The death of the Chief Rabbi Emeritus of Haifa, Rabbi Shaar-Yashuv Cohen, brings to mind the most stirring episodes in the history of the modern State of Israel.
Rav Shaar-Yashuv Cohen, wounded in the battle for the Old City in Jerusalem, was the last Jewish civilian who left the Old City as it fell, carried on a stretcher into captivity…And Rav Shaar-Yashuv Cohen, who served as the deputy Mayor of Jerusalem in 1967, was given the honor of being the first civilian allowed to enter the Old City in Jerusalem at the time of its liberation during the six day war.
Yet there is yet another mission to Jerusalem which was little known.
In August, 2005, Rabbi Shaar-Yashuv Cohen traveled to Jerusalem to attempt a last minute plea for then Prime Minister Ariiel (Arik) Sharon to reconsider his plan to retreat from Gush Katif, which involved Israel’s obliteration of the 21 Jewish communities there, including 325 thriving Jewish farms and 86 synagogues and Jewish study centers. Rav Shaar-Yashuv Cohen told me at the time that the rapport between Arik Sharon and himself had lasted since his days of captivity in the 1948 war and that Rav Shaar-Yashuv was the only Rabbi who was ready to speak with him at the time.
Sharon gave a clear answer to the rabbi: “This is what the US is demanding that I do and I must do it.”
It did not matter that half of the 9,000 Jews who live in Gush Katif had nowhere to go, and that their relocation plans were still up in the air.
It did not matter that the Israeli government cannot offer more than two containers to each family to help them remove their possessions.
It did not seem to matter that the experts in Israel’s security establishment are warning that the result of Israel’s hasty retreat will be the creation of a new Islamic terror base.
Rav Shaar-Yashuv Cohen heard Sharon making it clear that he was under pressure from the US government and that is that, and that the myth of an autonomous Israeli policy in this regard had nothing to do with reality.
Indeed, one of the common assumptions was that the Sharon government’s plan to expel Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria, and unilaterally hand the area over to an independent Palestinian entity, had been an entirely autonomous Israeli decision.
But the US government was behind it all along.
In meetings with concerned American citizens, Danny Ayalon, Israeli ambassador to the US at the time, clearly stated that Sharon’s Retreat Plan was part of an overall Israeli-American agreement.
In late June, 2005, Ayalon met with representatives of the Orthodox Union, one of the largest contingents of American Orthodox Jews, and told them clearly that “Prime Minister Sharon is left with no choice. He is doing exactly what the US expects him to do.”
In an interview with the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, published on June 22nd, 2005, Ayalon reversed earlier Israeli government statements, saying that Israel does not expect the Palestinian Authority (PA) to dismantle terrorist infrastructure until after the planned expulsion. He mentioned that ending terrorism and anti-Israel incitement had been conditions Israel had demanded from the PA before carrying out the plan; however, Ayalon indicated that the agreement with the US was more important than an agreement with the PA.
The Israeli ambassador said, “Disengagement has to be viewed in the context of Israel-United States relations…. This pullout did not follow an agreement with the Palestinians, but it followed something which is much more important, an agreement with the United States. Disengagement is something that creates a common agenda between us and the United States.”
In the final interview given by Benyamin Netanyahu before his resignation from the Sharon government, he indicated that the current policy pursued by the government of Israel should be perceived as a threat to the security interests of the US and of all Western countries, since it created a terror base in Gaza, and since the Palestinian Authority incorporated the Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations instead of dismantling them.
Yet, the directive of the US State Department remained unaltered: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon must dismantle and withdraw any and all Israeli presence from every Jewish community in the Katif district of Gaza by mid-August.
When Israel did go ahead with the retreat of the IDF and the expulsion of the Jewish communities from Katif and the Northern Shomron, Rav Shaar-Yashuv Cohen told me that he wanted to tell the world that this policy was implemented as a the result of a clear dictate to Arik Sharon issued by the government of the United States. This was not meant as rationalization for Sharon's policy.
Few people want to hear the warnings of Rav Shaar-Yashuv Cohen that Israeli policy is often dictated from Washington.