palpable in this volatile and conflict-ridden zone. Rivka's principal focus, however, was on reclaimed Jewish spaces and origins. Her vision was enmeshed in a biblical sense of place and shaped by a mystically rooted experience of self quite unknown in other times and contexts of Jewish observance.
In this book, I analyze the discourses, values, and practices through which ideological settlers remake Palestinian Hebron as a site of Jewish origins in the context of the militarily occupied West Bank to create a rationale for permanently controlling territory in these areas. Rivka's way of seeing has many resonances with those of earlier immigrant settlers or labor Zionists in Palestine by virtue of erasing the Palestinian presence she encounters, but it also reveals a number of features that distinguish her sensibility as unique. By addressing this distinct iteration of settlement, I aim to give ideological settlement the focused attention that it warrants, while situating it within a wider set of social transformations and ruptures that give it resonance within the context of Zionism and Israeli nation building. There are several conjoined processes that have worked together to propel Jewish immigration to Palestine over the course of a century. While settlement has figured distinctly at each stage, it has not taken the syncretic form of ideological or devoutly religious settlement that we find in the present, as it manifests itself in Kiryat Arba and Hebron in particular, as well as in other fundamentalist Jewish settlements.
Located in the West Bank and established on confiscated Palestinian land in 1971, Kiryat Arba consists of approximately seven thousand Jewish settlers (Central Bureau of Statistics 2015) in a settlement that has the status of an Israeli municipality and development town. It is situated adjacent to Hebron, a large Palestinian city and key economic hub with over 215,000 residents (Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics 2016). An offshoot of Kiryat Arba, the remade Jewish Quarter was subsequently established in 1979 and lies directly within the historic Old City of Palestinian Hebron. It is a heavily militarized enclave of seven hundred residents including many children. The urban location of this offshoot makes its settler presence particularly volatile, resembling only parts of the Old City in Jerusalem. The paramount religious site in Hebron is known (variously according to each community) as al-?aram al-Ibrahimi (Abraham's Sanctuary) in Arabic, Me?arat ha-Makhpelah (Multiple Cave) in Hebrew, or the Tomb of the Patriarchs (a name given to the site during the British Mandate). Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions all designate the area as the burial site of three key patriarchal couples, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. The Jewish settler presence in the Tomb of the Patriarchs has turned this site of convergence into a touchstone of violence. While the site functioned as a mosque from the seventh century until the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, it was subsequently partitioned for use as a synagogue and mosque. Jewish settlers have also claimed and settled formerly Jewish residential areas near the mosque that were evacuated in the wake of 1929 anticolonial riots. Other provisional settler outposts and semi-permanent housing have subsequently been scattered throughout the hilltop areas to the south known as the Hebron Hills.
After the June 1967 war, the Israeli government initiated settlement efforts to control the territories it now ruled. In Gaza and the West Bank, heavily populated Palestinian areas were placed under direct military rule, and border areas were settled for what the government deemed to be security reasons. Religious right activists took these official settlement efforts as an opportunity to realize their own theological ambitions in Hebron. Kiryat Arba (?iryat ?Arba?), the "fourth village" in the Bible, and its radical offshoot, Hebron's remade Jewish Quarter (ha-Rova? ha-Yehudi), were both established illegally and then retroactively recognized by the Israeli government due to their religious value. In the wake of the 1993 Oslo agreements and 1997 Hebron Protocol, this H2-designated area has become an exceptional zone. Approximately 35,000 Palestinian residents still live directly under the authority of the Israeli military as they did during the pre-Oslo period, cut off from most of Palestinian Hebron placed under the control of the Palestinian Authority, without municipal services or adequate security protections.
Religion as an Ideological Formation
This ethnography approaches religion in settlement as an ideological medium rather than as a symbolic system in order to focus on its transformative and power-laden potentialities. My aim is to document the lived rather than merely textual aspects of Judaism in this particular context, in order to highlight how its transformations legitimate processes of territorial expansion. This "ideological" designation also references an internal distinction that Israelis themselves make, distinguishing settlers who have moved over the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line) for religious reasons from those who have moved due to economic or quality-of-life incentives and in search of affordable housing. By ideology, I refer to the "amalgam of ideas, strategies, tactics, and practical symbols" used for realizing social and political change (Friedrich 1989:301). I distinguish this from the classic (Marxist) formulation of "ideology" as that which distorts an actual underlying truth, or its related Gramscian version as the way in which a ruling class not only justifies dominance but manages to win the active consent of those over whom it rules (Kertzer 1979:324). Rather, I give the term a different inflection, referring to a particular version of religious observance among those who advocate social change while relying on "asymmetrical or exploitative relations of power" to achieve their ambitions (Friedrich 1989:302). These unequal relations are fused with understandings of "difference" that tend to distort, obfuscate, and constrict possible "imaginings of the self" and "dialogic as well as other human relations" (ibid.).
The "ideological" here then implies thinking about the ways Jewish tradition has been particularized and funneled through the lens of settling. This narrowed or fundamentalist focus involves three further changes that are also useful for framing this study: the first is that religiously inscribed space, particularly the remaking of many Palestinian areas into a geography of biblical sites and origins, has been given a new significance in the construction of a distinct Jewish (settler) identity. Spatial reorganization has also resulted in a range of incremental practices included under the rubric of religion that link up with this process of inscription—including renaming, reenvisioning, and rebuilding. These practices in turn support and magnify resolute place-based attachments. The second shift is that these remade biblical sites, specifically in Hebron and within the Tomb of the Patriarchs itself, are being given a new centrality in Jewish observance, one that largely cancels out the exilic orientation of Jewish tradition. They give rise to a form of Jewish observance focusing on exact origins and specific graves to the exclusion of a more characteristic yearning for the messianic future. Third, the final change entails writing out the many historical convergences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam reflected in the traditions themselves so as to eliminate possibilities for accommodating difference, while using Jewish observance and forms of direct violence in order to erase the presence of an existing Palestinian population.
These particular shifts in Jewish observance are understood to be ideological in the sense that they mask existing relations of power, having affective and embodied elements that play a role in shaping overtly political but also intimate decisions. They include modes of religious (settler) life that may not always have instrumental aims but that nevertheless have significant political effects (cf. Friedrich 1989). To reiterate, then, I distinguish my approach from that focused on either a symbolic or a textual analysis of tradition alone as well as that exclusively based on comparative forms of settler colonialism because of this synthetic religious and spatial character, and its relation to the context of a contemporary military occupation. If we are to take the ideological aspect of settling seriously then, as I intend here, we need to approach it not as a product of devout ideas alone, whether as canonical texts, on the one hand, or as religious ideas only furthering extractive colonialism, on the other. Instead, the ethnography shows that ideological settlement entails distinct practices, values, and communities that are oriented toward remaking much of a known Jewish ethical terrain and form of devotion while also appropriating Palestinian land on religious grounds.
Continuities and Disjunctions in Settlement
Labor Zionist and later Jewish refugee immigration to Palestine, the 1948 War of Independence/Nakba and Palestinian expulsion, the state's pronatalist policies, and military rule over remaining Palestinian areas played substantial roles in creating a Jewish majority in the Israeli state. These past iterations of settlement have been linked to processes of demographic change, both in establishing the Israeli state and later as a means of distributing a distinct national population throughout its territory. Settlement has also served as an Israeli security strategy, using populations to guard areas bordering on Arab states. Yet settling out of religious right devotion, as opposed to Jewish (ethnic) affiliation, was a later addition to the settler equation given that most observant Jewish communities initially defined themselves against a Zionist ethos. Observant Jewish communities motivated to settle for mainly theological reasons in what they deemed to be the biblical Land of Israel appeared on the political horizon as marginal actors only in the wake of the 1967 war. These ideological settlers began to espouse their distinct view of Judaism, linking it with nationalist territorial expansion during a period of popular exuberance after the 1967 war, when Israel tripled its land mass and took control of Jordanian-ruled East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as areas formerly belonging to Syria and Egypt (Sprinzak 1991, 1999; Segev 2008).
In its most basic sense, settlement as discussed here means creating an ethnic enclave within another population for the purpose of marginalizing its power and/or controlling its resources. This book focuses on the post-1967 Jewish ideological settlements that have been established for religious reasons within Palestinian population areas beyond the Green Line, Israel's de facto border. I concentrate on the settlements built adjacent to and within the Palestinian city of Hebron because this is where some of the earliest and most deeply ideological areas of Jewish settler residence were built. The term "ideological" distinguishes these settlements from those that are deemed to be overtly security-related and state-initiated built along the Jordanian border, or "economic" in that they attract residents because of cheaper housing. While the divides between these different kinds of settlers have often been blurred in practice, I focus on those initially established for religious or ideological reasons alone in militarily occupied Palestinian Hebron because they were deemed to be exceptions to the security strategy pursued by the Israeli government at the time.
Comparatively speaking, the term "settlement" comes from a broader settler colonial formation, where, as the scholar Patrick Wolfe (1999:209) aptly suggested, invasion is a "structure rather than an event" or a process that takes shape over the longue durée. This process entails resource extraction by establishing power asymmetries based on conceptions of social difference. Settler colonialism, in other words, features forms of "destruction that seek to replace" (ibid.), displacing populations from their territory. As a technique of both land acquisition and rule, it has an extensive history, appearing in the medieval writings of Machiavelli, the conquest of the Americas, westward expansion in the United States, Australian and Japanese colonialism, as well as many other contexts of resource extraction (Wolfe 1999; Elkins and Pedersen 2005). Understanding the influence of a distinctly ideological form of settlement in the Israel-Palestine case, however, requires thinking through the elaboration of a religious ideology as lived and practiced in the context of an occupied military zone, on the one hand, and thinking through its relation to a changing Israeli national project, on the other. It has a significant colonial dimension but includes other important drivers and determinations as well (cf. Ram 1999, Shafir 1999).
I therefore take the position that it is necessary to account for ideological settlement's specificity over the 1967 Green Line if only to trace its disproportionate social and political influence within Israel itself. What distinguishes all settlement in this context from its earlier periods is, first, that it is conjoined to an existing state that has never entirely defined its borders. The occupation of the West Bank on Israel's periphery created, in other words, an in-between zone, featuring a densely populated Palestinian area governed by a semi-permanent military administration. In this territory under occupation, multiple legal codes have been at play, private Palestinian property has been confiscated by decree, and its residents have been excluded from the rights of citizenship (cf. Hanafi 2009). Settlement added to this legal gray zone a more permanent social presence than what was presumed to be merely a temporary and finite military deployment. It contravened international law and made the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank one of the longest standing occupations in modern history. However, religious settlers have forged a distinctly hybrid modality of power that draws on religious authority and practice as well as legal ambiguity to propel social change. Viewed from the ground up, the subjective sensibilities and values of religious settlers are profoundly place-based in the sense of being resolutely attached to sacred sites and, emanating from these, linked to larger parcels of land distributed throughout a fragmented landscape (cf. MacDonald 2003).
Religion and Space
In studying the transformative potential of religion as an ideological medium, I pay particular attention to the role that religiously inscribed space plays in remaking or dividing up Palestinian areas. Given the scale of these spatial processes on the ground, I focus on the intersection of "religion and locality" (Knott 2005, 2009). Highlighting religion's relationship to the local, I analyze how settlers reorient Judaism to their social, economic, and geographic conditions as well as to Israeli military rule in Palestinian Hebron. In doing so, I analyze religiously inscribed space as that which has dynamic and power-laden qualities (cf. Lefebvre 1991; Foucault 1977, 1980; de Certeau 1984; Massey 1993). Space then is treated as an important ideological medium of change that can be actively used to shape forms of domination rather than as just a container of settler actions.
Highlighting the significance of this religiously inscribed space, however, doesn't preclude its relation to temporality or the past. Rather, the focus on space also implies the ways conceptions of time "flow through space" and the way temporal reconfigurations of the past and biblical places of origin enable new power relations to take hold (Knott 2009:156). As this ethnography shows, time as well as space becomes increasingly fragmented through its reiterative and cyclical rendition, furthering settler practices of inscription. Settled spaces, then, tend to embody present orientations (the here and now) rather than future-oriented sensibilities and are thought to commemorate events that often repeat themselves—biblical, historical, the just past, and the ever present are temporalities that the settler imaginary stitches together to create a seamless sense of continuity and permanence.
With respect to settling, this ethnography highlights how ideological settler uses of space herald a particular version of the past, which has significant social and political ramifications in the present. It shows not only how bounded spatial fields are made to invoke the Bible, but also how these cannot be disentangled from the religious investments and discourses shaping them, along with elements of social production and reproduction (cf. Knott 2009). So, for instance, the following events, which will be discussed in the ethnography, appear not as unique historical events in their own right but as reiterations lacking any historical specificity: the burial of the biblical matriarch Sarah, the burial of Hebron's Jewish victims of the 1929 massacre, the 1974 burial by Sarah Nachshon of her son Abraham (in the wake of sudden infant death), the commemorations and burials of post-Oslo victims of Palestinian violence, and an array of deaths from natural causes. All of these are lined up as a sequence destined to repeat itself. In this, little difference across time is recognized, producing a distinct sense of victimization and fatalism. Reiterative time also makes plausible the naturalized replacement of Hebron's former Jewish community, victims of the 1929 massacre, with that of a violent settler vanguard residing directly in Hebron, foregrounding ethnic similarities alone. It is worth noting that the focus on 1929 is a local settler memory that was all but erased in the national Israeli framework of memorialization because Hebron's former Jewish community was anti-Zionist, religious, and Arabic speaking (Feige 2001; cf. Cohen 2015).
Given the rubric of "religion and locality," this ethnographic approach is also distinguished by a preoccupation with small-scale devotional practices. By practice, I mean culturally patterned behavior that results in the spatial remaking of sites rather than preexisting social structures, rules, or cultural norms and that determines individual or collective action (Bourdieu 1977). This focus on spatial practice rather than on "materiality" or "environment" is intended to foreground contingencies, improvisations, tactics, and mishaps that figure into the remaking of space as an imagined biblical landscape, as well as adaptations of Jewish tradition itself (cf. Thift 2008; de Certeau 1984). My approach also stands in direct contrast to other classic frameworks that focus on the symbolic structure of religion (Geertz 1973) and its key concepts (e.g., the sacredness of land, messianic redemption) in the same way that analyses of language distinguish between an underlying grammatical system and pragmatic events of language use (Saussure 1983).
To argue from symbolic concept to action, as symbolic analyses often do, suggests that actors are essentially captive to their ideas. Their behavior, in other words, appears to be uniquely determined by ideas that withstand change. Rather than providing an interpretation of a religious-symbolic system that presumably determines settler behavior on the ground, then, I consider settler practices that shape a new geography as well as religious interpretations that often lead to violence. This focus on practice also allows me to consider the paradoxes and contingencies of settling—insofar as creating new settler strongholds or expanding old ones is often an incremental process that does not always follow a given plan. There is an important situational aspect to settlement that cannot be captured by textual and symbolic accounts of Judaism alone. Yet at the same time, one needs a broader sense of how ideological settlers actually invoke tradition to create their locations and destinies in order to see how radical religious commitments resonate with an evolving material reality.
Place Making and Devotion
Small-scale settler practices in Palestinian areas result not only in places deemed to have Jewish origins but also in resolute attachments. These deeply felt religious investments in places are often mobilized for political aims, supporting the transformative potential of religion as an ideological medium (cf. Cresswell 2004; Massey 1994; Tuan 1990; Casey 1993; Brauch et al. 2008). Moreover, sacred places in this context also have a strong ethnonational aspect. In both cases, the relationship between people and place is forged on the ground through practices seeking to transform a geography that is itself being reorganized more broadly by the state (cf. Weizman 2012). While salient ethnonational practices include walking, parading, intimidating, confiscating, vandalizing, destroying, and demonstrating through Palestinian areas in Hebron, they may also be combined with elements of Jewish textual tradition as a form of legitimation, revealing combinations that are both syncretic and malleable while nevertheless orthodox in self-conception.
Because deep attachments to specific sites are a central feature of a settler identity, I map out their (paradoxical) character. Ideological settlement has become a way of lending a distinct order to the memory entailed in Jewish tradition—it ultimately curtails its dynamism, while narrowing possibilities for interpretation or revalorization. It shares features with Pierre Nora's lieux de mémoire in the sense that it actually erases local and more variegated forms of memory in favor of preserving narratives of a homogenized ethnonational past deemed suitable to this distinct form of Jewish observance (Nora 1989). In addition to erasing local memory, ideological settlement reconstitutes the diasporic and transportable features of Jewish tradition replacing it with precise biblical sites. It does so in a way that is more literal and place-based than other known versions of Judaism, or labor Zionism (cf. Feige 2001). The literalism, then, of the religious settler project lies in the attempt to make places of habitation as sacred as the religious requirement of observing laws around marriage, diet, burial, and other commandments governing social life (mitsvot). In this manner, the legalistic aspect of Jewish tradition (halakhah) becomes place dependent and enmeshed in actually inhabiting a material sacred geography (cf. Smith 1992).
By focusing on place-based ties to religious sites and biblical regions (those that settlers refer to as "Judea" and "Samaria") I distinguish resolute settler attachments from either the territoriality espoused by a sovereign Israeli state or theological concepts that view the Land of Israel as more of an aspirational terrain than a thing to be directly possessed. In short, resolute settler attachments remain small-scale and bounded, and though local loyalties and communities often coexist with those of a unified national culture (Appadurai 1996; Lomnitz 2001), these in particular cannot be encapsulated in a standard nationalist account. Settler investments in places like Hebron, in other words, continue to foreground the religious locale as the predominant basis for building the kinds of solidarities that often exclude even Zionist forms of belonging. They are shaped in relation to a tiered and asymmetrical social field within an occupied area and are therefore ultimately more focused on direct colonial or interpersonal relationships in self-enclosed and bounded insular worlds rather than on participating in a wider imagined (national) community.
Tradition and Change
This ethnographic emphasis on religious place and practice is an important way of considering changes to and distinct interpretations of Jewish tradition that are produced in relation to the many spatial practices that underwrite settling. It raises the question of how we can critically engage with these transformations and their implications for religious right social change. As a way of responding to this question, I draw on Talal Asad's approaches to the social and power-laden dimensions of religion (based on his scholarship focusing on elements of Islam and Christianity), while at the same time resurrecting a number of critiques that are disallowed by them. That is, I aim to unpack some of the exploitative aspects of devout settler practices ushered in under the guise of Jewish authenticity while nevertheless recognizing the excesses of secular critiques, which tend to characterize religious orthodoxies as "irrational," "backward," and "threatening" by their very nature.
In order to explain my approach further, let me begin by mapping out key convergences and departures from those of Asad on religion. He understands all religious traditions as a way of situating the self with respect to the past from the vantage of the present and contrasts this with secular modern tendencies to look primarily to the future as a form of identification and orientation (Asad 1993, 2003). Asad also reminds us that using the richness of tradition in this way is not the same as being backward. These insights are valuable because they show how uses of tradition entail change; traditions in his view are not "invented" (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) but always transforming, since they must respond to contemporary challenges in the present, both internal and external, while trying to maintain a general coherence among key defining concepts (Asad 1993). Grappling with changing applications and understandings of a religious tradition for Asad also means rejecting scholars' use of the category of "fundamentalism" (cf. Marty and Applebee 1991), which he sees as critical of piety more generally, based in part on the accusation of either politicizing or introducing false changes to religion. So Asad would reject the accusation that radical Islam is not true Islam or that settler Judaism is not true Judaism. Using the term "fundamentalism" as a way of characterizing these changes, he and others argue, misrepresents the changing nature of all religious traditions as well as their power dynamics and highlights the lack of reflexivity found in secularist critiques that project irrationality and violence onto religious views alone.
Moreover, Asad rightly points out that there is an important social dimension to religion that cannot be reduced to beliefs alone. He has incisively alerted us to the fact that power and hierarchy shape all religious communities. Asad (1993) also highlights the conditions under which religious "truths" are held to be valid, emphasizing the power dimensions of pedagogy, disciplining the body, and submission to religious authority. Yet in defending a place for religious perspectives and modes of resistance, Asad tends to underplay consolidations of power being ushered in under the sign of religion and the way religious authority can be impervious to critical engagements apart from those offered from within a religious community. Also, in terms of Asad's explorations of power, he underplays the significance of space (emphasizing the body instead) as the primary medium through which religious subjectivities are shaped and relations of power expressed. The social hierarchy that is congealed in the spatial ordering of the built environment, for instance, significantly shapes the ethos of sacred sites and subjective attachments to it in a settler context. Neither involves submission or compliance alone, but they entail direct (and antagonistic) engagements with difference that require the submission of others.
This ethnography's emphasis on spatial practice, then, builds on many of Asad's critical insights but ultimately takes them in a different direction. First, it looks at the manner in which an entire spatial field gets entangled in settler forms of religious knowledge and discourse (cf. Stump 2008). Second, it focuses on a range of heterodox practices (e.g., property takeovers, parading, trespassing, harassment) that some might object to as not religious even though they are often enmeshed with an evolving ideological formation. Such practices are often religious in the sense of invoking concepts within a tradition, yet mainly colonial in their impacts, underwriting land expropriations by individual or settler groups who often operate under the auspices of the state. Finally, it embarks on a critical engagement with "orthodoxy." I depart from Asad and others writing in this vein (Dalsheim 2011; Mahmood 2005; Brown 2013), then, by focusing on a range of exploitative practices, views, and sensibilities shielded by religion while nevertheless remaining sympathetic to attempts to decenter the primacy of secular rationality as normative.
Toward this critical engagement with settler orthodoxy, I take the spatial dimensions of religious practice to be a key domain of power. By examining the formation of an exclusive biblical geography on the ground and its pointed articulations with the state and its military, this ethnography attempts to offset the excesses of a (far-right) religious realm insulated from challenge by virtue of its material inscriptions and forms of naturalization. It also attempts to highlight the realm of less formally transmitted religious sensibilities in order to analyze how a range of settler devotees, including new converts and those not all that well versed in Jewish tradition, take part in claims to origins and place that evolve and change. Religious modes of (far-right) power that marginalize already precarious others, refuse dissent, and thrive on inequalities attempt to replace existing hierarchies with more authoritative forms of exploitation. Building on these concerns, this ethnography also evaluates the changes to Jewish tradition and practice introduced by settling—namely, the narrowing of an interpretive tradition and the colonial implications of a version of Judaism that serves to prolong a long-standing occupation.
Much of the scholarship on Jewish fundamentalism, in contrast, maps out the broad contours of change in a way that is mainly textual in its emphasis, exploring Judaism's traditional messianic focus and its encounter with the historical founding of the Israeli state (Ravitzky 1996; Attias and Benbassa 2003). Its overriding concern is with how Judaism accommodated the modern Israeli state—de-emphasizing a quietist anticipation of the future (e.g., waiting for the Messiah) while replacing it with an emphasis on human agency. Moreover, the scholarship emphasizes a renewed focus on human action as the catalyst for "redemption" popularized by the religious modernizer Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935). Redemption (repair from exile), or ge?ulah, according to Rav Kook the elder, was no longer to be a miraculous event solely directed from above but would be realized through human action and signaled through the signs of divinity expressed in the material world (Ish-Shalom 1993:233). This position in turn prefigured the views of his more hawkish son, Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982). Both were taken to be the spiritual forefathers of the Gush Emunim, the religious settler movement of the midseventies, which set up many of the first ideological settlements in the West Bank (Shahak and Mezvinsky 2004; Zertal and Eldar 2009). From A. I. Kook's writings, arguing that the process of achieving a divine end was as imbued with "divinity" as the end itself, came his son's assertion, some sixty years later, that all of Israel's territory, was sacred, and no part of it could ever be forfeited in a peace agreement (Kook 1991). Messianic redemption was therefore reenvisioned as settling in the here and now and entailed taking steps toward rebuilding the Third Temple and returning the secular Jewish masses to observance.
While this literature captures important transformations in Jewish tradition, it overlooks changes in values, sensibilities, modes of understanding, and emphases that have been introduced through practices of settling and its relation to violence. This ethnography takes shifting attitudes toward messianism into account but focuses more directly on the ways settlers invoke and use Jewish tradition in routine practices for a project of social restructuring. As an analyst, I approach "religion" as a lived and historically specific tradition rather than as a transhistorical or universal category and defend the potentialities inherent in religious lives (Asad 2003) while looking at the construction of a distinct settler iteration of "authenticity." In terms of Jewish observance, then, this ethnography refers to practices and modes of understanding, both oral and written, shaped in relation to canonical Jewish texts and Jewish law, including the Bible, or Tanakh (Torah and the remaining books of Nevi?im, and Ketuvim), as well as to classical rabbinic interpretations of halakhah (religious law), passed down orally and codified as the Talmud (Mishnah and Gemara). In addition to scripture and law, by "religious" I also refer to the heterodox sensibilities and practices that shape the character of devout settler place attachments as it has evolved in Kiryat Arba and Hebron. In its lived form, settlers circumvent Judaism's admonition not to conquer and blur the core divide in Judaism's legal tradition between hypothetical laws that are only to be implemented in the future and those intended to be observed in the present. This shift is arguably more significant than that related to messianism alone.
State, Nation, and Settler Relationships
In addition to the dimensions of religious ideology discussed above (spatial, place-based, tradition, and power), this ethnography also examines the role of the state because of the critical role it plays in creating the infrastructure for settlement and the dynamic tension between state-initiated programs and popular settler aims on the ground. Without the state overseeing the development of a large infrastructure and allocating financial resources to it, including roads, utilities, subsidies, and security measures, settlements would cease to exist. Yet it is also the case that religious settlers have their own agency and intentions that are not entirely reducible to state initiatives and programs. Exploring settlement from a state-centric perspective alone precludes understanding how state directives are being taken up or ignored on the ground by average settlers. Moreover, ideological settlers have tried to develop their own sphere of influence, pushing the boundaries of state and military authority. While the state matters, in other words, this ethnography reveals that it enables but does not directly oversee many of the routine practices of ideological settlers on the ground. In short, we are left to grapple with the paradox of a state-sponsored ideological formation that seeks in the long run to empty the state of its authority and institute theocratic rule in its place.
One prevalent view is that the local set of attachments established via settlement is a direct continuation of the Israeli nationalist project and that through settling one merely extends state control as well as expands the boundaries of the nation. In short, from a macro perspective, it is easier to claim that all settlers see their particular locale as a vehicle for participation in a wider set of national affairs. Their insistence on establishing biblical memory sites might even be viewed as a way of apprehending a more abstract political project from the vantage of direct experience: the locality is in effect a bridge to a larger polity, where being at home in a settlement translates into larger loyalties toward the nation. This is the Heimat model of national belonging, which emphasizes the local but is not averse to participation in a wider political community (Applegate 1990:13). Instead it represents a contemporary form of imagining through the vantage of one's own deeply rooted historical reality (ibid., 3).