Rehearsals for the Rapture

In mid-February, Israel’s parliament backed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements.

While the vote in parliament has set off a few disruptive demonstrations by anti-disengagement settlers and their supporters, increased violent resistance may be coming down the pike.

On March 15, Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, reported, "Settlers protesting the disengagement plan brought rush-hour traffic to a standstill in south Tel Aviv.when they blocked the Ayalon Highway at the Kibbutz Galuyot junction and placed burning tires across the road."

According to recent newspaper accounts, the 9,000 people affected by the removal plan will receive nearly $900 million in compensation. But removing the settlers will not be easy, as they have vowed to stand their ground.

Christian Zionists and radical right-wing Jews also appear to be getting ready to saddle up and head out to Israel to help the settlers halt the removal, a process slated to begin in July.

"Thousands of Jews – and Christians, too – are waiting in the U.S. for the call to join the struggle of the settlers in Gaza," Ha’aretz reported in early January.

"In Gush Katif (the largest bloc of Jewish communities in Gaza), they expect that when the hour of reckoning comes, Diaspora Jewry will not only send financial aid, but will also dispatch legions of people for the violent struggle against the government," the paper said.

Many of those itching to get in on the action in Israel – including New York City councilman Dov Hikind and Rabbi Mordechai Friedman, president of the American Board of Rabbis, an organization made up of some 1,000 orthodox clergymen – have been there before.

Rabbi Friedman recently claimed that "hundreds if not thousands of his followers will come to Israel to fight the [disengagement] plan."

Friedman acknowledged that a member of the Board of Rabbis would be going to Israel "to meet settler leaders and pave the way for future resistance," the Jerusalem Post reported in late December.

"The government needs to protect its citizens and when they don’t, the citizens can take back the government," Friedman told the Post. "We need to paralyze the country. The only way to do that is with means which include violence."

Gro Wenske, head of the Norway-based Christian Bible and Israel Organization, also pledged to participate in the resistance. She said that hundreds of Christians from Norway will come to Israel to fight the evacuation.

And Helen Freedman, from the New York-based Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI), said her organization of 4,000 has vowed to join the fight against disengagement.

"We pledged already in November that should the disengagement come to be a reality, we will go to assist in the resistance," she said.

According to spokespersons for the settlers, "thousands of inquiries from Jews as well as Christians who are waiting for the call" have been received.

Dror Vanunu, the head of public relations for Gush Katif, who recently returned from a speaking and fundraising trip to North America, said that both Jews and Christians contributed generously to the children of Gush Katif. According to Ha’aretz, "they also received the blessing of Rabbi Hershel Billet, who is known to be particularly close to President George W. Bush."

At a May 11, 2004 prayer breakfast organized by New York Governor George Pataki and attended by first lady Laura Bush, Rabbi Billet, an honorary president of the Rabbinical Council of America, told the audience that, "It is a divine mission to eradicate evil from the world. I believe that God has given us the courageous president, Mr. George W. Bush, to be our commander-in-chief to lead us and the world in the sacred war against the evil of terrorism."

Israel was very much on the minds of those who gathered at the recently concluded annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, the world’s largest association of Christian communicators, with over 1,700 member organizations.

After the Intifada began four years ago, "Israel ramped up its campaign for evangelical support by marketing itself as the place ‘where Jesus walked’ and enlisted Christian broadcasters as surrogate propagandists," journalist Max Blumenthal reported. "With the Intifada now at a dead end and Israel expecting upwards of 700,000 Christian tourists this year, tourism officials deployed to the convention exuded a blithe, celebratory mood."

Christian Zionists have been longtime and uncompromising supporters of Israel. For some fundamentalist Christians, this support is motivated by a belief in the "end-times" – a series of events that takes place in Israel after the Jews have returned and solidified their hold on the territory.

Christian Zionists hold that after the final battle, or Armageddon, Jesus Christ will descend from Heaven, ushering in a thousand-year reign of peace on Earth.

How does the Christian Zionists’ support for Israel play in country? According to Gershom Gorenberg, the associate editor of The Jerusalem Report and the author of The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, "To the extent that Israelis are aware at all of these people, they are most likely to know of them as giving to philanthropic projects."

Gorenberg said in an e-mail interview that he thought that "only the wonkish class – some journalists, politicos, and foreign policy people – pay significant attention to this political tie, which gets occasional reporting in Ha’aretz. And within those groups, the feelings are split on left-right lines."

Gorenberg added that "U.S. Jewish radical right groups have a very bad image here [in Israel] – a combination of resentment of the radical right with a generalized dislike of people who don’t live here, don’t serve in the military, don’t take the risks, then try to force Israel to take their positions."

The U.S.-born Israeli journalist, who is an associate at the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, added that "the protest movement against the Gaza withdrawal has already managed to portray itself as radical and to alienate much of Israeli society, including the moderate Right, due to calls for soldiers to refuse orders and to use of Holocaust imagery."

"My guess is that if soldiers have to drag foreigners out of houses in Gaza, the general public reaction will be absolute fury."

(Inter Press Service)