Disengagement from Gaza

Daniel Pipes just wrote a new essay he entitled Ariel Sharon’s Folly in which he makes the case that Sharon is failing Israel and the US.

In particular Pipes writes about the plan for a unilateral disengagement from Gaza and why he thinks it is a mistake. Here are a couple of sections that caught my eye.

“Mr. Sharon decisively won re-election in January 2003 over Amram Mitzna, a Labor opponent who advocated an Oslo-style unilateral retreat from Gaza. Mr. Sharon unambiguously condemned this idea back then: “A unilateral withdrawal is not a recipe for peace. It is a recipe for war.” After winning the election, his talks in February 2003 about forming a coalition government with Mr. Mitzna failed because Mr. Sharon so heavily emphasized the “strategic importance” of Israelis living in Gaza.

By December 2003, however, Mr. Sharon himself endorsed Mr. Mitzna’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. While he did so in a spirit very different from the prior Oslo diplomacy, his decision has the same two main characteristics.”

One of the key questions to me is what caused the change of opinion. I don’t know that Pipes addresses this as well as he could:

“There are many theories for what reversed Mr. Sharon’s views on the matter of a unilateral Gaza withdrawal in the 10 months between February and December 2003 – I have my own ideas about the hubris of elected Israeli prime ministers – but whatever the reason, its consequences are clear.”

Moving backwards here ere are his comments about the two main characteristics of the decision to disengage:

“First, because the decision to retreat from Gaza took place in the context of heightened violence against Israelis, it vindicates those Palestinian voices arguing for terrorism. The Gaza retreat is, in plain words, a military defeat. It follows on the ignominious Israeli abandonment of its positions and its allies in Lebanon in May 2000, a move which much eroded Arab respect for Israeli strength, with dire consequences. The Gaza withdrawal will almost certainly increase Palestinian reliance on terrorism.

Second, the retreat is heating up the political climate within Israel, bringing back the dangerous mood of exaggeration, incivility, hostility, and even lawlessness. The prospect of thousands of Israelis evicted from their homes under threat of force is rudely interrupting what had been a trend toward a healthier atmosphere during the relative calm of 2001-03.”

These are serious concerns. One of the biggest issues is whether you believe that disengagement is seen as a validation of terror. If you accept that premise than there is a real concern that this is a move that will cause great pain and discomfort for years to come.

I have mixed emotions about this. I am not convinced that maintaining a presence in Gaza is the smartest thing to do.

In October of last year I cited a piece called “Even the Victors Ought To Mourn” that Rabbi Daniel Gordis had written about disengagement. The excerpts I pulled still resonate with me. Here they are again:

“Even those of us who (however unhappily) favor the disengagement can, and must, understand this sense of betrayal. Because these Israeli citizens were encouraged by Labor no less than by Likkud to build homes in Gush Katif, and they did so with exemplary dedication. Because, our protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, we are withdrawing under fire. Because Ariel Sharon effectively promised these people that this would not happen, and they supported him with that assurance in mind. Because homes will be destroyed, communities dismantled, playgrounds abandoned, synagogues emptied, batei midrash razed. Because those who left Yamit (in the Sinai, when it was returned to Egypt, and was then destroyed by Israeli bulldozers) could at least console themselves with the knowledge that it was land for peace, while this week, we could not point to anything that we were getting in return for our evacuation.

Because there are cemeteries in the Gaza settlements, where these citizens have buried their parents and their children. And what should happen to those graves? Shall we disinter the children killed and buried there, and force those people to relive once again the torment of those funerals? Or shall we leave the graves there, even as the Palestinians move in, pretending that we don’t recall the desecrations of Joseph’s Tomb in 2000, or of the Mount of Olives before the Six Day War?

Sadly, we hear little validation of the settlers’ angst from those who favor the withdrawal. Where is the grieving on the “left” for a human tragedy of enormous proportions? Have we become so embittered that we feel nothing for those whom we must dislodge? Is that what statehood has wrought?”

Yotz’im me-azah, matchilim le-daber,” proclaimed the other side. “Leave Gaza, and Start Speaking,” as if there were anyone with whom to speak. What was intended to be a declaration of hope, struck me as naive, as Pollyannaish, as a reflection of precisely what is wrong with those with whom I agree that we need to leave, but who see our part of the world with an optimism I do not share. The arms-smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza will continue, and Israeli papers warned this week that Palestinians may have smuggled in weapons capable of bringing down a plane. (The Ben Gurion airport isn’t that far from Gaza.) The firing of Kassam rockets will also continue, that we know. The IDF will be in Gaza long into the future. The residents will leave, but our forces will not be able to. Ironically, “yotz’im me-azah, matchilim le-daber” confirms the sense of futility which has Kfar Darom in its grip. We are leaving out of desperation, because too many of us are dying, not because we have a peace partner.”

There is a sense of sadness and loss mired in hope here. Sad that the dream doesn’t always work the way you want and hope that making concessions will lead to a better future. Hope that this is a way of taking control amd making your own destiny instead of being forced to accept it being imposed upon you.

In the end I am in the Galut and my opinion on this matter should not carry all that much weight. I haven’t been in Gaza in about 20 years but I can appreciate the sacrifice that some are being asked to make.

I wonder where this will lead.

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