The prestigious conference brings together leading Israeli politicians, academics, security officials, and Torah scholars to discuss key issues affecting Israel and the Jewish People and impacting Israel's national agenda for the next generation.
Monday evening's session was heavily-charged, with various speakers outlining the consequences of the uprooting, warning of imminent dangers of another one - and apportioning blame.
Deputy Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon columnist Caroline Glick outlined three reasons why, in her opinion, the struggle to save Gush Katif and Northern Shomron failed. She began by stating that "for the last 20 years, the Israeli left has been telling us that Israel's best security borders and demographic borders are the same... The truth is, however, that anyone who has been here since 1994, and certainly since 2000, should realize that this is not true - for we are seeing a radicalization among Israeli-Arabs, and we also see that the Palestinians voted for the Islamic Brotherhood [in the form of Hamas - ed.] to lead them. So it should be clear that this was a mistake...
"But we see that a government headed by Arik Sharon, [even after] he rejected the left's approach, came up with the idea of taking unilateral action, purporting to show that we could set up demographic borders that would be good security borders. But again, immediately after the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, we see that Hamas has arisen, Al-Qaeda and Hizbullah are basing themselves in Gaza, communities near Gaza are under rocket attack, etc. And so the question should be asked: How could it be that under these conditions, the Disengagement received the support of most of public, is still perceived as a success, and even now that it has failed, we see Kadima leading the polls?"
Glick then presented "three parameters of failure, which if we do not identify in time, will enable Kadima to implement yet another Disengagement in Judea and Samaria that will endanger the whole country." The first, she said, is the fact that the "amateurish national-camp leadership" fell into the trap set for it by the government: "The government knows that it can't justify, security-wise, a unilateral gift of land to Hamas, and so it 'changed the subject' - focusing the issue not on 'security,' but on 'the settlers.' The settlers' leadership, however, instead of saying that this is nonsense, and instead of concentrating on the security dangers, starts waging the war as if it's about the settlers and the injustice being perpetrated upon the poor 8,500 people who are being thrown out, etc. But the country can't be convinced, because they think that the settlers are blocking security. We should have made a clear campaign to show that the Disengagement endangers the entire country's security. This is how we could have obtained the support of the whole country, and built a broad coalition of residents of Ashkelon and Ashdod and Sderot, and received the support of the defense community - but instead we just said that it was unfair to the settlers."
Secondly, Glick said, "we believed in the left-wing rhetoric about human rights, and we went to B'tzelem and the Supreme Court and to the justice system, but we didn't realize that they had an ideology that led them - the return to the 1947 borders - and therefore they didn't care that civil rights were being trampled along the way. And number three is the extremist perception reigning in the religious-Zionist public about what is the State of Israel. Some say that it is holy, and therefore we have to dedicate ourselves to it totally and absolutely, and then others say that we must totally detach ourselves from it if it does things we don't like. But in truth, it's really just a man-made tool; it is not holy, and it has some good things, and it has some medium aspects, and it has some bad things. This is how we should relate to it. For these reasons, we failed, and now Yesha is endangered. If we fix these things, then we might be able to save Yesha and the State of Israel."
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Rabbi Yigal Kaminetzky, the rabbi of the Gush Katif community almost since its inception, spoke next, saying he has a "grave indictment against State of Israel, the Disengagement Administration, the police and the army, all of whom brought us to where we are. Some ask me if the government's handling of this affair was more Sodom-like [evil] or more Chelm-like [bumbling], and the answer is that it was both, but with a higher proportion of Sodom."
"It was clear to me that they didn't want to destroy just Gush Katif, but our entire culture that provided an alternative to the reigning culture of the State, and here's why. One, it was clear from the outset that there was no reason at all to destroy the entire enterprise; no reason was ever given, and we see now that there was no point - it brought about an entire Hamas state on our doorstep; what was the point? Two, the compensation law is totally and absolutely unjust - throwing people out of their homes, stealing their property, and giving them nothing in return. There are still many who have not received a penny - no unemployment, no money with which to get along for the meanwhile, nothing. And it's not being taken care of. Three, they didn't agree to provide alternative communities for us."
He elaborated on this point by explaining that the approach of the Administration was that individual solutions, such as an "apartment in some new project in [out-of-the-way] Arad, on the third floor, 2.5 rooms - for a nine-member family coming from a 250-square meter house, with schools, jobs, a community. 'Sorry,' they would say, 'that’s the law.'"
For these reasons, the rabbi said, "I understood that the purpose was to destroy this great and unprecedented beautiful enterprise; most of Gush Katif came from development towns, and Gush Katif became the most developed place of all, with barely any crime, and a police station that was idle, without social differences. They [the government] wanted to destroy this. Everyone was a party to this, including the army and the police. We sat with them and told them that there are no solutions, that we will end up on the streets - and yet no one listened, they just carried out their evacuation orders even though they knew there was no continuation - and we know what happened."
"It was claimed that we didn't cooperate," Rabbi Kaminetzky said. "Well, first of all, which victim ever cooperates with his attacker? Two, those who did cooperate are in even worse shape than those who didn't. And third, the Legal Forum did suggest alternative communities - but in practice, these ideas were not accepted. The only reason why these communities are, despite all this, being formed is because of us, our struggle. We managed to hold on: Do you know what it's like to live in a hotel? It's like your head has been cut off. You get up in the morning without a job, without a home, without property, without community, without your synagogue - and then you still have to retain your desire and will to remain together as a community. There were those who helped - and it wasn't the Administration. There were groups like Lmaan Acheinu... And most people still are not working; most of those who found jobs were helped by private groups like jobkatif.net, not the Administration. There was a fervor to carry out the national mission of the disengagement, but where is it now, when we need it to help us? It no longer exists."
Oded Tira, a former IDF Brig.-Gen. who 24 years ago headed the evacuation from Sinai and who more recently headed the Manufacturers' Association. He read from an article he wrote before the recent Hamas landslide electoral victory in the Palestinian Authority, in which he predicted that the Disengagement - which he said he originally favored - would be translated in the PA into a Hamas victory.
"For decades," Tira read aloud from his article, "we haven't realized that gestures towards the Arabs don't get us gestures or appreciation in return... Rather, the Arab nations feel that power and willingness to use it are a national asset. Some [of us] thought that the Disengagement would be a gesture towards Abu Mazen and would strengthen him and the moderate wing in the PA. But in fact, the Palestinian public sees it differently; they see it as Israeli weakness, as a loss of determination by Israeli public that had become worn down by terrorism, a Western outlook, and a desire for personal financial benefits. They therefore read it as an indication that they should continue with their terrorism until we run away... Our talk of not wanting to rule over another country and wanting to retain the Jewish character of our country, means nothing to them. They see it as simply a victory for Hamas terrorism, and that they should vote for Hamas in the next election. The disengagement will end up toppling, not strengthening, Abu Mazen. This is a basic problem of not understanding how our moves are interpreted in the Palestinian society, and we need experts to help us understand this."
Moderator Yitzchak Meron of the Legal Forum that has volunteered its legal services for over a year for the benefit of the expellees noted that polls in the PA before the announcement of the impending Disengagement showed that PA Arabs felt that terrorism had failed, while afterwards, the polls said the opposite.
Haaretz reporter Daniel Ben-Simon made the most controversial presentation. "I know you won't enjoy what I have to say," he said with a smile, "but you invited me, so you'll have to bear it. On the way here, a sticker for Pollard was plastered on my car, and then I saw the B'Sheva newspaper, which talks only about yourselves and not at all about what is really happening in this society... You turn inward much too much. If you would cross the country, you would see that the Israeli society is simply tired and weak, and has no more strength to resist, and while you're busy with talking about how right you are, the fact is that when the Disengagement plan came, it met an Israeli society that was already weak and ready to accept it... [The Israelis] were also angry, especially when terrorists killed a soldier in Ariel, and people say, 'What was he doing there in the first place? Who was he guarding?' They said this in Ariel, and all the more so in Gush Katif...
"Under these circumstances, the Disengagement was accepted as a lifeboat, and has already been such a great victory that Kadima, a mere shadow party, has already won because of it. I met two future Kadima MKs in India last week; they're planning to return the day before the election, because they know that they have already won - and all because of the disengagement. While you're mourning what happened, and even if wasn't just or right, the fact is that it made Sharon into a world hero. While you were concentrating on your halakhic rulings and your pain and yellow stars, etc., the country wasn't paying attention, they didn't care. Half-a-million people went abroad during the Disengagement, a record number, and when they came back it was behind them and there were no casualties and that was that. You went from house to house and people greeted you nicely, but in the end, they didn't come out to help you stop the uprooting. This all happened because you were involved in yourselves, and you didn't correctly read the Israeli public. Instead of complaining about the hotel rooms and the like, start preparing for what will happen if Kadima gets 38 and Labor gets 20 and more, and then who will stop the next Disengagement? Instead of convincing yourselves how much you suffered, ask yourselves why the rest of the society which was loyal to you, now wants a divorce. Start worrying about the next disengagement that will begin in Yesha and near Jerusalem."