In August 2005, Israel unilaterally left Gaza, destroying the thriving communities there and expelling the more than 8000 Jewish residents who had gone there with government encouragement– many of whom are still jobless and living in temporary homes, having lost their employment, their savings and in many cases, their health.
The Israeli Katif Bloc communities in Gaza were strategically placed from north to south, with the IDF deployed there and able to cut off one part of Gaza from the other in case of war, prevent the escalation of terror and attacks on an ongoing basis.
All this ended in August 2005 on the day of this so-called "Disengagement" (Israel still provides electricity, gas, supplies to Gaza) planned and carried out by the government of the late then PM Ariel Sharon, despite massive right wing demonstrations and petitions calling on the government to avoid what turned out to be a disastrous mistake, not only from a Zionist and human rights point of view, but from a security one. Missiles and rockets on Sderot were the immediate result, massive amounts of weaponry were brought into Gaza through Sinai tunnels, three IDF Operations followed, and the missile range has increased exponentially.
Operation Protective Edge is not simply another operation. Israelis have become wiser. Something has changed. The equanimity with which Tel Aviv residents greeted the rocket barrages and the fantastic success of Iron Dome, do not affect the clear understanding that the entire country is now Code Red. For the first time in Israel's history, rockets fell from Metulla to Eilat, literally. There is nowhere to escape them.
Years ago, our security "experts" said that territory is unimportant in an age of rockets. "Honey, the kilometers have shrunk", wrote Haaretz columnist Yoel Markus wittily, in a play on the movie title. He meant that whether Israel stays in Judea and Samaria or leaves it, the rockets will explode anyway. If not from Gaza, then from Tehran. So who needs Judea and Samaria?
The past ten days have shown the folly of this security assessment. The public understands, unfortunately rather belatedly, that nothing has shrunk. The far off ballistic threat is still there, but the closer one has mushroomed. The Oslo Accords and the "Disengagement" turned these areas from hostile kilometers into state-of-the-art rocket launching installations. Lettuce greenhouses became terror hothouses.
They have not destroyed our happiness, but they have brought misery with them. The economy has been hurt, freedom of movement is limited, the kibbutzim near Gaza are emptying, and our status in the international arena plummets when we decide to respond.
The Iron Dome gives us respite and saves lives, but this is not a sustainable way of living, in the shadow of sirens and with a constant feeling of being at war.
On the radio this past week, Attorney Dov Weisglas apologized for the expression "Kassam rockets? They are just flying objects" that he used during the campaign waged to convince Israelis to support the "Disengagement" plan from Gaza. Ordinarily, someone who admits his mistakes and ceases to repeat them, is granted a pardon. Except that Weisglas, one of the arch planners of leaving Gaza, doesn't admit his mistakes, doesn't stop repeating them and therefore, will also not be granted mercy.
Weisglas, once Ariel Sharon's bureau chief, still claims the "Disengagement" itself was a "wonderful strategic idea". From his point of view, Netanyahu and Yaalon's recent hesitation to enter into a land war in Gaza was the absolute proof that leaving there in 2005 was the right thing to do. After all, "if we can't do without Gaza, why don't we just retake it now?" ask the various Weisglas clones rhetorically - in an effort to beat back the current right wing attack on the logic of the "Disengagement".
The answer, of course, is that there are mistakes in life that cannot be corrected. When two doctors argue about a course of treatment for a patient, and one doctor's suggestions are implemented, he can't turn to the other doctor once the patient has died and tell him: "Try the other course of treatment. Let's see you succeed."
To explain the analogy: It was difficult to stay in Gaza, but it is much more difficult to try to return. The mountains are higher on the way back and the dunes of Gaza deeper than before. The terror kids that we left there are full grown rams. At the beginning of the last decade, they launched mortars at Netsarim in the Katif Bloc, today they launch rockets at Haifa. Even the "paranoid right", who warned against the "Disengagement", did not imagine this level of escalation.
The left, for its part, predicted only good outcomes. I am sorry to burden you with a selection of the left's statements about the "Disengagement", but they are crucial raw materials for the current controversy on what to do with Gaza and for the arguments we will have in the future about similar issues. The self-confidence of the retreat-suporters, their moral and professional daring, mandates a good look at these quotes, all from just one year before the "Disengagement" was carried out.
1. Ariel Sharon in a personal message to Likud members: "The 'Disengagement' plan is good for our security. Israel will be freer than ever to act against terror organizations. All the heads of Intelligence estimate that as a result of the 'Disengagement', there will be less terror. However, if the terror continues, Israel, now with full international backing, will return and act in Gaza more strongly. This is an immediate security benefit derived from eliminating the Katif Bloc communities, who donate nothing to Israel's security today". (April 4, 2004)
2. Ehud Olmert in a newspaper interview: "The most significant threat made by those who are against the 'Disengagement' is that it will give the terrorists more motivation to increase their terrorist acts. How much more can terror increase compared to what is already there?" (Yediot Aharonot, 14.5.04).
3. Ami Ayalon at a leftist rally in Rabin Square: "Leaving Gaza is a small step made to bring security and peace to the Jewish State".
4. Shimon Peres, at the same rally: "Eighty per cent of our people wish for peace, one per cent tries to block it. We won't let them. We came to say this evening that this one and only per cent will not send us back to wars, to bloodshed. What we need is a government that expresses the desire of the people and acts for its future. Yes to fighting terror hard, but yes to leaving Gaza and the Philadelphi Corridor. Even Sharon knows there is a solution to the Philadelphi Corridor, an Israeli-Palestinian-Egyptian solution that will help us change this dangerous area into an industrial center with the help of America."
5. Haaretz editorial the morning after the rally: "We should adopt the model of unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, which has proven by now, that security can be based on other models."
6. Brigadier General (res) Shmuel Zucker: "Our military presence in Gaza is of no importance, if we are referring to Israel's security, or to protecting Ashkelon and Sderot from rockets. What does the army do there? Guards the settlers, Netsarim, Kfar Darom, the settlement's access road."
7. ISA Deputy Chief Ofer Dekel in an interview before retiring right before the "Disengagement": "You ask me if the 'Disengagement' is good for security? It is great for security! It is good for the Jews. Absolutely yes. In 2004 the ISA head asked me to consolidate the ISA's stand on the subject. We tried to delve into the plan in depth, predict what would be, and we eventually reached a consensus that the 'Disengagement' was good for the Jews. I don't know anyone in the ISA against it, that's not even imaginable. To come and say that the plan will create a worse situation than we have today? That's heresy. It will reduce the scope of terror. Once there are no (Jewish) communities in the Gaza area, there won't be any available targets."
Interviewer's query: "So where do all these dire predictions from security experts about the day after the "Disengagement" come from?"
Dekel: " The apocalyptic predictions come from one dimensional observations of the Palestinian arena. ..if one rocket is launched after the 'Disengagement', the IDF will have more legitimacy to enter the area than it has today." (Yediot Aharonot, 12.6.05)
Translated by Rochel Sylvetsky from the Hebrew Makor Rishon newspaper