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Historical memory and collective identity: West Bank settlers reconstruct the past
Ines Gabel Media Culture Society 2013 35: 250 DOI: 10.1177/0163443712467592 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Settlers’ historical memory portrays a wide-ranging movement that includes unique features as well as a willingness to lead the whole nation together in search of an ordinary middle-class ambience. The Open Historical memory and collective identity: West Bank settlers reconstruct the past Ines Gabel The Open University. Collective memory situates the movement at the heart of the Zionist consensus. Raanana. Media in general and alternative press in particular play a critical role in what Zerubavel calls ‘mnemonic socialization’ ( .co. Email: inesga@openu. collective the principal bulletin of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.1177/0163443712467592Media. Israel. Corresponding author: Ines Gabel. collective identity. Culture & SocietyGabel Commentary 43100. Israel Abstract Collective memory is a product of ideological construction that can be used as a key element in the elaboration of collective identity. Keywords alternative press. counter-memory.sagepub. to explore the role played by a community paper in the construction of the community’s historical memory. which historical periods are reconstructed in the newspaper? The discourse deals with the continuity of Jewish presence in Israel since biblical times and reinforces the image of the Jewish victim in the Diaspora.nav DOI: 10. The second question is how settlers’ historiography characterizes their collective identity.1177/0163443712467592 mcs.467592 2013 MCS35210. West Bank The aim of this article is to examine the ways in which a movement’s collective memory is constructed and articulated in a sectarian publication and to explore the discursive elements of its construction. as a conservative rather than a revolutionary movement. Jewish settlers. This study is concerned with two main questions: first. 108 Ravutsky St. PO Box 98695. Culture & Society 35(2) 250­–259 © The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permission: sagepub. This research will use the case study of Nekuda.

Alternative media are produced outside mainstream media institutions and usually focus on marginalized groups (Atton. 1999. Papadakis. journalists select events that they consider noteworthy and construct cultural frames to interpret them (Zandberg. 2003. 2005. Nekuda is an alternative publication that challenges mainstream Israeli media. memory and collective identity Maurice Halbwachs (1980) was one of the first researchers to view collective memory as a product of social construction. Consequently. processing and organizing past events or periods within a framework that grants them political and social significance (Gongaware.Gabel 251 1996). Kitch. 2000. Collective memory is the result of an interactive process of selecting. Vinitzky-Seroussi. Meyers. Memory and group identity become linked insofar as awareness of a collective past helps define community boundaries: whoever accepts the burden of history belongs to the community. Groups’ leaders transform memories held by small sections of their membership into a shared legacy and ensure their maintenance in the future (Gongaware. 1990. 2008. 1990. In this context Zionist historiography has been vastly explored (Katriel and Shenhar. 2007. Zerubavel. Schudson. alternative media may construct particular mnemonic frames and narratives that challenge mainstream historiography and function as discursive tools in social conflict. 2003. Collective memory is a central concept in the understanding of political and ideological controversy. 1996). Two major issues are in the center of this work: the first is which historical periods are reconstructed in the newspaper? And the second: how does an alternative newspaper shape historical memory in accordance with present circumstances? Media. Alternative media are essentially critical and counter-hegemonic (Fuchs. 2003. Assmann (1995) argues that memory provides a social group with a sense of unity and distinctiveness. 1995). Several works have studied the role of collective memory in the construction of nationalism (Bhabha. and the role of journalists as mnemonic agents (Edy. This research will use Nekuda – the principal bulletin of Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful) movement. 2007) and use analogies between present and historical events that suggest that the future may resemble the course of past experiences (Edy. . These means of communication differ from mainstream media in various aspects. 2007). During the last twenty years. 2001. Pearson. Media are major agents of mnemonic knowledge since they may communicate with huge audiences simultaneously (Edy. research has focused on media and memory. Every group sees to its own mnemonic socialization. everyone else is an outsider (Irwin-Zarecka. 2002. 2010). 1994). 2002). such as their content. the leadership for the Jewish religious ideological settlers in the West Bank – as a case study. 2008. 1994). Zerubavel. Journalism scholars have pointed out that journalists act as memory agents (Harcup and O’Neill. As mnemonic agents. 1999. 2010). modes of production and distribution (Downing. 1999). Tamm. 2001). 1992). 2010). Consequently journalists place these events in an historical context that endows them with cultural and political significance (Meyers. Meyers. 2010). to the perpetuation of its own memories (Zerubavel. 1999. 2002. 1999). Peri. that is.

thus implying that they have lived in the city since David’s Kingdom (Elizur. Data was collected from a sample that included two randomly selected editions in each year. This is certainly suggested in a report about an investigation into the biblical name of the settlement Levona. The second period starts after the expulsion from Israel in the first century AD and ends at the beginning of the twentieth century. editorials and letters to the editor that refer to history. in which the author recommends adopting its previous name ‘White House’ (Bayit Lavan in Hebrew) (Erlich. proving their bravery and readiness for sacrifice and (3) an emphasis on the suffering and persecution that were the lot of Jews living under foreign rule. During this period Jews lived mainly in the Diaspora. Thus one report is devoted to a Jewish community that survived in Nablus for over 600 years (Erlich. during the second century BC (Huberman. The attempt to recover biblical names instead of using Arabic words can be seen as one facet of a broader struggle over a historical right to the country. The writer’s purpose was to argue that Jews’ right to settle in Gaza has historical roots. when Jews lived in the land of Israel. their use expresses not only political control of the land but also cultural hegemony that grants a more legitimate claim to the territory. dating from its inception in December 1979 to the end of 2009. Continuity of Jewish presence in the Land of Israel Many of the articles and reports in Nekuda convey a message about the continuity of the Jewish presence in Israel during the Diaspora years. In each edition a purposive sample of articles that dealt with the past was examined. The quest for evidence of a continuous Jewish presence in the country is manifest also in the resurrection of biblical place names. 58 editions were examined. Overall. 2001). (2) the celebration of periods in which the Jews rebelled against foreign governments. which involved careful perusal of reports. Gush Emunim has attempted to trace remnants of the Jewish presence throughout history in different parts of the country. In 2004. 1980) and another portrays a site that had been described in the book of Judges as the ‘center of the country’ and suggests that it is located next to a Jewish settlement in Samaria (Ilan. Use of ancient Hebrew names strengthens the claim that the Jewish presence in the land of Israel precedes that of other nations. The third period starts with the Zionist movement. at the beginning of the twentieth century. an article was published focusing on the Jewish presence in Gaza since the Hasmonean period. These periods convey three different components of settlers’ collective memory: (1) the assumption of the historical continuity of Jewish settlement in the land of Israel as a basis for establishing sovereignty in the country.252 Media. 1980). 1982). as part of the discussion about a possible withdrawal from the Gaza strip. The pursuit of evidence of Jewish presence in Israel is visible in later texts too. In a similar vein. 2004). Culture & Society 35(2) Research strategy and results Nekuda is a monthly magazine. Moreover. the early . The first is the biblical period. Uri Elizur wrote that Jews have known Jerusalem for 3000 years. These memory components will be discussed in the following sections. articles. References to the past were thoroughly scrutinized and categorized into three main periods.

Even though the state of Israel was founded dozens of years earlier. according to the text (Rosenfeld. They were viewed as fanatics and unrealistic.Gabel 253 Zionist movement has been criticized for failing to preserve biblical names and instead celebrating leaders of the movement in their selection of place names (Afa. Interestingly. 2002). Jews as eternal victims The third component of Gush Emunim’s collective memory is its attention to periods in which the Jewish people have been persecuted. Yesod Hamaaleh and Elon Moreh. and Jews had to learn to be farmers and industry workers. murder of Jews in Hebron in the early 1980s is portrayed as similar to the pogrom that occurred in the same city in 1929 (Hebron. such as the ‘objective of establishing a better. who rebelled against Hellenistic rule in 160 BCE. the leader of the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in 132–135 AD and the Hasmoneans. Nekuda compares the hunger strike of the Gush Emunim leadership during the early 1980s to a similar undertaking during the British Mandate (Until the goal is realized. In the same vein. The analogy to pioneers is interesting since early Zionism was characterized by a secular. 1980). 1980). 1980). 2001. 1998). the sole mention of Jewish life under foreign sovereignty relates to persecutions and oppression. Gush Emunim leaders make a point of drawing parallels between their own movement and the acts of Jews against foreign rule in different periods in history. Settlers are portrayed as their inheritors since they are depicted as fulfilling the same tasks – setting frontiers and protecting the state society (Elizur. according to settlers’ historical reading. . 1980). 2002). sometimes even defined as a fundamentalist movement. more just society inspired by the sense of mission that has always been at the heart of settlement’ (Harel. 1982). an objective that was also shared by the settlers. One of the principles of the Zionist revolution was that the country should run on Hebrew labor. The pioneers and founders of the early Zionist movement. have a vital role in Gush Emunim’s historical narrative. anti-religious ideology while the Block of the Faithful is a religious. The struggle for freedom: Jews rebel against foreign sovereigns The second component of Gush Emunim’s memory includes periods in which Jews proved their bravery through acts of heroism and rebellion for the sake of political and cultural freedom. Settlers and early pioneers are portrayed as minorities that were misunderstood by the vast majority. 1981: 3). the settlers’ narrative presents the state existence as fragile. Thus the settlements in Gaza in the late 1990s are presented as similar to those built before 1948 (Huberman. Thus a special correlation is construed between the new settlements and earlier struggles for freedom (Segal. In an interview published in 1990 one of the settlers summarized this self-image: ‘Coming here is saying: I am a pioneer’ (Lerman. They see themselves as comparable to Bar Kochba. Accordingly. who lived in Israel at the beginning of the 20th century. these minorities’ dreams proved to be rational (Ben-Yaakov. The similarity to early 20th-century Zionism is construed too by portraying settlers as motivated by the same ideals as those attributed to their predecessors. Yet. Ben-Yaakov. 1990: 19).

at every stage of history the Jewish people has had to confront a different enemy. one in which there is no consideration of the unique circumstances and characteristics of each period. 1996). In order to emphasize the dangers to the Jewish people in the absence of independence. 1981). The disregard for Jewish social and cultural life and the emphasis on suffering under foreign rule imply that Jews must establish their own political framework. According to Jewish tradition. an endless chain of conflicts which will cease at the end of history. The interpretation of the past has taught the Gush Emunim leadership that the decision to fight is always well taken. Following this line. Moreover. Thus the assumption is that it is a divine decree. thus implying that Zionism was not the cause of the antagonism towards Israel (Frantzman. Who fans the fires of the violence?. Any decision which opposes the Gush Emunim position or the concept of a Complete Land of Israel is virtually perceived as a holocaust. their opponents’ ideology is referred to as similar to the anti-Semitic book The Protocols of Zion (Saadon. 1980: 13). or as a step that could bring another tragedy upon the Jewish people.254 Media. settlers’ interpretation of the past suggests that Israel’s future depends on Jewish decisions and acts. that is. Moreover. the history of the Jewish people in the land of Israel can be divided into two: periods in which there was Jewish sovereignty over the country and periods in which other nations were sovereign. 2009). For Jews. according to Gush Emunim. nor are particular conditions or attributes in any given era taken into account. losing sovereignty over their country means suffering from persecution and harassment. such as the rich religious literature that flourished in Europe. 2009. The historical and meta-historical dimensions of the Gush Emunim narrative intersect and the newspaper portrays the conflict with the Arab neighbors as the contemporary struggle against Amalek –an ancient nation that became a symbol of the eternal enemy of the Jewish. The first is that. the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is portrayed in settlers’ historiography as a new form of anti-Semitism. Another article argued that anti-Semitism in the Arab world has profound roots in Islamic culture from the 19th century. Nekuda also refers to the Holocaust (Etzion. The historiography of Gush Emunim takes no stand on geopolitical or demographic context. Thus Arabs’ antagonism towards Israel is described as ‘Amalekism of our generation’ (Eliash. the Gush Emunim leadership reveals an a-historical perspective. through the eyes of Gush Emunim. rather than international circumstances. In this respect. with the coming of the Messiah. Even though Palestine was under . Israel’s confrontations with its neighbors thus acquire transcendental meaning beyond the bounds of historical or circumstantial considerations. Hence its political and territorial aspects are ignored. Discussion Analysis of the findings leads to several insights. have been erased from the newspaper’s discourse. inscribed in the Bible that propels Gush Emunim to combat its opponents. Culture & Society 35(2) Other aspects of Jewish life. analyzing reality and drawing conclusions with respect to certain periods on the basis of the lessons learned from others. Writers move from period to period.

Memory of the past serves as an instrument for inculcating belief in the necessity of struggle. 1990). then ostensibly the Jewish presence has been constant. 2005). Insofar as the theme of victimization remains intact regardless of changing historical circumstances. even at the price of sacrifice or heroism. The Jewish nation is perceived as weak and unable to defend itself against peoples with military might. the natural descendant of the secular Zionist movement. for example. The historiography of Gush Emunim also reveals the assumption of a critical connection between restoration of the past and interpretation and understanding of the present. it too is a manifestation of the a-historical perspective. the . rather they are portrayed as the only nation with historical rights to the land. that combined settlement with defense (Feige. They live under conditions similar to those of the Jews living under foreign rule. one of the principal functions of memory is to structure the identity of a community. The present-day struggle over the land of Israel determines the choice of past events for reinforcement of the moral basis of the Jewish nation’s claim to sovereignty and control over the land. 2001). It is interesting that the Gush Emunim leadership draws parallels between the fate of the Jews in the Diaspora before the establishment of Israel as a state and the problems of the settlers. What can be deduced about the identity of the Gush Emunim movement from the arrangement of the past and the structure of collective memory as presented on the pages of Nekuda? The chief conclusion would seem to be that Gush Emunim sees itself as an integral part of Israeli society since the movement portrays itself as a pioneer movement. Thus the Jews are not a colonial nation who attempted to gain control of a land that was not theirs. and even engaging in illegal acts is accepted. the lessons of the past give credence to demands and activities in the present. Thus for the settlement leadership the state has not yet been fully established because. Discovery of the past strengthens the status of the Jewish nation as bearers of sole authority to claim the land. If there have been any changes in the make-up of the population. Other peoples that lived in the land of Israel have been symbolically erased from the movement’s memory (Newman. In other words. it is permissible and even necessary to take controversial steps. There is an attempt here to draw connections between the present and the past while deliberately ignoring differences between the two periods. foreign sovereignty has no moral or historical legitimacy in Gush Emunim’s historiography.. Thus it has fallen prey to persecution and maltreatment since the dawn of history and up until the present day. Thus. it does not guarantee the services they believe a state ought to provide. even though there is a sovereign Jewish presence. 2000.Gabel 255 different rulers during history. Katriel and Shenhar. Gush Emunim’s collective memory teaches the members of its community that under certain conditions. This comparison implies that the settlements do not enjoy the protection of the sovereign nation. Moreover. The establishment of the state and its military successes – such as the victory during the Six Day War – have not laid this motif to rest. This historical perspective gives the Zionist enterprise moral authority insofar as Jewish sovereignty is the only assurance of the continuity of the Jewish people. The theme of victimization is ingrained in Jewish culture and historiography (Assis et al. Hazan. As discussed before. The second insight is the emphasis on the theme of victimization as another thread linking historical interludes in the collective memory of the settlers. 2009.

to cast Gush Emunim’s political struggle in a historical light. in Gush Emunim’s historical interpretation. even if it holds but a few families. The difficulty with defining the nature of the movement affects how the past is configured. the settlements also have military significance. therefore. a settlement is not just a place to live but also a military presence. the collective identity of the settlers is not unified or homogeneous. An emphasis on acts of bravery and on deviation from the law for the sake of national objectives is likely to reinforce an elitist and differentiated image. Nonetheless. and as such their establishment is seen as an act with meaning in and of itself. in accordance with prevailing conditions. The analogy between the project of settlement and the wall and tower campaign. Collective memory may have another function: bestowing legitimacy on the political demands of the movement. the secular. Culture & Society 35(2) settlement endeavor is seen as having the same dual significance as the settlements that were established during the early Zionist period. its aspiration to control all of Israel and the territories conquered in the Six-Day War is viewed as natural and legitimate. Moreover the Gush Emunim movement wishes to clarify that Jews lived in Israel throughout history and did not abandon their country. The Gush Emunim leadership is interested primarily in emphasizing the Jewish presence in the territories. By virtue of Gush Emunim’s historical memory. and the foundation of the first communities at the beginning of the 20th century. Restructuring of the past is intended. and settlers seek to distance themselves from their aggressive and colonialist image. The duality in the definition of the Gush Emunim identity and the issue of how the past is framed or how shared history is reconstructed are related. The historical basis for the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel situates the demands of the movement within a context of redressing former wrongs: Jews have been present in the country throughout history. Arguments in favour of controlling the territory revolve around the historical right established by Jewish sovereignty in the past and by the Jewish presence in Israel throughout 2000 years of exile. A heterogeneous and ‘ordinary’ portrait of the community may be more attractive to ordinary people who are interested in improving their lifestyle. They portray the community as a microcosm of Israeli society. The newspaper portrays settlers as coming from all the sectors in the nation. On the other hand. The diversity in identity has helped Gush Emunim to participate in public Israeli discourse and to present its community differently at different times.256 Media. as the battle over public opinion is primarily over the right to establish Jewish settlements in areas captured during the Six Day War. In the eyes of the Gush Emunim leadership. on the contrary. every settlement. adds to the security of the Jewish population as a whole. as in the eyes of the first pioneers. . those who came for ideological reasons and those who came looking for quality of life and lead ordinary lives. and their rule was made possible by military might. the religious. On one hand this has a political significance. Settlements are the very epitome of the Zionist ideology of establishing a demographic and economic infrastructure for the state and marking its frontier. It protects the borders of the state and of the Jewish population in other areas. derives from history and not from power. Other nations that ruled for a time were perceived as foreign. In other words. The Jewish right to settle the land. situates the movement at the heart of the Zionist consensus. veteran citizens. new immigrants.

however. the aspirations of the movement to settle territories occupied since the Six Day War are viewed as a transgression of international law and as an immoral imperative that causes injustice to the Palestinians. Disregard for this period of Jewish history is puzzling. The alternative proposed by the settlers to a society that has become materialistic and which seeks only to mimic the western world. At the same time. Leaders of the movement are not particularly disturbed by this. which stresses the Jewish presence in the land of Israel and distances itself from periods of history in which the Jews lived outside of the country (Weitz. Therefore the settlers’ historiography does not portray Gush Emunim as a revolutionary movement seeking fundamental change in values or government. although the controversy reaches into wide sectors of the state. A third front has appeared among supporters of the ideology of the movement who object to its methods and activities. The motif of the victim was also pervasive in the early phase of Zionism (Peri. Most of the criticism has been directed against its colonialist aspirations. The leadership of Gush Emunim has opted. Are settlers revolutionary? Taub (2007) suggests that the settlers have moved away from the political Zionist ideology and have elaborated a particular form of religious messianic doctrine. the ideologists and the pragmatists. and not as a revolutionary enterprise. 2000). On the contrary. the bond to secular Zionism is established also by adopting its language and images of early Zionism. among them the image of the pioneer. Gush Emunim’s political aspirations and the need to cope with criticism are key factors in the molding of memory that can serve as an instrument in Gush Emunim’s confrontations with its opponents. to adopt the Zionist line of historiography. On the international front. and between the hard core of Gush Emunim and new settlers who came to the territories seeking a better quality of life. the settlers’ memory portrays them as similar to the early pioneers. The movement has been required to deal with criticism on several fronts. Yet. and the Masada story (Katriel and Shenhar. Gush Emunim sees itself as a movement looking to return to ideological roots. settlers’ historiography wiped out the experience of the Jews in the Diaspora. It can be concluded that the claims of Gush Emunim to settle the captured territories and to establish sovereignty over them rest on what the movement sees as a a historical and moral platform. is to return to its roots and to the ideals on which Israeli society was founded. At the same time there are also internal debates within the community. A second front is challenges posed by opponents within the Israeli public to the conceptual stance adopted by Gush Emunim. The leaders of Gush Emunim see their movement as a link in an ongoing and continuous historical chain. 1997). . the Hasmoneans. 1990). between the religious and the secular. as one might have expected a religious community such Gush Emunim to emphasize the rich cultural and religious legacy that developed in the Diaspora. In this regard Gush Emunim can be viewed as a conservative movement which espouses historical values rather than a revolutionary alternative.Gabel 257 This point displays the connection between memory and the present circumstances. to the mythical ethos of an idealistic society which actualizes its beliefs. Moreover.

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