God’s Politics In Israel’s Supreme Court: The Retreat of Theology in Religious Settlers’ Politics

Gadi Taub. Journal of Modern Jewish Studies. Volume 6, Issue 3. 2007.


When religious settlers began to seep into Israel’s occupied territories in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 Six‐Day War, they carried a clear religious message. They were confident that a sweeping spiritual awakening of the entire people of Israel was close at hand, and that redemption would soon follow. The state too was about to be transformed. It was to assume its proper role in advancing redemption: to lend itself as an instrument in “redeeming” the land. Yet the awakening failed to materialise and the state remained deaf to the religious language the settlers spoke even when it supported settlement efforts. Friction with state authorities began with the start of grassroots settlement efforts, and it quickly developed into clashes when the army tried to stop unauthorised settlement activity during the 1970s. The end of the decade, however, saw another kind of clash: a direct confrontation in Israel’s Supreme Court between the religious vision of the settlers and the very principle of sovereignty. A verdict ordered the dismantling of a settlement called Elon Moreh, and in the process made clear that the state (i.e., the state per se, not this or that elected government) would not accept religious arguments. The state speaks the language of earthly sovereignty, and considerations of sovereignty overrule those of religious law. This would have been trivial to most of Israel’s citizens, but in the eyes of settlers, and in the context of so ambitious a goal as “redeeming” the land, it shook their movement to its foundations.

The court decision, as I shall argue below, marked a watershed in the history of religious settlement. It forced the settlers to attempt a translation of their religious creed into secular terms. This was, as we shall see, primarily a tactical move. Still, one cannot ignore the fact that henceforth those who spoke in clear religious terms and insisted on a clear messianic message were marginalised, while the leadership of the movement edged towards an increasingly pragmatic ideology and ended up subordinating God’s politics to the moral (not only political) authority of the state. This was most dramatically demonstrated many years after the period with which this article will deal, in the summer of 2005—when high rabbinical authorities called on soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate the settlements of the Gaza Strip, they discovered they had no troops. The overwhelming majority of religious settlers among Israel’s armed forces obeyed their commanders rather than their rabbis.

The Language of Redemption

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, the spiritual ancestor of religious settlers, addressed a pressing problem: how did it come to pass that the age‐old yearning of religious Jews to resurrect the Kingdom of David in the Land of Israel was undertaken by the unbelievers, rather than the pious? For most Orthodox theologians, Zionism was a form of heresy, an attempt to rebel against the punishment of exile before the time of the messiah, but Rabbi Kook, a kind of Jewish Hegelian, refused to dismiss secular Zionism. He formulated a view in which the secular movement became theologically legitimate: in his eyes, Zionists were wrong to believe that the ultimate goal of their movement was statehood, as Orthodox rabbis were wrong to believe Zionists defied the word of God. In truth, the secular undertaking was but a first step on the way to a higher synthesis, still dormant in the future, wherein the state would realise its role in a larger process of redemption and join hands with Orthodoxy (Ravitzky 119-140).

Over thirty years after Rabbi Kook’s death, Israel’s lightning victory in the 1967 Six‐Day War, persuaded his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, that the future envisioned by his father had already arrived. The “miracle” of the victory revealed that redemption was just around the corner and that it would proceed by settling—which is to say, by “redeeming”—the land (Naor 45-47; Zertal and Eldar 260-265). By specifying the distinct political outlines of the process of redemption, Kook the son fused politics and theology in a way his father never did. He became convinced that settlement was “God’s politics” and that no earthly politics could counter it. His students, zealously bent on advancing God’s cause, set out to populate the newly acquired territories, and their first efforts gave them little reason to doubt that the state would yield to God’s plans. Israel’s Labour governments of the late 1960s and early 1970s limited some settlement activities, but often actively initiated, or at least reluctantly accepted, other parts of it (Pedatzur).

First among West Bank settlements was the repopulating of Gush Etzion, an area settled by Jews in the pre‐State era and lost to Jordan in 1948. Though initiated by a student of Kook’s named Hanan Porat, himself evacuated from that area as a child, the government ended up endorsing the settlement, as it did with many more later on (Gorenberg 109-114). The next bridgehead, in the biblical city of Hebron, was established in 1968 by deceiving the government. A group of religious settlers headed by another student of Kook’s, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, rented rooms in Hebron’s Park Hotel. They had a military permit to spend the Passover holiday there, but when the holiday ended they refused to leave. After long deliberations, the government acquiesced, then took the initiative itself and authorised building a Jewish neighbourhood close to Hebron (Zertal and Eldar).

Early attempts to harness the state to the project of redemption were therefore considered encouraging. However, given the extent of the settlers’ ambition, friction was bound to turn into frequent, and even violent, confrontations. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973, with American diplomatic pressure for territorial compromise, sporadic attempts at settlement became an organised political movement. This was the birth of Gush Emunim (literally, “The Block of the Faithful”). Gush Emunim was an extra‐parliamentary movement set up for the explicit purpose of countering what settlers saw as the government’s insufficient vigour in asserting Israel’s right to settle the occupied land. Gush Emunim‘s founding document defined its ideology in clear religious terms in 1974. Its mission was, the document said:

To bring about a great movement of awakening of the People of Israel for the realisation of the Zionist vision in its full scope, based on the awareness that the source of this vision lies in the tradition of [the People of] Israel and the roots of Judaism, and that its goal is the full redemption of the People of Israel and the whole world.

That this vision exceeded that of secular Zionism in scope could not have been clearer to Gush Emunim‘s founders. As one of its rabbis explained, in full agreement with the founding document, it was time that the old Zionism, which aimed at normalising Jewish existence, was replaced by a “Zionism of redemption” that aims at transcending history (Amital 42). Since the secular government was not yet swept away by the settlers’ religious mission, Gush Emunim took it upon itself to lead the way with or without the government’s help. It redoubled grassroots efforts to establish “facts on the ground” in the form of new settlements in Samaria, where the Palestinian population was dense. Labour governments now resisted more assertively and often used the army to stop illegal settlement.

Though some settlements in Samaria were eventually granted government recognition, Gush Emunim was far from satisfied. Its members were therefore exhilarated when the Labour government was replaced by Menahem Begin’s more hawkish Likud. Led by Begin, a longtime believer in Israel’s right to settle the territories, it seemed like the state was indeed moving in the direction Gush Emunim believed it would. Likud greatly boosted settlement activity: in the first decade after the Six‐Day War, under Labour, some 6,000 settlers moved into the West Bank. In his first four years as Prime Minister, Begin almost tripled that number (Swirski 50). Yet the divergence between Begin’s secular Likud and Gush Emunim‘s theology soon became apparent. Not long after his election, Begin began negotiating the peace treaty with Egypt that was to include, as well as the withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, a plan of autonomy for Palestinians in the territories and a three‐month freeze on settlement activity (Taub 73-76).

It was to prevent precisely such a measure that religious settlers now published a document entitled “Tohknitav shel gush emunim lehityashvut beyehuda veshomron” (Gush Emunim‘s Master Plan for Settling in Judea and Samaria). The document reasserted the religious meaning of Gush Emunim‘s vision, and spoke clearly and unabashedly in the language of redemption. Its first clause was straightforwardly entitled “The Mitzva of Settling the Land of Israel”. The second clause, entitled “Political Significance”, laid out the established tactics: creating facts on the ground in order to prevent future withdrawal from the occupied land. Yet in the light of the first clause, the political means are hard to distinguish from religious ends since settlement activity itself is a mitzva and the political goal it set out to advance—making Israel’s rule over the territories permanent—is itself but a technical means to further that same mitzva of settling the land: “The devotion to the land by means of settling its unsettled parts is still the main proper way to fulfill the mitzva to settle [the land]” (emphasis added). Settlement is thus both means and end, with the political question of sovereignty reduced to an intermediary, instrumental role. The reason for this reduction is clear: since redemption is now coming into its own, it is time for secular Zionism to realise that it was always advancing a cause it did not fully grasp. What it thought of as a goal—a Jewish, democratic, sovereign state—was actually God’s cunning means. Gush Emunim‘s Master Plan is a reassertion of Kook’s theology, designed to counter an attempt by the state to depart from it.

The Clash between the Two Conceptions of Zionism: Redemption in Court

Before Begin could return from Camp David where the peace agreement with Egypt was finalised, the settlers moved to defy it. They set out to take a hill near the Arab city of Nablus, the biblical Shekhem. The Army stopped them, but Begin, who was sympathetic to the settlers, promised them a compromise would be found: a time and a place for a settlement near Shekhem upon which both the settlers and the government could agree. The spot was found not far from the city, and despite the fact that it was partly located on privately owned land, the plan moved forward. Minster Ariel Sharon delayed the army confiscation order until the actual day of settlement in order to leave the owners of the land no time to appeal to the courts, and the new settlement was created (Zertal and Eldar 97).

Israel’s Supreme Court had already sanctioned the confiscation of private land as long as the government persuaded it that such measures were necessary for security reasons. Since the precedent was already there, the question of appeal seemed to be only one of inconvenience: it could postpone the project, but probably do it no further harm. This time, however, an appeal by the landowners was sustained since the government failed to make a convincing case for security. Moreover, the court received the opinion of former Chief of Staff, General Haim Bar Lev, who believed the settlement would actually constitute a security burden given its location amid a large Palestinian population (Zertal and Eldar 98).

There was another reason that weakened the case for security. Menahem Felix, a settler and member of Gush Emunim‘s founding group, submitted a brief to the court that dismissed the entire line of argument taken by the government on his behalf. Security, said Felix, is important, but it makes no substantial difference to the principal justification for settlement. The deeper reason for establishing the new settlement was that it was situated in “the place where this land was first promised to our first father … the place where the first deed or propriety [was made to] the first father of the nation, by whose name the land is called—the Land of Israel”. Felix went on to quote the bible as reinforcement. Having rejected the argument based on security, the court would not accept the reasoning Felix offered. It was deeply impressed, the court said, by Felix’s sincere pious devotion, but, it went on, as a court of a sovereign state “in which Halakha takes effect only to the extent permitted by the secular law, we are obliged to put the law of the state into action”. The court ordered the settlement dismantled. Prime Minister Menahem Begin was disappointed by the verdict, but he nevertheless announced that his government would follow the court’s decision to the letter (Negbi 69-74). This made the meaning of the affair abundantly clear: the state would not speak the language of redemption; sovereignty overrides religion.

One can discern two general patterns of reaction among religious settlers. On the margins, hardliners concluded that having failed to persuade Israelis that the age of the Messiah had already dawned, extra‐legal settlement should be supplemented with illegal terrorist activity. Such operations, they reasoned, would intensify the conflict and force the state to act on behalf of the settlers. A terror cell, later known as Hamahkteret hayehudit (the Jewish Underground), formed in the early 1980s, planned to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque situated on Temple Mount. The group did not follow through with the plan, but it did commit a number of terror attacks on Palestinian civilians, until it was exposed and arrested by Israel’s security forces in 1984. The mainstream of the settler elite, however, reached a different conclusion: since a religious awakening seemed further away than Kook had first believed, rather than try to make the state speak the language of redemption, settlers had to learn to speak the language of political sovereignty.

The Shift to the Language of Sovereignty

The goal of the shift to secular rhetoric was clearly defined as a response to the court’s decision: as settler Beni Katzover explained in Nekuda, the newly‐created settlers’ monthly, the meaning of the court verdict was that the fate of the whole settlement enterprise now rested on security considerations. Such a basis was too narrow and too precarious to support the settlements. What settlers must do, Katzover concluded, is change the legal definition of the territories in order to express the Jewish right to settle the whole of the Land of Israel (Shlomtziyon). The law, in other words, must be changed to conform to the plan of redemption.

In December 1980 the Yesha Council (the Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza, also connoting the Hebrew word for “salvation”—yeshu’a) was founded to advance this cause, and it effectively, if not formally, replaced Gush Emunim as the centre of settler political activity. The resolutions of its founding convention demonstrate a sharp shift in rhetoric: the document scrupulously avoided the religious terms of Gush Emunim and the kind of arguments Felix had used in court in 1979. Section 1 of the Council’s founding mission statement, dryly entitled “Objective of the Council” and somewhat awkwardly phrased, reads as follows:

To be the political representative (not a party!) of all settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and the main organ of the settlements (inclusive of the wide public which identifies with their cause) in political questions regarding the fate of the Land of Israel.

Section 2, entitled “Goals of the Council’s Action” says:

A. Incessant action for establishing Israeli sovereignty in all the regions of the Land of Israel.
B. Opposition to any other political solution.
C. Widespread action to create massive settlement, rural and urban, in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
D. Recruiting the whole People of Israel to achieve these goals.
E. Creating the tools for implementing these goals.

I will return to the central concept of the document—namely “sovereignty”—below, but we should first note that this description of the Council’s proposed politics by no means constitutes a break with the politics of Gush Emunim: it seeks to block the way for any territorial concessions by means of settlement. And though the Council describes this goal as the extension of sovereignty, it does not say its means will necessarily be those of the sovereign state. Its “[w]idespread action to create massive settlement” should prevent the possibility of “any other political solution”, but the Council (“not a party!”) would not act only from within the political apparatus. It would, rather, create “the tools” for this widespread settlement activity inside and outside the existing system. This means it aimed to act, as it actually later did, according to the old tactics, combining political lobbies with the creation of extra‐legal “facts on the ground”. The rationale for all this, though conveyed in earthly terms, was still the overarching goal of redemption. This becomes clear in the first three clauses of the section “Summary and Resolutions” where a messianic cause is carefully presented under the guise of secular rhetoric:

A. The Council sees in the project of settlement now underway in regions of the Land of Israel a fateful stage in the resurrection of the People of Israel on its soil [and] a direct continuation of the Zionist project.
B. The moral [literally: value aspect] and physical future of the Zionist project is dependent on our hold on these regions of the land and on a firm stand against all those, within and without, who seek to destroy it.
C. Therefore the Council states that positing these challenges and pioneering values and goals for the Jewish people and including it [the Jewish people] in them, could bring mass immigration, as well as a solution to the economic crisis and a solution to social problems.

Instead of “redemption”, then, the document speaks of “a fateful stage in the resurrection of the People of Israel on its soil” (emphasis added). This is, it goes on, “a direct continuation of the Zionist project”. The term “resurrection” in Hebrew lacks the strong Christian connotation it has in English. As it was used in secular Zionist rhetoric, it was clearly distinct from “redemption”: it meant re‐establishing a political framework that would enable Jews to become active political agents again. Yet for the students of Rabbi Kook, resurrection was a “fateful stage” in something quite other than regaining political agency.

By assuming the old Zionist language of pioneering days, the Council not only portrayed settlement in the colours of early political Zionism, it also painted early political Zionism in the colours of redemption. Note the emphasis on the fact that it is not just the physical but the “moral” future of the project (literally the “value aspect” of the project) that depends on holding the territories. This phrasing enabled the Council to walk a middle terminological ground between calling settlement a “mitzva” as Gush Emunim habitually did, and describing it as plain hawkish patriotism. Secular hawkish arguments, however, have a distinct ring to them: security comes first, and values (mainly patriotism) are invoked as a means to a firm political stand against enemies. In the Council’s resolutions the order is reversed, and the emphasis is thus subtly shifted. It is not the case that firm moral fibre is needed to stand against enemies; it is that standing against enemies would preserve the moral value of the project—namely, its meaning as a “stage in the resurrection of the People of Israel”.

This reading seems to be confirmed in the closing statement of the “Summary and Resolutions” section. In clause C(4) it says that: “The council sees any suggestion to hand over portions of the Land of Israel to a foreign sovereign [as] a renouncing of the destiny of the Jewish People, of the goal of Zionism, and an illegal act.” The remarkable thing about this clause is its concept of illegality. “Illegal” here clearly does not refer to the laws of the sovereign state because from the state’s point of view, settlement itself was often an illegal activity, while handing over occupied territory, as in the case of the Camp David accord, is, on these grounds, perfectly legal: decisions regarding borders are strictly within the powers of the state. It is, then, only by the higher law of God’s politics, as conceived by Rabbi Kook, that the order is reversed: it becomes illegal to oppose settlement and legal to subvert the state’s jurisdiction in the service of religious redemption. The “law” that territorial compromise violates is “the destiny of the Jewish People”. And though “destiny” is not necessarily a religious term, there is little reason to doubt its meaning in this clause since in this case it stands above and in opposition to the concept of sovereign state law. This was not so in secular Zionism, where “destiny” was the goal of establishing sovereignty. The higher law for the Yesha Council, its “destiny”, is, then, the same mitzva—the religious imperative of settling the land. It was Rabbi Kook’s theology cloaked in secular drab; behind the Council’s rhetoric lays the view that the government was ephemeral and the Torah eternal. “We are commanded by the Torah, not the government,” taught Rabbi Kook (Sikhot harav tzvi yehuda 52).

The Meaning of Sovereignty

The Yesha Council was founded, among other reasons, in order to broaden the coalition in support of settlement. Founding editor of the settlers’ monthly Nekuda and the first chairman of the Council, Yisrael Harel, explained on the eve of the Council’s foundation that it would seek to find common ground between religious and non‐religious settlers (Harel). Yet coalitions with other secular settler groups were not the only concern; there was also the problem that the wider public and the state’s institutions did not share the settlers’ religious creed. In all public transactions outside the circle of believers, the rhetoric of redemption proved ineffective if not downright harmful to the cause. As one activist, himself a member of the religious settlers’ inner circle, explained in the aftermath of the court decision, the public was not yet ready to receive the explicit religious message:

I don’t think that it’s possible to take a public and raise it all at once to higher stages. Nekuda, which is our broadcasting channel, has to do it in a continuous process. We [the religious core of the settlers] need to project that we are a sober, realistic, rational public, in order to tie wider publics to us. Only after we tie the public to us, could we raise it to higher stages. I don’t know if the time has yet come for that …

This was reason enough to confine arguments to secular terms, but the way settlers used that language betrayed the superficiality of their newly acquired dialect. The concept of sovereignty itself was not new to messianic settlers, but its meaning had heretofore been clearly subordinate to religion: “The mitzva of settling the land,” said one of Gush Emunim‘s early leaders, Hanan Porat, “has several aspects to it, among them Jewish sovereignty over the whole Land of Israel” (Porat, quoted in Raanan 131). This is also how it was used in the Master Plan: as a means for a higher purpose. In the Council’s resolutions, the Gush Emunim use of the term “sovereignty” was not so much changed as it was broken down into its legal implications, thus avoiding any discussion of its significance. The Council’s demand for applying Israel’s sovereignty to the territories, the resolutions explain, consists of these measures:

C(1) The Council demands to fix the legal status of the land in Yesha [Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip] on the basis of the fact that the Jewish people is not a foreign occupier in its own land.

C(2) The Council demands to fix the legal status of the Jews permanently residing in Yesha, as subjects of Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration. (Nekuda, 9 January 1981)

What the status of the Arab inhabitants of the territories would be the resolutions do not say, except to remark in clause C(3)a of the “Summary and Resolutions” section that the Council rejects the idea of Palestinian autonomy and self‐rule in the territories.

Such a conception of sovereignty, then, would restrict the political term to a narrow meaning according to which Jewish Sovereignty is simply permanent Jewish political control. There is no trace in the document of any sense that the legal framework of Israel’s state would have to change if state jurisdiction were extended to the land and the Jewish settlers, but not to the land’s Arab inhabitants. This testifies to a crucial gap between secular Zionists, even hawkish secular Zionists, and religious settlers. No hawkish government in Israel ever attempted to annex Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which have remained under military administration ever since 1967. Annexation would have meant that not only the land, but its Palestinian population, would become part of the State of Israel. Israel would then have to choose between two equally difficult options: either it would make the Palestinian residents of the territory citizens of Israel and give them full civil rights (as Arab citizens of Israel now have), or else change Israel’s constitutional structure so that there are two kinds of subjects: those with and those without the right to vote. The first option would mean that, without a Jewish majority among its voters, Israel would cease to be Jewish since Jewish identity would be democratically overruled. The second option would mean that Israel would change its constitutional character and reconstitute itself as an apartheid state, where only the Jews held the vote. Annexation would mean, in short, having to choose between the Jewish and the democratic characteristics of the state. No government in Israel’s history has been willing to give up either.

The settlers, it would seem, remained indifferent to such dilemmas that the application of the concept of sovereignty to the territories readily evokes. For them, such scruples seemed unimportant because the state, and sovereignty along with it, are simply means to a higher goal, just one “aspect” (as Hanan Porat put it) of a religious imperative to populate the land. The difference came to this: while the state is the end for Zionism, it is but a means for the settlers. This means that the conception of settlement as “a direct continuation of the Zionist project” is highly problematic. The contrast comes into focus around the two competing ideas of sovereignty. Though there is much in the ethos of Zionism that romanticises the land, it is impossible to reduce Zionism to settlement. For Zionism formed not around “redeeming” land, but around the idea of self‐determination and its concept of sovereignty remained tied to it. As Israel’s Declaration of Independence states, Zionism rests its claim for statehood on two rights: one, which the Declaration calls the “natural right”, is the right of all peoples to self‐determination; the other, which the Declaration calls the “historical right”, postulates an historical connection between the Land of Israel and the Jewish people (see Gutman 3). As Shlomo Avineri (22-23) has shown, in mainstream secular Zionism, whether in its liberal guises, or its socialist versions, it was the former right that led to the latter. Having come to believe that self‐determination as a people was the only way for Jews to reconcile personal identity with political citizenship, they were led to seek political sovereignty. Political sovereignty, in turn, was possible only in some designated territory, and the only territory that could draw Jews to immigrate was the Land of Israel. After all, it was this land that had remained their object of yearning for almost two millennia of diaspora existence. Thus, the universal right of self‐determination, evoked as its moral bedrock, was at the heart of Zionism’s understanding of sovereignty. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the Declaration specified (though the State of Israel acted on this only half‐heartedly) that citizens of other nationalities and religions must be granted equal civil rights. Otherwise the very logic for the demand for democratic self‐determination would have been subverted.

Though Israel kept the Palestinians of the territories under military rule, and continuously violated the very right the state declared to be natural, it never could, even under extremist hawkish governments, incorporate such violations into its legal structure. The settlers demanded the extension of Israel’s sovereignty to the occupied territories, but they were either little aware of, or deliberately ignored, the fact that their demand meant renouncing the conception of sovereignty on which Israel’s political framework rests. Only in this way could they, in a single document, demand extending Israel’s legal rule to themselves and to the land they occupied while, in the same breath, rejecting any form of self‐rule to Palestinians. Using the term “sovereignty” in this way seems to confirm the conclusion that an earthly political rhetoric was only a means for concealing the messianic message which the Council, like Gush Emunim, was attempting to promote.

The fact that the state refused to accept the messianic message, even in the rhetorical guise of secular terminology (as we have noted, the state refused to change the legal status of Judea Samaria and Gaza, except in the case of East Jerusalem), left the settlers with two options: either return to a clear theological message of redemption and preserve the purity of their gospel, or attempt to protect settlements as best they could using the rhetoric of the sovereign state and the arguments of earthly politics. A minority chose the former, but the Yesha Council itself, and the mainstream of the movement with it, chose the latter. Most settlers could never again find their way back to the older, purer, religious creed. At first, secular hawkish arguments were used, as we have seen, to give fundamentalism a façade of realism, but progressively these arguments seeped into the core. By the 1990s, political slogans tended to portray the settlers primarily as better guardians of the secular right‐wing ideology (Sheleg 78).

Through hindsight we know that this change went far deeper than tactics. The strategic decision settlers took in the Elon Moreh case, the decision not to defy the state’s authority on messianic grounds, but rather to attempt to persuade it on the basis of secular arguments, foreshadowed the acceptance of the state’s authority to a far greater extent: the relatively peaceful evacuation of the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 and, many years later, in the summer of 2005, the acceptance of Disengagement from Gaza. It is perhaps ironic that while rabbinical authorities called on settlers to rebel against the state, few were tempted to do so, while many tried to make the case against evacuation on strict legal grounds: the settlers appealed to the Supreme Court, as the owners of the land where Elon Moreh was erected had once done, in the name of their legal civil rights. Evoking those civil rights, they have since accustomed themselves to calling the evacuation “expulsion” and “transfer”.

To be sure, the language of redemption can still be heard among religious settlers even in the established mainstream of the movement, but the Yesha Council, which once held a concept of a higher law (based in its political plan of advancing redemption) above the laws of the state, insisted in its struggle against Disengagement that activists should not break the state’s laws. So in retrospect it would seem that what began with an attempt to impose a religious agenda on the state ended with the opposite, even within the movement itself: the state imposed the authority of secular politics on a religious gospel. When all was said and done, the translation of the messianic message into the language of sovereignty did not mark the state’s first step on the road to redemption. It marked something quite other: the first important acknowledgement on the part of the settler leadership that earthly sovereignty, not theology, sets the moral limits of legitimacy for political action.