Vive La Difference: From Yamit to Katif

Didn't Ariel Sharon demolish 16 Jewish communities in the Sinai in April, 1982, in his capacity as Israel's Minister of Defense? So why is this removal so different from any other removal?

David Bedein

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credit David Michael Cohen
The Situation 23 Years Ago

People often ask why there is any reason to be so excited about the Sharon government proposing the demolition of 26 Jewish communities in Gush Katif and in Samaria. After all, didn't Ariel Sharon demolish 16 Jewish communities in the Sinai in April, 1982, in his capacity as Israel's Minister of Defense? So why is this removal so different from any other removal?

Back in 1982, as a community organization social worker, I was one of many mental health professionals asked to render assistance to residents of Yamit who were being evacuated from their homes after living there for several years. The process of counseling people in such circumstances was not an easy one. Families were falling apart at the seams. A couple, whom I knew had been prosperous and happily married, saw their lives torn apart in a process that destroyed their marriage.

Yet, the Yamit counseling process was doable, for many reasons.

The compensation offered was good.

The people being evacuated were comforted to know that the government of Israel had achieved a solid, clear peace treaty with Israel's most powerful adversary in exchange for total withdrawal from the Sinai.

Cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Menachem Begin, invited the evacuees to hear their plight, and the people of Yamit and the other 15 evacuated communities felt that they were still appreciated and respected by the government of Israel and by the media.

In addition, then-Defense Minister Sharon helped communities to relocate -- as communities -- to places that the government cleared for settlement, over a period of three years, from the moment the peace treaty was signed in 1979 until their relocation in 1982.

Sharon personally helped people from Yamit resettle families in Elei Sinai, in the northernmost part of the Gaza Strip, in an area that had been no-man's land, patrolled by the United Nations forces from 1957 until Egypt demanded that the UN pull out in 1967. The government of Israel helped the agricultural community of Atzmona move to a new location, under the same name, in Gush Katif. The government also helped the Yamit yeshiva move to a new location - N'vei Dekalim in Gush Katif.

While the demolition of Yamit and its suburbs was indeed a trauma, it was a trauma that people were able to cope with.

But the most important precedent set with Yamit was that Israel would trade settlements only for a solid peace treaty with an Arab entity. And people have felt safe and secure in the notion that no Israeli government would ever dismantle Jewish communities for anything but a solid peace treaty with an Arab neighbor.

In that spirit, Israel's Zionist peace movements -- Meretz in the Knesset and Peace Now in the streets -- stuck to their philosophy of "territories for peace", based on the Yariv-Shem Tov formula, named for Israeli intelligence chief Aharon Yariv and Israeli Mapam party leader Victor Shem Tov.

This "territories for peace" formula was far different from the platform of the anti-Zionist Left led by Matzpen, Uri Avneri, General Mati Peled and the Israeli Communist party, all of whom advocated the unilateral abandonment of Israel's Jewish communities established beyond the 1967 lines, with no quid pro quo. That position was firmly opposed by the Israeli Zionist Left.

As General Aharon Yariv told me in an interview on February 24th 1988, "We advocated territory for peace, not territory before peace," since territory handed to an enemy at war with Israel could simply be used as a launching pad for attacks against the State.

The Ten Essential Differences

Let us now turn the clock from 1982 to the 2005 lightening bolt process of the Sharon government, which has suddenly adopted the position of the Israeli Communist party, in favor of "territory before peace".

Let us look at the ten fundamental differences between the two situations - Yamit and Gush Katif-Samaria:

1. 1982 involved ceding land to an Arab state making peace, while 2005 involves ceding land to a PLO promising continued warfare with Israel.

2. Yamit and its surrounding agricultural settlements were of little significance to the economy of the state or people of Israel. Gush Katif provides $62 million of agricultural exports for Israel, along with hundreds of teachers for the communities of the western Negev.

3. Yamit and its surrounding agricultural settlements held little strategic significance for Israel. However, the location of Gaza's Jewish towns, in five parts of Gaza, was planned as a way of slowing the advance of any potential invasion from the south, while allowing vital intelligence listening posts for continuing surveillance of Gaza and the sea. Meanwhile, all four hilltop settlements slated for abandonment in Samaria are places from which the PLO can attack anywhere on the coastal plain of Israel.

4. The compensation being offered today is much smaller than that for Yamit residents. The Florsheim Institute of Social Research has shared its research with the Knesset to show that the government offers less than one-tenth of what was offered to the people in Yamit.

5. The Israeli government cannot show that there is any peace treaty or any inkling of a peace arrangement with the PLO, despite the fact that the brochure issued on May 1st, 2005, by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicates that "disengagement will lead to peace."

6. While people in Yamit and its surrounding agricultural settlements were there for an average of five years, most of the families in Gush Katif have lived there for as long as 25-30 years.

7. Yamit residents were never demonized by the Israeli government media outlets. For the past year, the Israeli government-owned and operated TV and radio media has consistently portrayed the residents who oppose the eviction as unreasonable fanatics, and worse.

8. Yamit residents had three years to plan their future from the time of the signing of the April 1, 1979, Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty on the White House lawn until its implementation on April 30th 1982, when the settlements in the Sinai were uprooted. In contrast, the Katif-Samaria communities had to plan their future from the day of Knesset ratification of the compensation bill in February, 2005, until August, 2005, when the law would evict them from their homes and farms, or face the prospect of criminal prosecution.

9. While Israeli government officials maintained a continuing dialogue with the people of Yamit, Israeli cabinet officials have, for the most part, refused to speak with the people of Gush Katif and Samaria. The secretary of Kadim in Samaria has shown that all letters to Israeli cabinet officials asking them why the government was demolishing his community of 21 years went unanswered. Residents of Ganim who decided to leave were denied requests to meet with cabinet members; they say that they were treated like criminals throughout the process. Gush Katif residents only heard about the details of their abandonment from radio and internet reports, while cabinet members would not answer requests to meet with them. And when Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz did come to a Gush Katif community center, I witnessed his refusal to answer any questions.

10. While the June 6th, 2004, provision in the Israeli government decision clearly states that no homes or assets from Jewish communities would be ceded to anyone "involved in terrorist activity," the government of Israel simply eliminated this clause from its June 23rd, 2004, agreement with the World Bank. The Israeli Foreign Ministry brochure of May 1st, 2005, also simply eliminated the clause. Such an omission allows Muhammad Dahlan - fingered by Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Wall Street Journal of June 2nd, 2002, as the man responsible for the campaign of cold-blooded murder against the citizens of Israel - to be the man whom Israel is nurturing to take over assets of abandoned Jewish properties. This, despite the fact that Olmert stated in that article that Dahlan should be executed by Israel for his crimes. Imagine what would have happened if, while consoling the people of Yamit, we would have broken the news to them that the Islamic Brotherhood of Egypt would be taking control of their homes and property.

Preparing for Massive Military Action

All this is written as a backdrop to the reality that the Israeli army is amassing more than 40,000 troops and police near Gaza to forcibly remove Jews from their homes. The Israeli police force has purchased 500 horses from Germany to aid them in their task. Former Israeli intelligence official Rony Shaked, now a senior correspondent for the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, has written that the IDF now has specially trained dogs who can pull people out of their homes and onto the streets. And the IDF troops near Gush Katif have been handed a document that explains under what circumstances they will be expected to open fire on protesters. The document concludes with an estimate that 300 residents or protesters will be killed in the process.

A far cry from Yamit.