Disengagement or Disaster

By Serena Weil

(TI) Israel is presently grappling with a heart rending, soul-searching dilemma. Some call it disengagement, redeployment, resettlement; others call it evacuation, withdrawal, retreat. Living as we do in a mire of misinformation, we are inundated with a never-ending tsunami of words and images. At best, they portray the "news" – bits and pieces of information – but they rarely present the entire picture in intelligent context; at worst, they distort reality to the point where the consumer of all this news cannot possibly differentiate between truth and falsehood. And when the stakes are as high as they are in Israel today, the lack of dependable information to inform public opinion is downright frightening.

Recently, in the Israeli paper Hatzofeh, Boaz Haetzni enumerated a number of unpopular, seldom reported facts. They are worth repeating together with the disturbing questions they engender.

1. GAZA vs. KATIF: A Clearer picture. Historically, the city of Gaza (and its surroundings) is part of Biblical Israel, included in G-d’s divine promise to the Jewish People. Jews have resided in Gaza from Biblical times until 1948 when, as the result of Arab violence, they were forced to leave. The city contains ruins of synagogues, a Jewish cemetery, and archeological finds of Jewish origin. A Jewish presence in the Gaza area (known as the Gaza Strip) was re-established in the wake of the Six Day War after 1967. Known as Gush Katif (the Katif Block), it comprises 22 communities and numbers 8,500 inhabitants and comprises only 12% of the Gaza Strip.

2. CAN THE IDF LEAVE GAZA? The IDF already left the Gaza Strip (!) eleven years ago as part of the Oslo agreements. Since then the Strip has been governed by the Palestinian Authority (under Arafat). Israel remained in Gush Katif. The IDF manned points of entry into Katif and at the border-like road blocks. They enter Gaza itself only when terrorist activity makes their entry necessary. Meanwhile, a monstrous terror network of worldwide proportions has surfaced in Gaza. Constant shelling of nearby Israeli settlements and cities, suicide bombers, shootings, and mines have become daily fare. (Many, thank G-d, miss their mark.) The media barely mentions them before going on to more "interesting" news.

Retreating from Katif would bring the cities of Ashkelon, Netivot, and Ofakim into the range of Arab missiles in the south. As it did in Lebanon, the Hezbollah terrorist organization intends to bring thousands of missiles into Gaza as well. The highly successful results of the terrorist organizations in the recent Palestinian Authority elections in Gaza do not bode well for peaceful intentions or resolutions. With additional, far ranging weapons in Gaza, the long arm of Hezbollah will bringing not only Ashkelon, but the port of Ashdod, Beersheva and the nuclear reactor in Dimona within firing range. Israel has to be utterly insane to allow this to happen.

3. WHOSE WATER IS TASTIER? Israel is presently supplying Gaza with water. After Oslo and the Israeli retreat from Gaza, as a result of total Arab/ Palestinian Authority mismanagement and greed, vast amounts of water were pumped from the wells in the area, the salt level rose drastically, and the water is no longer potable. Humane Israel, unwilling to deny water to thirsty Arabs, now provides for their needs from its own water supply. The IDF also forces the Arabs to treat their sewage and refrain from pouring it into the sea. In addition to severe pollution, the sewage destroys the filters from a large purification plant in nearby Ashkelon.

Sharon speaks of further withdrawals in northern Samaria which sits atop one of Israel’s largest aquifers and main sources of water. Once in Arab hands, it is expected that the Arabs will, as they have done throughout the rest of Judea and Samaria, pump water without plan or thought for the future, thus endangering vital water sources in the Jezreel Valley. The oft-bandied solution of treating sea water would cost billions of dollars. Can Israel afford to place her precious and limited water supply in the hands of her Arab neighbors?

4. DEMOGRAPHY & GEOGRAPHY and other fraudulent claims: Gaza, we are told, is the most crowded place in the world. The Arabs, they say, need land, living space! Well, so does Tel Aviv. The population density in the city of Tel Aviv is eleven times higher than in Gaza!

Not only that. The much maligned Katif area, on only twelve percent of the Gaza Strip, covers approximately ninety square miles! Does anyone really think that giving this pittance of the Strip as a gift to the Arabs will solve their demographic problems? (It is highly suggested that the reader open a map of the Middle East to verify the size of Israel, of the Gaza Strip and of Katif. If Israel is infinitesimal, then Katif is infinitely more so!)

Perhaps Egypt, a huge country, would like to contribute a portion of its vast holdings in Sinai to its fellow Arabs. Sinai was never officially part of Egypt (just as Judea and Samaria were never officially part of Jordan). It is devoid of settlements – absolutely empty except for several tourist locations (originally built and set up by Israel) and best of all, it borders Gaza. Could there be a more perfect, fitting, humane solution to lessen the population density in Gaza?

Gush Katif was built on virgin sand dunes which even the Arabs had never exploited. The constantly attacked and bombarded community of Kfar Darom was built on swampy land which was purchased at full price by Jews during the time of the British Mandate. The Jews have turned the entire Katif area into a mini Garden of Eden. Eleven percent of all Israeli agricultural exports come from this tiny spot on the map. No wonder the Arabs living in their squalid cities nearby have dreams of inheriting it!

5. ECONOMICS – What’s the Price? According to government assessments, direct costs for disengagement will be upwards of six billion NIS (one and one half billion U.S. dollars). Since this figure was released, the Knesset upped it by offering larger restitution to the settlers. (The previous amounts were rather parsimonious and it was felt that a bit more generosity would make things easier for all concerned.) Add to this related expenses such as additional security for settlements within the Green Line which will now be within Gaza’s firing range; unemployment for the several thousand evacuated families; establishing new communities, new schools or classrooms for the thousands of Katif children who will be evacuated; new social services; and the necessary psychological counseling and help for those evacuated (this promises to be a highly traumatic experience, to put it mildly), Etc., etc.

No country, and surely not the U.N. or the E.U., is offering to reimburse or assist Israel with disengagement. The Israeli taxpayer will be expected to foot the entire bill. All the advances Israel has so painfully made in the past ten years on the economic front will be wiped out. And the price of real estate all along the shrunken new border will fall drastically. (Who will want to live next to Gaza?) Disengagement promises to be an economic disaster.

6. THE ARMY – What affect will disengagement have on it? Is the Israel Defense Force here to evacuate Jews from their homes, or to protect them from their enemies? Discomfort at the idea of the army forcefully evacuating peaceful citizens is widespread. So much so that the government changed gears and decided the police would be given the job while the army stood guard to make sure the Arabs don’t take advantage of the evacuation and aim their missiles in the direction of the evacuees.

There is also the well founded fear that a large number of soldiers and police will refuse to take part in the disengagement. And if nonetheless it does take place, it is feared that tens of thousands of young people across the country will be so disillusioned that many of them will refuse to serve when they are called up. Huge numbers of youngsters from youth movements and yeshivas, the ones you see at the demonstrations and on street corners passing out flyers, are passionately anti-disengagement. These youths tend to be some of our best soldiers and a high percentage, out of all proportion to their numbers, of officers. Which is why the government is taking such a hard stand against conscientious objectors whom they view as a "threat to democracy". Many older people will refuse to continue to serve in the Reserves as well.

7. DEMOCRACY or DICTATORSHIP? Sharon ran for office on a platform diametrically opposed to this plan. His own Likkud party overwhelmingly rejected the proposal in an internal Likkud referendum. After much political wrangling and the firing of two cabinet ministers, Sharon finally managed to obtain Knesset approval for his plan although the law approving the financial restitution has not yet been passed.

No legitimate government, however, has the right to oust people from their legal homes by means of a highly questionable order and without recourse to due process of law. No government has the moral right to make historic changes and cede parts of its historic homeland with only a slim majority and a highly unstable minority coalition. Just as no government, even with a large majority, has the moral right to legitimize murder, rape or robbery. Years ago, Yossi Sarid, one of Israel’s extreme, leading Leftists, proclaimed: The day that an order is given to transfer [Arabs] from their homes, an order which is patently illegal and immoral, will be the Day of Refusing Orders. – We will not fulfill an order to transfer [Arabs], nor will our children or our students fulfill such an order. How, then, can he legitimize transferring Jews?

Democracy does not mean the dictatorship of the many over the few. Democracy is built on a shared set of values; its laws are supposed to give form to these values. Destroying the basic values underpinning democracy, and ripping apart the social fabric and shared values of a nation destroys democracy itself.

Where might all this lead? The papers are rife with reports of detention centers being set up for reluctant settlers, their wives and children; of special, speedy courts of "justice" to deal with resisters; with special police training courses hastily organized to program the police to deal with the expected, traumatic expulsion. (All this while it was just announced that over nine hundred convicted terrorists will be released from Israeli jails as a sign of Israel’s "good will").

Remember, we are not speaking of evacuating an enemy. We are speaking of 8,500 Israeli citizens who settled an empty, new area with full government approval and are now being ousted after thirty years because a prime minister, without the necessary democratic sanctions, has decided they must leave.

8. DID YOU SAY DISENGAGEMENT? From what? According to the government’s own declarations, Israel will continue to supply the Palestinian Authority in Gaza with 1) water; 2) electricity; 3) communications (a telephone system); 4) food, medical and other supplies, just as we do now. Oh yes, and also employment in Israel. No one expects Gaza to support itself or provide employment for its people. Everyone – the entire world – expects Israel to help the new "fledgling state" along. Israel assumes she will fill all these needs although she insists that in case of trouble or terrorist activity, she will feel free to re-enter Gaza whenever necessary. (Just imagine the world’s reaction to that!)

What then will be different? What exactly is being "disengaged"? Only one thing. Jewish communities in one small corner of the Gaza Strip. They are being evacuated, transferred, "resettled" – all the things Israel would never allow to be done to its Arab citizens or neighbors. Judenrein at the hands of the Israeli government.

9. WHAT IS SHARON THINKING? No one seems to know. If the above is an accurate description of the situation, based on true, objective facts (and it is), how could any normal, intelligent person choose this path?

Sharon has led us to a Palestinian state. He gave his approval to the Road Map whose cease-fire cost scores of Jewish lives. He approved the infamous prisoner swaps which put an end to hope for finding or releasing Ron Arad, the missing Israeli pilot. And now he is taking us further along the road to destruction with his new plan. Why?

While there are a few souls who feel that Sharon is taking a brave step forward and has the best interests of the country at heart, there are many more who are doubtful. The rumors are that he is depressed, demented, or wants to go do down in history as the great Man of Peace after having been demonized as Israel’s worst war-monger. There are other, even more disturbing theories at large.

Zvi Handel a Knesset member from Gush Katif, and a former friend of Sharon who spent years working in close contact with the Prime Minister, has an different explanation. Both of Sharon’s sons were involved in highly publicized, highly questionable, extremely lucrative, international business transactions. There was grave evidence of illegalities and the country was waiting for a judicial decision to indict. Suddenly, when things became exceedingly uncomfortable, Sharon dropped a bombshell and announced his disengagement plan. It immediately replaced the stories of his sons in all the media and has kept them out of the public eye. The indictments are also still on hold.

It is believed by many that this sudden bombastic political decision, which ran counter to Sharon’s entire history and career (he was called the "Father of the Settlement Movement" and was a close and constant advocate of settlement activity), which conflicted with all his previous statements, promises and campaign platform, was a way of turning the public attention away from his private troubles. If the settlers had to be the sacrificial lamb, so be it. Better them than Sharon’s sons.

Handel’s accusations were made publicly and were detailed. The media made mention but chose not to dwell on them and they were "lost" in the governmental tsunami of determination for the disengagement plan.

10. WHAT ELSE IS LOST? Much has been "lost" in the media reports. Not only the legalities of the Sharon family affairs, but many of the above uncomfortable facts and observations. The settlements in Gaza have existed for more than thirty years. Families have four generations in the area. There is rarely a family in Israel which doesn’t haveIsraelis all over the country have a a relative, a neighbor’s relative or a friend in Katif. Most of the population – truly a silent majority – is distinctly uncomfortable with disengagement although they have few public avenues open to express their discomfort. (The media gives expression primarily to the left.) The more active and vocal section of the populace that supports Katif and the settlements and is thoroughly opposed to "disengaging" is dubbed "the extreme right" by the media. There is never – or very rarely – an "extreme" left. Disengagement ("evacuation" is a more accurate term) of Jews from the area – is not a simple, administrative decision. It is truly a moment of crisis for Israel.

Nor is disengagement a legitimate legal, democratic decision. Sharon consistently refuses to consider either a referendum on disengagement or new elections, even though two years after the elections he still does not have a stable, dependable coalition to pass . Nor has he been successful in passing the annual budget (which is why he is turning somersaults to put a coalition together. Without an approved budget, new elections are in the offing whether he wants them or not.)which he needs in order to assure funds for the evacuation of Katif. Yet he has engaged the country in a disastrous process. Anti-democratic, anti-Zionistic, militarily and economically incomprehensible.

Add that to the national, emotional and religious issues which have been stirred up and you wonder if the man has not gone mad?