Swords of Iron

Acknowledge the Religious Zionist Community’s Sacrifices in the War

Since the war in the Gaza Strip began, there have been a number of fallen soldiers from the religious Zionist community. Many of them grew up in or lived in settlements in Judea and Samaria.

I knew many of the fallen either personally or at one remove; it’s been very difficult.

But if I had any hope that this would moderate the hatred for this community (and I’m not talking about the party that cynically stole its name), it is proving false. Shockingly, it seems that for some people, this merely fuels their hatred for religious Zionists.

Such hatred should have no place, even given the bitter disputes. At this moment, the only appropriate response is to admire the contribution made by those who are risking and sacrificing their lives in battle, along with all the other Israelis who are contributing and serving for the sake of all of us.

Counting the number of people from each community who fell in battle is inappropriate. But the scale of the fallen from the religious Zionist community is exceptional, exceeding their proportion in the population, around 12 percent, by a large margin. At every rank, there is a noteworthy presence of people who grew up in religious Zionist institutions and communities, most of them in Judea and Samaria.

As of this writing, the Eli pre-military academy and yeshiva, which people so love to hate, has lost no fewer than 14 of its students and graduates. A similar number of the fallen came from the Atzmona pre-military academy. The hesder yeshiva in Yeruham, which combines Torah study with army service, has paid the bloody price of eight fallen soldiers. The Himmelfarb religious high school in Jerusalem has lost five graduates. The high school in the settlement of Kiryat Arba has lost seven. Several small settlements have lost two, three or four of their sons. And the list goes on.

The numbers are inconceivable. There is virtually no family in the religious Zionist community that doesn’t know one of the fallen or one of their relatives.

But none of this has ended the hatred and venom aimed at religious Zionists among parts of the Israeli left. With sorrow, I would say that the magnificent sacrifices made by their sons is even inflaming it. The examples, regrettably, are numerous.

The affair surrounding Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram is one of them. Hiram has been part of the army’s frontline forces for many years. He lost an eye in one battle. As a division commander, he has ceaselessly led the fighting since that cursed Black Saturday, commanding dozens of battles.

Since an investigative report on his actions on October 7 was published, in which he said he authorized tank fire to end a standoff with terrorists holding hostages, “even at the cost of civilian lives,” he has been deluged with venom.

But in his critics’ eyes, he doesn’t represent himself alone. He acted as he did because he is “from the religious Zionist community” and lives in a settlement. Consequently, according to his sick critics, it’s clear that he acted on the basis of religious Zionist values, which, in their view, prioritize land over human life.

Even the high number of fallen soldiers from the religious Zionist community is too much for some far-leftists to deal with. Some are quick to construe it as just one more expression of a hierarchy of values that sanctifies blood and death, rather than as proof of these young men’s principled standards and their willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the country. As if religious Zionist families are happy to lose a son in combat.

To these may be added the loathsome “settler violence” campaign, whose target is clear. First of all: Violence and illegal actions against Palestinians in Judea and Samaria deserve total condemnation, and enforcement needs to be firm. But it is plain to all, and perhaps especially to those leading this campaign, which has long since become an international campaign, that the group that employs such violence is numerically minuscule, while a vast proportion of settlers not only are not involved in these actions but are out there fighting on the front.

The explanation for this campaign is that it is part of the fight against the entire settlement enterprise and against its leaders – the religious Zionist community. And these are just a few examples.

The religious Zionism community is not perfect. As someone who comes from there, I have plenty of criticism of certain parts of it, ethically and politically. Also, the high price in lives the community is paying does not bestow upon it now or after the war any “golden share” for determining the country’s future. But it is still of great significance.

First, it demonstrates how Zionist and principled the education system and communal fabric of religious Zionism is. Second, it illustrates to what an extent the members of this group comprise a “serving elite” when needed, even at the cost of sacrificing their lives.

None of this detracts in the slightest from the sacrifice and devotion of others whose lives and values are no less important and whose blood is no less red. But what matters is that this high price, during and after the war, deserves recognition and gratitude from Israeli society, along with a respectful attitude toward and appreciation for the values of religious Zionism, even if there is profound disagreement with some of them. The hatred and poison being directed at these incredible people right now has no place. Not now, and not ever.