Inside Terrorist Organizations

By David C. Rapoport | Go to book overview

Conclusion: The Radicalization of a Messianic Movement and the Evolution of Terrorism

What do we learn from the story of the Jewish underground? What lesson is to be drawn from the internal radicalization that took place within Gush Emunim and which led some of its most idealistic members to engage in terrorism, an extra-normal and totally unconventional activity, and one they could not even dream about before embarking on this course?

It appears to me that the main lesson to be derived from this terrorism- producing sequence of events has to do with the special vulnerability of messianic movements to extreme violence and their built-in orientation towards abrupt historical short-cuts. The present case lends strong support to David Rapoport's proposition that there is an internal logical and pyschological link between messianism and terrorism. 57 Messiansim and messianic movements do not have to produce terrorism but they are much more inclined to do so than other social movements faced with the same political conflicts. Under circumstances that imply uncertainty, doubts, political crisis and especially some hostile violence, they are likely to resort to excessive violence and eventually to terrorism. If the movement in question is not violent by its very nature but rather naive, idealistic and moralistic, the chance that all its leaders and members, or even the majority of them, will embark on a terroristic course is very slim. But it is highly probable that some of these people will, usually a small minority. Certain elements within the messianic movement, the most idealistic, action-oriented and preoccupied with the mystery of redemption, would become impatient with the ordinary procedures, the boring rules of conventional conflict-management and with all the other barriers. Facing hostility, sometimes aggression, but especially unbearable delays in the process of redemption, they will be drawn to violence and to terrorism.

It is thus possible to conclude that the combination of messianic belief in national redemption coupled with a situation of endemic national conflict has within it a built-in propensity for incremental violence -- extra-legalism, vigilantism, selective terrorism and finally . . . indiscriminate terrorism. A 'majestic' act of 'holy' terrorism may well fit into this scheme. As for the Gush Emunim underground it may be suggested that had its operations not been stopped in 1984, by Israel's intelligence services, it would likely have become a professional group of killers, a Jewish IRA.


NOTES

Research for this study was supported by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and completed under a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

1.
Zvi Ranaan, Gush Emunim ( Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Poalim, 1980), Ch. 4; Danny Rubinstein , On the Lords Side: Gush Emunim (Hebrew) ( Tel Aviv: Hakibutz Hameuchad, 1982), pp.18-28; E. Sprinzak, "'Gush Emunim: The Iceberg Model ofPolitical Extremism'"

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