Israel's religious right has a clear plan for Gaza: 'We are occupying, deporting and settling'

Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

YITZHAR, West Bank — Carrying planks of plywood, a group of Israeli settlers pushed past soldiers guarding the barrier surrounding the Gaza Strip and quickly got to work. Within minutes, the young men had erected two small buildings — outposts, they said, of a future Jewish settlement in the war-torn Palestinian enclave.

Their movement had hungered for this moment for years, but now, after Oct. 7, they felt it was just a matter of time before Jews would be living in Gaza again. "It is ours," said David Remer, 18. "[God] said it is ours."

Religious Zionists, who believe the Jewish people have divine authority to rule from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, make up only around 14% of Israel's population. But in recent years they have greatly expanded their influence in the military, the government and society at large, and their often extremist ideology is helping shape Israel's war against Hamas.

Although they are not politically homogeneous, most religious Zionists embrace far-right views. They loudly oppose a cease-fire deal to bring home Israeli hostages, and have repeatedly blocked humanitarian assistance from entering Gaza by standing in front of aid trucks.

They see the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel as proof of their longtime assertion that peace cannot be made with the Palestinians, and view Gaza as a territory that they have a religious obligation to conquer. Increasingly, they have called for the expulsion of the 2.3 million Palestinians living there.

First, they dream of reestablishing Gush Katif, a bloc of Jewish settlements that existed in Gaza until Israel withdrew from the enclave in 2005.


It's a goal embraced by some of the top leaders in Israel's far-right government, many of whom appeared at a recent Jerusalem rally pushing for Gaza's resettlement. While videos played showing Israel's brutal military assault on the enclave and organizers shared brochures promising new houses with views of the Mediterranean Sea, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir sang religious songs alongside participants and told them: "Now is the time to return home."

On the battlefield, some religious soldiers have filmed themselves dancing with Torah scrolls and waving the orange flags of Gush Katif. Other combatants travel with mezuzahs, small boxes containing biblical Scriptures meant to be hung outside Jewish residences, to affix to Palestinian homes.

Reuven Gal, former chief psychologist for the military and a researcher at the Israel Institute of Technology, says that for many soldiers, the Gaza conflict that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians is "not just a military operation."

"For them," he said, "it's a holy war."


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