My scholarly capital of interest to this conference rests upon three elements in my academic career. First, I have long been an observer of radical religion, religious violence and militancy in general; and I have written on fundamentalism, Jewish and Middle Eastern fundamentalism in particular.
Written By Prof. Gideon Aran
Let me make just one point out of many taken from my comparative studies: when talking about the Jewish settlers’ potential for lethal aggression we should take into account the possibility of violence directed toward themselves, that is that incidents of mass suicide may occur. In many intriguing ways the tragic scenarios of Waco Texas or Johnstown are not far-fetched analogies.
Second, I have authored a book-long research report on the evacuation of Eastern Sinai (Yamit Region 1981-2) following the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. Is that evacuation a valid precedent? How applicable are the extensively studied lessons, especially those concerning the Doom and Gloom forecasts about the possible outbreak of civil war. Again, I would like to mention just a single conclusion, the one regarding the settlers’ religious ability to absorb extreme frustration.
It was a classical When Prophecy Fails case, well known from the history of religions and associated with the Dissonance Theory. The settlers’ effort to stop the withdrawal from the occupied territories was based on a considerable investment and commitment on the part of the True Believers. And yet, on April 28, 1982 evacuation became a fait accompli without a single casualty, though not without an enthusiastic and well organized violent protest.
Two opposing authoritative prognoses
There were at that time two opposing authoritative prognoses:
- according to several social scientists, following Festinger et al., paradoxically enough the frustration was expected to lead to an increase in religious fervor, to a revivalist surge, one that might also involve violence.
- According to (somewhat cynical) followers of the widely admired Israeli culture critic, Professor Leibovitz, “Once the messianic balloon is punctured” [withdrawal will be forcefully imposed upon the settlers] the frustrated true believers would surely relinquish their Zionist as well as their Jewish loyalties”. Needless to add, neither of these extreme options materialized. Jewish supposedly radical religiosity proved to be surprisingly pragmatic and adaptive. These observations should also inform our future perspective.
Gideon Aran’s field of expertise is the social scientific study of religion, on the one hand, and extremism, militancy and violence, on the other hand.