Dulled by age and infirmity, extremist rabbi's fire burns on
Jason Koutsoukis • The Age
ON A quiet summer's afternoon earlier this month, the man viewed as the father of the settler movement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was being wheeled through the streets of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron.
Not so long ago, Rabbi Moshe Levinger had one of the strongest voices of that movement, and he still acts as a spiritual adviser to its fiercest activists.
Now 74 and having suffered several strokes, he can barely speak. As a form of greeting, he offered the little finger of his right hand and managed a wan smile.
Rabbi Levinger won fame in Israel in 1968 for being the first modern Jewish settler in Hebron. The second holiest city in Judaism, which the Torah says is the burial place of Abraham, Hebron had been a home to Jews for several thousand years.
In 1929, a pogrom in the city, which resulted in the deaths of 67 Jews, led to the end of the community's presence there.
But in 1968, after Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, Rabbi Levinger moved into a hotel room in the city and then refused to leave. He eventually struck a deal with the Israeli authorities and moved to a nearby hill, where the state agreed to build a settlement called Kiryat Arba. It remains his home today.
Rabbi Levinger once served 13 weeks in prison for shooting dead a Palestinian shopkeeper he said was trying to kill him. He is known for his antagonistic views towards Palestinians, and supports the deportation of those Palestinians who do not obey Jewish law to the surrounding Arab countries.
Rabbi Levinger is also a supporter of an Israeli state governed by Jewish law instead of parliamentary democracy.
''We have this thorn in the butt called democracy,'' says Gideon Ahronovitch, who works as the rabbi's assistant. ''This is the Kingdom of David. We need to kick democracy in the balls. Give it back to Greece. Modern democracy is an American thing.''
Mr Ahronovitch, 36, who was born in Ukraine, says the sooner the world recognises that Israel is a land given to the Jews by God, the sooner it will give up on the idea of a Palestinian state.
''This land does not belong to the rest of the world to give away. God gave it to us, the Jews. All you have to do is read the Torah and you will understand that.''