In the Negev, Religion Is Making the Desert Bloom

Both in and out of office, one of David Ben-Gurion’s enduring passions was settling the Negev, the vast desert in southern Israel, and turning it into an agricultural powerhouse. Reviewing two recent books about this part of the Jewish state, Allan Arkush notes that “while development has not taken place on the scale or in the way that Ben-Gurion imagined, Israel has, in fact, made a large swath of the desert bloom.” Arkush begins with Yael Zerubavel’s Desert in the Promised Land:

As Zerubavel reports, most of the Jews who came to settle in Israel’s south in the first two decades after the establishment of the state did so involuntarily. Immigrants, mostly from Arab countries, were transported “directly from the boat to their designated settlement in the Negev in order to minimize the possibilities for them to object to this plan.” In fact, some were smuggled into their new homes in development towns in the dead of night to prevent them from being alarmed by the desolation all around them. . . . Zerubavel, [however], writes not to condemn or, for that matter, to celebrate the policies pursued by Israeli leaders in the 1950s but to situate them in the context of a broad range of “complex and contradictory” Zionist stances toward the desert in general and the Negev in particular. . . .

The anthropologist Pnina Motzafi-Haller’s subjects [in her book Concrete Boxes: Mizrahi Women on Israeli’s Periphery] are all the descendants of the people who were unceremoniously dumped in the desert a half-century or more ago. Some of them have risen above the unfavorable circumstances . . . into which they were born, but others have never escaped them or have done so only for a short time. . . .

Of all the options available to her subjects, however, it is not rebellion but “religious strengthening” (hitazkut) that Motzafi-Haller regards as the “most constructive,” an attempt to transform, or at least better, their lives, rather than to escape them. “The act of participating in religion classes marks them as serious, respectable women with high spiritual aspirations, not gossips who spend their evenings watching shallow soap operas on television.” This can lead not only to greater peace of mind but also to new patterns of consumption [and financial responsibility].

Motzafi-Haller is, we shouldn’t forget, an unabashedly secular woman. Her recognition of the beneficial aspects of religiosity is neither pious nor apologeticShe sees hitazkut as just the best available option.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Judaism in Israel, Mizrahi Jewry, Negev

Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy