As a remarkably brave nation faces two thousand Hamas terrorist rocket attacks raining down from Gaza over a fortnight, with deadly missiles extending north of Tel Aviv and into cities and regions that once were thought safe from Hamas’s reach, many of Israel’s former Oslo champions and Disengagement advocates are experiencing remorse.
Now, today, many among them suddenly realize that the residents of Gush Katif had been their heroes, their protectors — that, as long as brave and remarkably selfless Jews were willing to populate Northern Gaza, their presence assured a protective buffer for all of Israel. Now, however, the Gush Katif heroes have been gone for almost a decade, and so is the protective buffer. When the current season of rockets stop — as surely they eventually will — some of those same “Beautiful People” may forget the pain that is now, the remorse they now feel.
Among those in Israel’s nationalist community, there never was doubt that then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage unilaterally from Gaza was a disaster-in-the-making, a disengagement from reality. Adopted by the Knesset on June 6, 2004 and implemented a year later, in August and September 2005, the plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza never fooled the nationalist community.
For Zion’s sake, millions in Israel did not hold their peace. Nationalists identified by wearing orange, the color of the Gaza Regional Council. On July 25, 2004, tens of thousands of Israelis formed a human chain that stretched 90 kilometers from the Erez crossing in Gaza to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem, protesting the disastrous plan. On October 14, more than 100,000 demonstrated in cities throughout Israel against the proposed disengagement.
Seven months later, 400 were arrested while non-violently blocking 40 busy traffic intersections throughout Israel, drawing attention to their protests.
By the middle of 2005, pollsters reported that the Israeli public’s support for the proposed withdrawal had plummeted below 50 percent for the first time. Another 50,000 protested on August 2, 2005, in Sderot. On August 10, a prayer vigil and protest at the Kotel drew between 100,000 and a quarter million Jews. On August 11, in what may have been the largest demonstration ever held there, similar numbers massed in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to plead against the disastrous plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
Nevertheless, Ariel Sharon was unfazed and determined to bulldoze the Jewish communities of Gush Katif into oblivion and to hand over all of Gaza to the Arabs living there. To this day, on an official website of the Knesset, where historic documents of the Government of Israel can be found, one still can read the misguided rationale and remarkably wrong predictions that underlay Sharon’s plan to walk away from the Gaza Strip and to give it away without conditions.
According to the April 16, 2004 Disengagement Plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, “The plan will lead to a better security situation, at least in the long term. . . . The relocation from the Gaza Strip . . . will reduce friction with the Palestinian population, and carries with it the potential for improvement in the Palestinian economy and living conditions. . . . The hope is that the Palestinians will take advantage of the opportunity created by the disengagement in order to break out of the cycle of violence and to reengage in a process of dialogue. The process of disengagement will serve to dispel claims regarding Israel's responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. . . . As a result, there will be no basis for claiming that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory.”
That’s what Sharon’s Disengagement Plan myopically promised.
The Plan also assured Israelis that all security needs would remain in full control of Israel: “Israel will guard and monitor the external land perimeter of the Gaza Strip, will continue to maintain exclusive authority in Gaza air space, and will continue to exercise security activity in the sea off the coast of the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip shall be demilitarized and shall be devoid of weaponry, the presence of which does not accord with the Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Israel reserves its inherent right of self defense, both preventive and reactive, including where necessary the use of force, in respect of threats emanating from the Gaza Strip.”
On October 25, 2004, Sharon told the Knesset: “I am firmly convinced and truly believe that this disengagement will strengthen Israel’s hold over territory which is essential to our existence, and will be welcomed and appreciated by those near and far, reduce animosity, break through boycotts and sieges and advance us along the path of peace with the Palestinians and our other neighbors. . . I have been told [by my critics] that the disengagement will be interpreted as a shameful withdrawal under pressure, and will increase the terror campaign, present Israel as weak, and will show our people as a nation unwilling to fight and to stand up for itself. I reject that statement outright. We have the strength to defend this country, and to strike at the enemy which seeks to destroy us.”
On December 16, Sharon told the Fifth Herzliyah Conference: “The initiative of disengagement has produced a long list of political accomplishments. Because of it, the Palestinians have no excuse not to abandon terror. Because of it, there is no criticism of Israel’s determined actions against terror. . . . Now there is a real chance that new Palestinian leaders will rise, those who will be elected, who will truly abandon the path of terror, and instead will advance a strategy of reconciliation and negotiation without violence, terror and hatred. We hope that the Palestinians will succeed in holding free, democratic and quiet elections. . . We can reach a situation where terror will stop being such a tangible threat to the well-being of the citizens of Israel. For the first time since the establishment of the State, we will be able to live lives of tranquility, develop and build our economy without disturbance or threat and invest more in education, health and welfare. For their part, the Palestinians can then also live in dignity and freedom in an independent state, and, together with us, enjoy good neighborly relations, while cooperating for the good of both our peoples.”
And on June 30, 2005, Sharon told the Caesarea 2005 Conference: “Disengagement can assist us in curbing terror, and will certainly allow us to fight terror in a better and more effective way. There is a real chance that disengagement will generate the Palestinian side to stop the terror offensive. For the first time the Palestinians will have to choose: Do they want to begin building, or continue destroying? Are they ready and able to change on their own, or do they want to continue to wallow in the swill of their hatred and incitement, which will lead their population to poverty and suffering? They truly have an opportunity. It would be regrettable if they miss it. There exist in Palestinian society and its leadership moderate forces who want to make the right choice. Disengagement can help them, and constitutes a test of whether or not they can lead, whether we have or do not have a partner. If the Palestinians fail, and again choose the path of war and terror, the Disengagement will significantly improve our ability to deal efficiently with the terror.”
Not everyone was as sanguine as was Prime Minister Sharon. Indeed, then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned from the Sharon Cabinet on August 7, 2005, and he spoke strongly to the public in the Knesset three days later, urging opposition to the disengagement plan: “Only we in the Knesset are able to stop this evil. Everything that the Knesset has decided [previously] — it also is able to change. I call on all those who grasp the danger: Gather strength and do the right thing. I don't know if the entire move can be stopped, but it still might be stopped in its initial stages. [Don't] give [the Palestinians] guns, don't give them rockets, don't give them a sea port, and don't give them a huge base for terror.”
But the Knesset adopted the Disengagement Plan. Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, executing the destruction of 21 Jewish communities. More than 2,500 Jewish homes were razed. The bodies of 48 Jews buried in the Gush Katif cemetery in Gaza were exhumed and reinterred elsewhere. All remaining synagogues in Gaza were ransacked, desecrated, and bulldozed or torched by the Arabs to whom the land was handed. And then, as predictably as night follows day, the Arabs of Gaza promptly elected the terror thugs of Hamas to represent their highest aspirations, and within two years Hamas brutally drove the competing Fatah terrorist government from the land.
For nearly half a century since June 1967, the Israeli Left’s mantra has been “Land for Peace” — a blind, almost theological faith-bound belief, with no actual foundation in empirical data, contending that Israel must “take risks for peace” by ceding land that is hers because peace surely will follow. This was the Religion of Oslo, and this was the Religion of the Gaza Disengagement.
Each time the Left assured the nation, with a zeal rooted in blind faith, that a massive withdrawal from land would win the approbation of “world public opinion,” would end boycotts and calls for divestment and sanctions, and would inspire Arab denizens of affected regions to focus their energies on nation-building of their own, instead of nation-destroying of Israel. The Arabs would become imbued with a sense of political responsibility, would be absorbed in administering health, education, welfare, and other related tasks of governance. They would be focusing on building roads, collecting garbage, propagating agriculture, creating an economy, engaging in arts and sciences, taking their proud place among the nations.
They no longer would claim “occupation” and, in time, even might ally with Israel in regional economic councils and begin leveraging their new television and radio media to teach their children to live amicably alongside their Jewish neighbors. As envisioned in Shimon Peres’s 1996 television campaign ads, the Israel-Arab Middle East of post-Oslo would just be a fun town with Israelis driving their bright-yellow sports convertibles down the scenic highways, wind blowing in their hair, enjoying the new paradise.
It never happened. The wind blew a different direction, as the sham of Oslo was exposed brutally amid a plague of terror bus bombings and other Arab atrocities that brought Shimon Peres’s anticipated electoral victory crashing to a halt then, and as the sham of the Sharon Gaza Disengagement now has crashed, utterly and completely, with a nation viewing the full dimensions and scope of the tragedy that the unilateral disengagement from Gaza has wrought.
When Operation Protective Edge winds down — as it inevitably will, whether sooner or later — it will be imperative for every person in the world who loves Israel to remember how this whole mess really started so that it never again is repeated elsewhere in the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Dov Fischer is author of General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine (Steimatzky: 1985). His political commentaries have appeared on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, National Review, Los Angeles Times, and in other major American publications. He formerly was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, is an adjunct professor of law at two prominent American law schools, and is Rav of Young Israel of Orange County, California. His writings can be found at www.rabbidov.com