To secular Zionists, then and since, it was the voice of a Jewish fanatic crying in the wilderness. But Porat, who became the chief spokesman for Gush Emunim and then its recognized leader, lobbied the government relentlessly to authorize settlement expansion. In 1975, after the army had repeatedly stymied persistent settlement attempts, Sebastia finally became the vanguard of Jewish settlement in Samaria.
An iconic photo of the triumphant moment when the government finally yielded to unrelenting Gush Emunim determination shows Porat, eyes closed and arms spread wide in victory, on the shoulders of his ecstatic followers who were singing and dancing around their leader. With his fusion of Jewish and Zionist passion, Porat had found the way to revitalize a moribund Zionist movement by returning Jews to their ancient homeland. Gush Emunim settlements, he believed, fulfilled Jeremiah’s ancient prophecy: “The children will return to their borders.”
If Gush Emunim represented “the true spirit of awakening,” as Porat believed, it was his leadership that propelled the settlement movement into the forefront of Israeli politics. After the peace treaty with Egypt, which called for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank, he joined the new right-wing Tehiya party and became the settlers’ representative in the Knesset. Resigning after three years he was reelected in 1988 as a member of the National Religious Party. Porat defended the cause of religious Zionism in the Knesset for eleven more years.
Flourishing Jewish communities in Samaria – Ariel, Ofra, Kedumim, Itamar, and dozens of others – bear witness to Hanan Porat’s Zionist vision and his unrelenting determination for Jews to settle the Land of Israel. Even in his final months, when he was wracked by cancer, Porat’s Zionist passion remained undiminished and palpable.
Honored at a gathering of his friends and admirers not long before his death, it was evident that Porat still retained their loving admiration and abiding respect. For one final time, as they had done as young men with a burning vision back in 1975, they danced around their revered leader, who gently swayed with them inside their innermost circle.
Hanan Porat, father of ten children, died in his Gush Etzion home on October 3, the day after Rosh Hashanah. At his funeral Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said: “You were a man whose soul was filled with a great overwhelming love for the nation, its land and its Bible.” It was a fitting tribute to the rabbi and soldier, Jew and Zionist, visionary and leader, whose life exemplified the primal experiences of the Jewish people: exile and return.
When it came time in 1967 for the children of Israel to return to their borders, Hanan Porat knew that “everyone who takes part will be blessed.” Zichrono L’verachah.
Jerold S. Auerbach is professor emeritus of history at Wellesley College. His blog is www.jacobsvoice.tumblr.com.