Daily Israel Report

Gush Katif Remembered: Was it Right to Turn Grass Into Sand?

Op-Ed: Gush Katif was destroyed this month in 2005. The left talked of "a second Hong Kong", but got the rocket capital of the world.
By Giulio Meotti
First Publish: 8/18/2012, 8:44 PM

Gush Katif pullout
Gush Katif pullout
Flash 90

Seven years ago, Israel destroyed the Jewish communities of the Gaza Strip, known as Gush Katif [the Katif Bloc]...

Gush Katif disappeared with its beautiful hothouses, orchards, flowers, red roofs, streets, factories, crops, schools and synagogues.

The horrible uprooting of the Jewish residents in order to attain “peace” with the Arabs has been one of the most terrible chapters in Israel's short history.

A daily average of 3,500 Palestinian laborers worked in Gush Katif prior to the evacuation. All of them lost their jobs. The area was turned into another Lebanon, with Arab butchering Arab and the “Gush” used as a base of operations for assaults on Israel.

Before 1967, not even Beduin were living there. Then came the Six Day War and Jewish pioneers, who turned the area into an agricultural paradise.

If someone wants to see  the life of these 8.000 pioneers, while they made the desert bloom, he can visit the Gush Katif Museum in Jerusalem, founded by Rabbi Sholom Dov Wolpe, who heads the Rambam Hashalem Torah Institute and SOS organization.

Since the expulsion, the former Gush residents have been abandoned by the state and public opinion. One third of those loyal Israelis are still unemployed. The Fogels of Itamar found a tragic dead in another town. Some have been wounded by rockets fired on their new “home”, Nitzan.

Few of the families have been relocated to a permanent home. Because of their age and their economic and emotional situation, most of the farmers have not been able to return to the work force.

Gush Katif was flanked by Rafah on the south, Khan Yunis on the east, the Muwassi coast on the west and a strip of refugee camps to the north. It was the most important citadel of Israel, the most heavily protected spot in the Middle East and the most strategic point in the Gaza Strip. A few bypass roads and access points above and below them could have solved the question for everyone. But no, the state and the left had to teach the religious Zionists a lesson. No matther what.

No Jewish community had borne the brunt of Palestinian terrorism more than those of Gush Katif. In the first nine months of the Second Intifada, more than 200 mortar shells were fired at Gush Katif.

But nobody in Israel paid attention to it.

Nobody paid attention to the plight of Gush Katif’s children, which was clear with the terrible injuries sustained by three children from the Cohen family in 2001.

In 2000, ten families from Netzarim, stranded at the crossing due to clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants, got a lift home on an army helicopter. That was their life, but they were right in saying that they were living in Gush Katif to protect Tel Aviv.

During the War of Independence, the Jews of Kfar Darom in the Katif Bloc, protected the entire State of Israel. In March 1948, with only 60 defenders, Kfar Darom repelled an Egyptian attack and the community resisted under siege for two months, giving the fledgling army time to regroup.

Netzarim overlooked Gaza City and dominated the width of the strip, giving Israel the ability to divide north from south. When soldier Nahshon Wachsman was kidnapped, Israeli forces, operating from Netzarim, cut off Gaza to prevent the soldier from being smuggled out of the area. It turned out that Wachsman was being held in Samaria where he was killed by the terrorists.

That ability to divide the two areas is the reason that in a meeting with senior commanders, even Yitzhak Rabin pounded his fist on the table and said, “I want Netzarim to have as much security as we give Tel Aviv”. In 1986, then defense minister Rabin visited Gush Katif, telling its inhabitants: “I believed in the past, and I continue to believe today, that this area must remain an inseparable part of the State of Israel ...”.

Netzarim residents were safe during 1992 and most of 1993. They nostalgically recall what it was like before Yasser Arafat returned to the region. Jews and Arabs worked together. Israelis used to go to Khan Yunis and drink coffee with Arabs. Oslo was the end of all that.

Rabin and Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn and agreed to Palestinian rule in Gaza and Jericho. A few days after the agreement, Arabs would drive by Netzarim waving flags and chanting “Itbah al-Yahud” (Death to the Jews).

The height of fear came when the IDF pulled out of Gaza in May 1994. The army withdrew not only from Arab areas. It also left Netzarim and the roads leading to the border. For weeks, the IDF sent an empty Israeli bus down the Gaza highway to test the reaction. It was usually bombarded with stones. The No. 36 bus between Katif and Ashkelon, the nearest Israeli city, was attacked daily. It was just a prelude to what Israel would experience after the disengagement in 2005.

The cynical, misleading question sold by the authorities to the public was: “Who needs this Gaza?”.

Israel succumbed and destroyed Gush Katif, the relinquishment of which was the easiest to sell to the Israeli public, as it was far away. The same people who advocated the evacuation wrote how they imagined making Gaza into “a second Hong Kong”.

Ironic, were it not so tragic.

Gaza remains the center of the flash point that begins every war, since it is filled with Arabs from Jaffa and all of southern Israel. Two wars - the Sinai Campaign in 1956 and the Six Day War in 1967 - were ignited by a Gaza then in Arab hands. The source of the trouble was the unsolved 1948 problem, swept under the carpet by Israel’s reluctance to face the problem.

After Netzarim, the Palestinians aimed at  Ashkelon and they will soon reach Tel Aviv.

The withdrawal from Gush Katif generated another war, it did not prevent it. Gaza is still the Achilles’ heel in Israel's ability to defend itself against a PLO-Hamas state west of the Jordan River, because the Arabs wish to get a foot in the door of independence in Gaza as the first stage of their homicidal plan.

“Gaza first” has been adopted by the Arabs with the intention to force the “gradual dissolution of the Zionist entity”.

14.000 rockets have been fired on Israel since Gush Katif’s fall and the Jews whose only “crime” is to have made that wasteland bloom are still waiting for a new home. That is the legacy of Gush Katif’s destruction: barrenness, evil and desolation.

And Iron Dome.

Was it right to turn grass into sand?