The Brownsteins in the Land of Israel
Reading the Settling Dust
October 9, 2005
"Now, as Israel leaves the Strip after nearly four decades of strategic disorientation, Gaza is showing no signs of shedding its dubious distinction as hell's synonym. Indeed, a vast majority of Israelis -- including ones who would not part with its Jewish settlements -- woke up this morning happily Gaza-less. To them, this part of the surgery they have just undergone feels less like an amputation and more like the removal of a tumor."
-- Amotz Asa-El, Comment: Sunset Strip,
The Jerusalem Post, September 12, 2005.
Blue and Orange. Blue and Orange. Blue and Orange. Blue and Orange. Blue and Orange. Blue and Orange. Blue and Orange. Blue and Orange. Blue and Orange.
"What color ribbon is on your car, Rich"
For the longest time, disengagement was all that friends from abroad wanted to talk about. Did I support disengagement, thus sporting a blue (or blue & white) ribbon on my car, or was I anti-disengagement, having tied orange ribbons to the car's mirrors and antennae? At one point last spring, Israel's streets were nothing but horns and ribbons.
But the questions started last winter and increased with the Israeli heat: "Rich, what do you think about disengagement?"
Let me put it this way: Given the choice between balancing my Israeli checkbook with six months of unattended Hebrew transactions and putting my thoughts on paper concerning disengagement, the checkbook almost won, not because I do not have plenty of opinions about disengagement… but because I have plenty of opinions about disengagement. One friend suggested that I -- as a way of avoiding the certain cascade of hate mail -- convey my feelings about disengagement, but not my views. Right. (Then he remembered to whom he was talking.)
What I have to say is neither simple nor short nor nice, but it needs to be said, maybe not in 10,000 words, but that is how many I used. (And these are not necessarily the views of my wife, and certainly not her tone.)
What is wrong with disengagement? To begin with, it stinks. Forcing people to abandon their beloved homes and productive greenhouses, moving graves, terminating livelihoods, uprooting children, destroying synagogues -- all of this reeks and is cold-blooded.
But in the cold light of day, retreat is always horrible, whether in chess, war or life. And, friends, disengagement is retreat, no matter what spin is spun. The fine Jews of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria who thought they were being evacuated were, instead, being redeemed and sacrificed for their white-and-blue king.
Imagine the pain and irony that the evacuees endured, patriots who were encouraged to settle in Gaza -- largely by Ariel Sharon, himself, when he was housing minister from 1990 through 1992 under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Worse, I’m sure the evacuees will never forget the Likud Party platform in the last election, epitomized by Sharon's personal pledge never to evacuate a single meter of Gaza land, referring to Gaza communities such as as "no different than Tel Aviv". Who cannot empathize with the ghastly betrayal felt by the evacuated 8,000 patriots, most of whom voted for Sharon? Couple this duplicity with the fact that many of these people had been resettled in Gaza from the dramatic evacuation in 1982 from Yamit, a Sinai settlement very painfully dismantled and given to Egypt, and you will really see orange.
Even if you agree with disengagement, you must recognize the callousness exhibited towards the evacuees by Ariel Sharon during this process. Until he finally appeared with Israeli president Moshe Katzav on television during the evacuation, Sharon made no overarching effort to explain his case to the evacuees or even his own party.
Disengagement is heart wrenching. If there is any doubt, click here to view videos that details just some of the individual suffering endured during this regrettable chapter in Israel's history. In the end, nobody likes to be a pawn, especially one who feels that has been needlessly discarded for the greater game by a king who had pledged support through thick and thin.
The second disengagement began a week after the first. It's amazing how loaded such a statement could be. On its surface, one could read "second disengagement" as preparation to withdraw from more West Bank territory, but that is not the point.
Our family was vacationing at the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) during last month’s disengagement. Every few hours or so, feeling guilty for enjoying myself around the posh lakeside pool where slices of cool watermelon were being handed out by smartly dressed Arab workers, I slinked back to the hotel room and flipped on CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of Israeli soldiers and settlers coming to grips with the Israeli government's mandate. CNN was desperately trying to find some mind-blowing, emotionally charged shots of Jew assaulting Jew, like in Yamit 23 years earlier. Thankfully, on the whole, it did not come to pass.
By the end of our vacation, the Gaza Strip was declared empty of settlers, far ahead of schedule. Not long after, however, we learned that, as with almost everything else in this complicated and emotional affair, disengagement itself had been staged or, at the very least, spun like a taffy, with the observer never knowing exactly which part was being pushed and which part was being pulled. Indeed, more than a week after the official pronouncement that all settlers had left, we learned that the settlers -- as was the plan known to many of them -- , and attending Shabbat services in their regular Gush seats. So everything that was played out on CNN was simply the pre-disengagement pullout, with the settlers packing their homes and greenhouses for relocation a week later, free of the cameras, microphones and Jewish infiltrators. Indeed, many people, including friends of mine who live in Jerusalem, were in Gush Katif helping to dismantle hothouses and helping settlers pack the week after disengagement. Appeals were being made on the radio for more help packing. Thousands responded, went and were allowing in by the government. Who knew?
Almost exactly a year before disengagement, my family took our first trip up north to visit parts of Israel that we had never seen. One day we decided to traverse the entire Golan Heights, which is breath-taking, comprising mismatched scenes of lush groves, bombed out buildings, a windmill farm, and ultra-sophisticated mountain-top military installations. Somehow we took a wrong turn. Knowing that we could end up in Syria or a minefield if we were not a little more careful, we quickly figured out our mistake and got back on track. Not long after, on an unplanned detour, we saw on the side of the road a big blue van filled to the gills with a family that seemed to be in distress. We stopped and found that the pack of two parents and 11 kids had run out of gas. We volunteered to take a couple of their kids with us in our minivan to retrieve a few liters of fuel. Successful, we said goodbye, but not before learning their family name (Ackerman), that they were originally French, and that they lived in Gush Katif. Even then, they knew their plight. We asked them what they were going to do in a year, where they would live. Their answer: pray.
Just before disengagement, there was of 13, the Ackermans. (My 19-year-old niece, Elana Brownstein, who was spending the summer as an intern at The Post, was put to the task by my wife of getting the contact information for the family.) My wife called Rena Ackerman, the French mother of 11, in the Gush to commiserate with her. Not long after, we were off to this year's above-mentioned sunny vacation. The morning that we got home from the Kinneret during the week of disengagement, as we were pulling onto our little street, I noticed a familiar big blue van parked in front of our French neighbors’ end of our building. Standing in front, talking to our French neighbor, having landed there just the night before direct from disengagement, was the Rena Ackerman, with children from ages one-and-a-half to 22 coming in and out of the neighbor's house. (Apparently the families have been friends for decades, going back to France.) The mother immediately recognized us, but seemed preoccupied. I asked my neighbor if there had been any warning before the arrival of a family of 13 who, apparently, had chosen our building as their new temporary home. She said about an hour; I mumbled something about a year. (A few days later she was also interviewed on NPR.)
Later that day, I brought over a few mattresses and a cake for Shabbat. It was difficult looking at the Ackermans without a mixture of awe and discomfort. Many times I have wanted to talk to Rena Ackerman about her experience, but I have been quite unsure about exactly what to say. So, I just smile.
There has still been a lot of speculation about why Sharon -- the godfather of the settlement movement -- suddenly seemed to be making all of Shimon Peres’ dreams come true.
THEORY ONE: Diversion From Investigations
Disengagement was first floated by Sharon’s lapdog, Vice Premier Ehud Omert, just before Sharon's official unveiling of disengagement at the 2003 Herzliya Conference. The first speculation was that disengagement was intended somehow to thwart the and scandals hounding Sharon and his sons for various possible financial and elections transgressions.
As convenient as this theory seems, it’s difficult to swallow. The theory presupposes that the man who arguably saved Israel’s bacon in 1973 when he disobeyed orders by crossing to the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal and captured the entire Egyptian 3rd Army, regards himself as more important than the needs of the state. To believe this theory, one must suppose Sharon to be more crook than patriot.
Then again, there is also a record in and in 1982 (Lebanon) of Sharon acting so "independently" that one could easily make the case that the current Prime Minister has a pathological aversion to any authority but his own. Indeed, concerning Lebanon, according to reporter Uzi Benziman, "Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon may have ‘deceived’ Begin as to the purpose of the war." And this seems to be the consensus concerning the quagmire known as Lebanon. At the very least, Ariel Sharon does what he wants, ignoring those to whom he is required to report: his superior generals, his Prime Minister, his party, and his country.
So, was Sharon trying to distract the public from his family's political scandals by manipulating a national crisis? In order for this theory to have been true, one would also have to assume that such grandstanding could also sway the Attorney General of the State of Israel. Further, notwithstanding the dysfunction and defections from his own party, a majority of the Likud ministers supported disengagement, and I doubt this was because of Sharon's scandals. I find this first theory wanting.
THEORY TWO: Legacy
A lot is made of the "legacy" theory, meaning that each great right-wing politician wants to show that he can switch-hit. Examples abound, like Sadat to Jerusalem and Nixon to super Red China. Can it really be that Sharon believed his place in Israel's history begged disengagement? That seems incongruous given his historical accomplishments and seemingly limitless self-respect.
THEORY THREE: American Pressure
This likely theory supposes that disengagement was an attempt to placate America or preempt American pressure to make other concessions. I think Sharon heard Colin & Condie's footsteps, but this was only part of the story; U.S. pressure never could have caused Sharon to turn against his beloved settlements. After all, for over a decade the US State Department has been battering Israel to dismantle a hundred "illegal outposts" on the West Bank -- to no avail. Israel listens to America. Israel depends on America. Israel loves America. But Israel still could not have been forced by any outside government to vacate Gaza.
Additional American money, on the other hand, helps smooth things out. Indeed, there is an expectation of Israel receiving an additional two billion dollars in US aid as a quid pro quo for disengagement. That is approximately a quarter of a million dollars per person, a handsome inducement. (This payoff has been put off for a few months because of Hurricane Katrina.)
THEORY FOUR: Reality
How about this for an idea: Ariel Sharon actually believes deep in his heart that it is simply impossible and foolish -- militarily, politically and socially -- to house and protect 8,000 Jews on the choicest land in the tiny Gaza Strip?
I have often heard the uninformed statement that the Gaza settlements were put in place as a buffer against Palestinian terror. If so, they were only successful insofar as they provided easy, local targets for terrorists and acted to distract our enemies, keeping them busy attacking us outside the Green Line.
Militarily these settlements were an overbearing liability. Just look at their placement (map to the left) and ask yourself how you would defend or even supply them. Anyone who believed that there was any strategic advantage whatsoever to the placement of the Gaza Strip settlements simply has not looked at a map.
This was no buffer; most of the settlements only buffered the Palestinians from the beach, as demonstrated by the five Palestinian swimmers who drowned the day after the army withdrew, a handful of the thousands of first-time visitors to the ocean. Had the settlements been a ring around the outside of the Gaza Strip, serving as a buffer to the established Israeli and Egyptian borders, there might have been some strategic value, as is the ring of settlements around Jerusalem (map to the right). But the Gaza settlements were placed in the former Egyptian territory of Gaza as an infection in the Palestinian body that would fester, and someday would have to be treated at some price, at the same time killing the infection.
After the Six Day War, for obvious strategic reasons, Israel encouraged Jews to live in the Golan Heights, select parts of the West Bank, and, most importantly, East Jerusalem. As for Gaza, however, in 1967 even if one out of every eight Israelis moved to Gaza, there still would not have been a Jewish majority there, especially with the robust Palestinian birthrate. It seems obvious that people were moved into Gaza with a completely different intent than the other above mentioned captured areas, all of which, with the exception of Gaza, have been incorporated into Israel as essential land, not as novelties. Couple this fact with the beachside locations of many of the settlements and it appears to me, as horrible and heartless as this sounds, that 30 years ago settlers were put in Gaza by the Israeli government to be sacrificed someday.
After all, how else would one account for the bitter fact that no Israeli government, Likud or otherwise, ever considered annexing the Gaza Strip? The Begin government . Levi Eshkol's government 1950). Much of the rest of East Jerusalem was annexed more formally by the Begin government in 1980 (in 1988 the Jordanians formally withdrew all claims to the West Bank and East Jerusalem). Yet neither the Likud governments of Begin, Shamir, Netanyahu, or Sharon deemed Gaza important enough, biblically or militarily, to do what was done with the Golan and East Jerusalem. So those who are enjoying demonizing Sharon, especially at the behest of Netanyahu, must recognize that history is not on their side.
Egypt, too, refused to annex the Strip. Menachem Begin practically begged Anwar Sadat to take back Gaza during the Camp David negotiations, but Sadat wanted nothing to do with what is commonly referred to as the "armpit" of the Middle East. Sadat knew that as long as we occupied the Strip, the million Arabs under Israeli control would give credence to the dangerous demographic that tends to make people legitimize words like "apartheid".
Yes, in a vacuum, disengagement seems to be a simple act of retreat. But when coupled with the near absolute unilateralism of withdrawal and the de facto border called "the security fence", Palestinian intellectuals have recognized in disengagement what our orange forces refuse to acknowledge: until we have a real partner for peace that is willing to put down all their arms and recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation, Israel will proceed to secure her borders and citizens by continuing to do whatever is necessary to create facts on the ground. Israel’s forcing this involuntary settlement of the conflict upon the Palestinians explains the extraordinary efforts made by the Palestinians to stop the West Bank barrier. It is worth noting that Palestinians never raised such issues about the wall that surrounds most of Gaza and is today being reinforced. (In fact, many people have never heard of this other wall.) Indeed, without the West Bank wall, disengagement is a cause for Palestinian celebration; with the wall, (after the Palestinians have squandered most Western sympathy for their cause), Israel has taken away what was the only remaining leverage against Israel: terror. They now must deal with rule in Gaza and negotiations completely on our terms. This is sobering news for people who have shown no interest in self-governance.
Reality: 268 Israelis -- soldiers and civilians -- were killed defending 8,000 Jews during our 38 years in Gaza. If you assume that the average Jewish population of Gaza over that was 3,500, that means there was one Jewish death for every 13 people, or one fatality every month and a half. In fact, five times the number of Jews who were dramatically exhumed and reinterred from the Gaza cemetery as part of disengagement died during our stay there. This is reality and this was indefensible. Statistics on the number maimed are not at hand, but it can be assumed that a significant multiple of 268 Jewish families were permanently shattered due to injuries incurred defending Gaza, a number that surely far outstrips the 1,700 families whose lives were disrupted because of relocation.
Nothing in Return
Many argue that Israel has gotten nothing in return for disengagement. Politically, there is no question that internationally Israel has benefited from disengagement. How? Well, let's start with what the Palestinians call "Balfour II", the statement made by George W. Bush last spring when he declared that -- as far as American policy is concerned -- the facts on the ground (settlement blocks) will not be on the table in future negotiations. Further, Bush declared that the Palestinians must settle all refugees in a future Palestinian homeland, not in Israel proper. This complete repudiation of any so-called "Palestinian Right of Return" (a co-opted Jewish phrase, if ever there was one), along with tacit acceptance of our enormous West Bank settlements (Ma'ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel) and the new Jewish neighborhoods that ring Jerusalem, was an absolute quid pro quo for disengagement.
Will these US commitments remain after Bush? Can they withstand the inevitable international pressures that are sure to come? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that President Bush declared such pro-Israel American policies should be promising to us and is, in fact, terrifying to our foes. (As for comments purportedly made by Secretary Rice just after disengagement concerning the need to make more concessions, "enterprising [New York Times] reporters twisted her words to fit their own political agenda.")
"Balfour II" has subsequently been transformed by Sharon into his "Three Nos": no more settlements withdrawn, no Palestinian right of return, no Jerusalem. Even if you believe that Sharon will repudiate his Three Nos, as he repudiated "no withdrawal from Gaza," there is no question that the Palestinian leadership believes that, for Sharon, Gaza is first and Gaza is last.
We have seen a significant post-disengagement dividend: a new and hopeful dialogue with Pakistan, Indonesia, etc., as well as the Red Cross. The habitually hostile European Union is now pressuring the Palestinian Authority to rein in terrorism, secure their streets, and show that they have the ability to be a sovereign nation. Indisputably, disengagement has dramatically improved the efforts of Israeli Foreign Ministry. It may be temporary, but Israel's international position has improved dramatically.
For example: British Minister of State for the Middle East, Kim Howells said last week, "Sooner or later [the Palestinians] have to make a tough decision and start disarming the armed factions within Gaza and the West Bank. If they don't, how can the rest of the world have any confidence in their ability to bring good governance to these areas? We are waiting with bated breath for a response from the PA and it has to be a signal that it is capable of good governance. This is not a bottomless pit that this money is coming from." That is a far cry from the traditionally pro-Palestinian British foreign office.
Oh, and how about the PA and Hamas agreeing to remove the weapons from the streets and public squares, "with both sides stressing the need to work together to rebuild the Gaza Strip." When was the last time you saw either Hamas or Abbas stress anything except "liberating ‘Palestine’"?
Yes, words are words, but these are very new ideas from very old adversaries.
According to former player Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters, disengagement has sent the message to the Palestinians that terror works. Netanyahu’s "terror works" theory has some popular support, but didn’t even manage to persuade his own party. Most, like me, think it’s a red herring.
The "avoid the worst bully" theory -- a.k.a. "Fleeing like we did in Southern Lebanon under fire" -- assumes that the Palestinians have the military or political ability to continue to attack us in any way that would impact us, as was the case at the beginning of this current intifada. It also requires that they have the military assets of Syria to back them, as does Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Of course, they don’t. The theory finally assumes that things will get much nastier once Hamas awakens and resumes their efforts to slaughter Jews, whether inside or outside of the Green Line.
I believe this theory is not borne out by recent history. The terrorist pedal is to the metal and has been for four years. The curtailment of the suicide bombings wasn’t because the Palestinians had morphed into Beaver Cleaver, but because we had put up a fence, and because we have been killing their leaders. Who can forget the threats they made that Jewish blood would run in the streets after we killed Yasin and Rantisi? But the only significant blood running in the streets was shed when we killed their spiritual leader and his replacement. Palestinian terrorists have been doing the best they can -- which is very unimpressive, despite dozens and dozens of thwarted suicide bombing attempts. They will only be less successful as the fence is finished and our citizens are removed from their midst in Gaza.
This theory of withdrawing under fire also suggests that there would ever be a lull. But does anybody actually believe that, short of political settlement, we would ever withdraw and not be under fire? Because of the impossibility of cessation of violence under the current circumstances, this theory of "never withdraw under fire" is simply code words for "never withdraw". This "terror works, so never withdraw" theory is as dishonest as anything in the disengagement debate.
Some of you will point to the recent barrage of rockets and mortars that were launched into S’derrot and doubt the wisdom of disengagement. To the contrary, I think it only demonstrates the self-defeating idiocy of Palestinian terrorists. I almost feel bad for their inability to understand their own best interests.
After their own bombs exploded during a Hamas rally -- killing dozens of their own people -- after Hamas falsely blamed an Israeli drone for the carnage, Hamas felt compelled to fire off about 40 shells into the nearby Israeli city of S’derrot. They did so on the day before the Likud Central Committee was to decide Sharon’s fate, no less! What did their foolishness produce? A missile from an Apache helicopter blew away the Islamic Jihad military leader in Gaza. They attack, they bleed, and they don’t understand.
A half dozen other militia leaders have been killed. Palestinian arms factories and arms warehouses have been destroyed. 400 terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank have been arrested, including many top commanders who had planned on running in January’s Palestinian election. And, for the first time, Israeli artillery has been moved into the area offering even greater opportunities to destroy would-be rocketeers with live target practice for the IDF. Caps off to both Hamas and Jihad who are currently begging Israel for a ceasefire.
Rockets and Smuggling
after the first 72 hours of Israeli military withdrawal smuggled more than cigarettes, Johnny Walker and brides into the Strip. The Egyptians may allow their brothers to smuggle whatever they wish into Gaza in the future, and we can assume this includes rockets and much more dangerous weapons. But how would it be any different with or without disengagement? Before disengagement there were tunnels for smuggling and improving rocketry. As I wrote about Arafat's regime, when Abbas tells the PA to stop the Hamas rockets, they stop. When he wants to make a point to Israel, he allows the rockets to be launched. This is political. Again, targets would have existed without disengagement, too, yet with much easier bull’s-eyes that would have been far more expensive to defend -- in lives and capital.
Perhaps the most compelling argument against disengagement is that we should never relinquish Biblical land. The theory is that, since Gaza was part of the vast land given to the tribe of Judah in the Torah as part of Biblical Israel, we have no right to give it away -- to friend or genocidal foe.
In the Talmud (Avoda Zara 20a) there is a discussion about whether it is permitted to forfeit Biblical land. The argument is based on the following Torah passage: "And when the Lord has given them up into your hands and you have overcome them, give them up to complete destruction: make no agreement with them, and have no mercy on them" (Deuteronomy 7:2).
How are we to define "Biblical Israel"? Depending on how one construes the language in the Torah concerning the status of the east bank of the Jordan (the tribes of Reuben and Gad), looking at the maps, Biblical Israel stretches north, deep into Lebanon, and as far to the northeast as the outskirts of Damascus, and due east past Amman, the Jordanian capital, and south including the northern part of Sinai. Thus, Biblical land includes parts of at least three and possibly four other sovereign nations… and the Gaza Strip.
That being said, I have a question for those who believe that it’s subversive or anti-Torah to withdraw from Gaza because it is Biblical land and who feel that we should continue to risk our sons over Biblical land that is situated outside the Green Line: where were you in the debate about giving away the land of the tribes of Asher and Naftali when we withdrew from the torturous and bloody occupation of southern Lebanon? Was it because too many Israelis were being killed? Why do you apply a different standard to that geopolitical reality? Biblically, isn’t disengagement in Gaza consistent with withdrawal in Lebanon?
I recognize that combining political pragmatism and Biblical context are heresy for many people, but I also know that in the debates that raged between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai, in most cases the pragmatism and leniency of Beit Hillel prevailed.
For example, we are prohibited from putting out a fire on Shabbat. There is an overriding principle called pikuach nefesh that obligates us, beyond virtually all other commandments, to save lives. For example, if a stick is burning in the middle of the street on Shabbat, because it is obvious to any passerby to stay away, we are prohibited from extinguishing it. But we have been given a dispensation because of the hidden danger on Shabbat to pour water on red-hot iron that is in the middle of the street (Shabbat 42a). This is one example of many where we are permitted to violate a mitzvah in order to save lives that have that slimmest probability of being in actual danger. In fact, one should even eat pork if it would save a life. I would submit to you that the proven lethal danger in Gaza far surpassed any danger in the previous two examples.
Notably, both Eilat and most of the Negev, including probably Dimona (home of our nuclear program, shhh), are not part of biblical Israel. Would those who are adorning themselves in orange ribbons and Scripture defend even the smallest hut in non-biblical Israel? I believe they would, and yet they would not send their children into Lebanon or Amman to permanently recapture this biblical land.
As a side note, it has been argued by disengagement advocates that Gaza is not Biblical land, at all, because (concerning shmita laws) we do not treat produce grown in Gaza as we treat produce grown in Israel proper. A little further digging, however, reveals a lack of stringency due not only to historical ambiguity and, more importantly, because the produce that was grown in Gaza was grown hydroponically -- not connected to the earth. Thus, even hydroponically grown food in Jerusalem is not subject to shmita laws.
Check out newspapers from the week of official disengagement. Look to see how many of these people who had to be carried away limb-by-limb, fingers pried from doorknobs, were settlers. This was not the bloody fiasco in Yamit, where everyone knew they would never see their homes again. This was naked theater. Who exactly were those people who the CNN cameras showed being pulled one-by-one, a half-dozen soldiers attending to each, through the crowds of media and then gently being put on buses? For the most part, they were not residents of Gush Katif, but the 1,500 outside agitators who wanted to make a political statement.
But who was actually making the statement, the pawns or the king? Consider that the government propped up the show by announcing that as many as 10,000 Jews had infiltrated into Gaza and would have to be carried away during their massive show of support for the settlers. Leading up to disengagement, we read almost daily about considerable training by the IDF to remove protesters; we saw pictures of all sorts of equipment that was put in place to remove people should the need arise, including cages on cranes. But stop for a moment and try to figure the improbability that 1,500 people, let alone the projected 10,000, could have managed to casually slip past what was regarded as one of the most secured areas on earth. Although it is true that many entered as "guests" before a total closure was announced, and never left, this accounts in no way for all of the infiltrators. Sure, thousands of Jews just sort of entered an area with more layers of barbed wire and electronic surveillance than San Quentin, where Arabs who stepped foot within the heavily fortified parameter were regularly (and rightfully) shot on sight. A friend of mine who is in the press corps told me that, while the initial policy was to restrict press access to Gush Katif, suddenly, several months before disengagement, orders came down from the top that reporters were free to cover the whole "mess". Everyone, and I mean everyone, was toying with us this summer in Israel, where the entire world was a stage.
And why did disengagement take place without a referendum in a country where a majority supported disengagement? A great deal of fuss and mystery has surrounded the prime minister's complete lack of sensitivity to the settlers and his apparently contemptuous disregard for his party's referendum vote against disengagement. I suggest, without being an apologist for Ariel Sharon, that it has been his intention the entire time to demonstrate internationally the impossibility of further territorial concessions. It is my belief that Sharon wanted the world to see "the Jewish street", which is so chronically ignored that it is as if "the Jewish street" does not exist, especially in relation to "the Palestinian street" that is widely referenced and respected as the barometer of how far Palestinians can be pushed. Showing that the ruling party does not support territorial concessions and that this process has compromised the very fabric of Israeli society will allow future Israeli leaders to state emphatically that, for the most part, there will be no deviation in any future negotiations from the border that has been established by the security barrier. It's one thing to remove 8,000 settlers from Gaza; it's quite another to believe that Gush Etzion or Ariel or Ma'alei Adumim will ever be asked to leave and that the "street" would ever support such a plan. The point is that, if disengagement supposedly almost caused civil war in Israel, withdrawals from these other settlements surely would cause a real civil war. The contortions that the state has undergone through the mobilization of the military and police will never be repeated, and I think that was his plan all along. And that should explain how 1,500 people magically appeared inside the heavily fortified settlements
The Palestinians, too, know the score. Without disengagement, the ongoing bloodbath in Gaza over leadership would not have been brought to a head. Sooner or later someone in the PA, at the urging of Egypt, which also does not want an Islamist regime in Gaza any more than Israel does -- or simply in recognition that all PA leadership will perish if nothing is done about Hamas, will start to finish the job that the Israelis started. The PA has no choice diplomatically or militarily.
My antipathy for some of the anti-disengagement leaders and their tactics grew as the process continued. While most acted responsibly, many of the people making the loudest noises -- and saying the stupidest things -- had little or nothing at stake in Gaza or northern Samaria. As their hysteria became more outrageous, my sympathies evaporated and were replaced by disgust.
Use of the Holocaust
The most reprehensible antic was perpetrated by those who tried -- and failed -- to associate disengagement with the Holocaust (the Shoah). They started early, with the sickening use of orange or yellow stars, circa 1940. Fortunately, their accompanying rhetoric backfired and should have been abandoned when virtually every Holocaust organization in the world boxed their ears. Soon, however, they escalated the use of code words like "Jewish expulsion" in a continuing not-so- subtle attempt to invoke the Holocaust, and continued to use Holocaust symbols.
Yes, the settlers were forced to give up their homes, but a fair compensation was offered to all, and new housing was provided for those in need. Disengagement was no one’s ideal, but Jerusalem's Shalom Hotel is not Auschwitz.
In another brainless attempt to somehow create the image of fascism to draw in the Holocaust sympathies, some orange leaders asserted that, since Sharon broke campaign pledges, disengagement was illegal and Sharon is a dictator. Many of these people adopted inflammatory language, arguing that it is abhorrent to compel a Jew to withdraw from an area of conflict for any reason. I don't think that this kind of thinking withstands even the most juvenile test of logic. If a Jew is in the middle of the road blocking traffic, can we not move him? Every nation has laws of eminent domain that allow for the taking of property for governmental priorities. Certainly nobody disagrees that we have the right to move criminals. The law is what the Knesset decides is in the best interest of the people of Israel, and which, in the case of disengagement, was re-affirmed by the Israeli Supreme Court; the Knesset’s approval of the disengagement policy was legally binding and has withstood judicial review. Thus, there is no legal basis to challenge Sharon’s actions.
Sharon is no more of a dictator for lying about his intentions and shoving disengagement down the throats of his colleagues in the Knesset than is President Bush for his third of a trillion dollar affair in Iraq that was based on stealth WMDs. Read my lips, I feel confident that most sober people in the light of day can tell the difference between a dictator and a lying politician.
Preying on Soldiers’ Emotions
It was quite unsettling to watch the attempts of settlers to manipulate the emotions of the soldiers who were ordered to remove them. Some settlers proudly announced that they had mapped out this tactic in their "Settlers’ Resistance Handbook". It is one thing to break the law yourself; it is quite another to ask a soldier to disobey orders. This is one of many very big red lines crossed by people who seem to have misplaced their moral compasses.
Over the last 25 years, despite a concerted effort on the far-left, out of the hundreds of thousands who have served in the IDF, there have been only a handful of reports of leftwing soldiers disobeying orders to defend the Gaza and the West Bank settlements. Considering the hundreds of thousands of soldiers on the left who certainly believed that the settlements were inappropriate and/or provocative, such nominal disobedience is remarkable in a Jewish army. With that in mind, I would ask those who suggest that it is somehow appropriate to toy with the emotions of our soldiers in order to persuade them to disobey their orders to reflect upon the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who did not believe in their cause, yet who defended the settlements, nonetheless, 24 hours a day, in the scorching Israeli summer heat and the muddy Israeli winters. Just as all previous soldiers completed difficult missions based on our democracy's decisions, the boys and girls today who were given this difficult task of removing mothers and children, kicking and screaming, from their homes should have been respected, not coerced.
There has also been a twisted logic employed by anti-disengagement stalwarts who questioned why our soldiers should even have been asked to complete a task that was so far from "national defense". They ask, why turn Jewish soldiers against Jews? Isn't it demoralizing? Obviously it is demoralizing! But those who ask the question and complain the loudest about the Army having been involved in disengagement are the same people who urged civil disobedience and threatened to force the government to use all police resources to evacuate settlements -- leaving the government no choice.
The efforts by non-Israelis -- and even non-Jews -- to interfere with disengagement was nearly as offensive as was the inflammatory imagery that they used. A week before disengagement it was reported that, "Gush Katif."
Top of the list of people who need to take a good, long look in the mirror is NY State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Borough Park), who incited Gentiles who accompanied him to interfere in our world. Hikind, who does not know apples from oranges, said even before being asked if Jews from abroad had a right to come to Israel to take a political stand, "no one had complained when Reform rabbis spoke out on the issue of ‘who is a Jew.’" Ironically, Assemblyman Hikind, who was among the many infiltrators to have snuck into the Gaza Strip through the IDF roadblocks, seemed very pleased to announce outside the Neveh Dekalim synagogue, "." Huh, I wonder why?
To my knowledge, Assemblyman Hikind has no house here, no kids that will need to serve in the IDF, and does not pay taxes. He cannot vote and in Israel is a member of no Israeli political party. In legal terms, Assemblyman Hikind has no standing here or in Gaza. Yet he came here more than once, like the Wicked Witch of the West, popping in to a fantasyland that he does not have the fortitude to inhabit, giving advice to Israelis, breaking our laws and condescending to us, announcing: "We are coming from a democracy. In the American tradition we admire the right to civil disobedience -- this is not called sedition or violence -- it is civil disobedience and that is what we are coming to be a part of." Hmm, like Israelis have never heard of Gandhi. I can only imagine Hikind’s reaction if a bunch of Israelis made it their business to agitate for civil disobedience in Scarsdale. It is like the fan who goes onto the field in the middle of the game: he has no business playing our game and deserves to be flattened by a 300-pound lineman.
Beyond that, how could an Orthodox Jew like Dov Hikind believe it was acceptable to encourage non-Israeli gentiles to interfere with sovereign Israeli decisions? Hikind’s bad judgment is surpassed only by his naïveté if he thinks that the eight Baptist ministers who accompanied him are any fonder of him or the evacuated Jews than they are of the Muslims who torched the abandoned synagogues. Instead of trying to meddle in our issues, Hikind might find it more productive to critically examine the motives of the ministers he escorted, who represent 2000 years of Christian persecution of the Jews. Hikind will find, if he has the fortitude to ask those Christians who profess to love Israel and "God's chosen people" the basis of their affinity. Isn’t their interest in us based on the belief that only we can deliver to them a unified Israel, a necessary precursor to their Christian redemption -- and our eternal burning in hell, from their theological perspective? As Shmuley Boteach put it in the Jerusalem Post, "Sure, Christian evangelicals are Israel's best friends..., but they still dream of all of us becoming Christian, and often pursue those dreams in multimillion-dollar conversion campaigns." Hikind and Israel are doormats to Christian Zionist aspirations, and any political figure who believes differently is purposefully uneducated. Christian Zionism is an oxymoron and is a bald-faced lie, and it becomes every Israeli's problem when Christian Zionists try to push us into occupying indefensible land at the cost of Jewish lives -- simply for self-serving non-Jewish theological gains. Nonetheless, the chutzpah of those non-Jews in coming here and demonstrating against internal Israeli policies is second only to the lack of sound judgment exhibited by Assemblyman Hikind by encouraging these hidden anti-Semitic ideologues.
Our Sages stated that the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel is . I suggest that Assemblyman Hikind consider this before he hops his next airplane to interfere with my country's laws.
One Person's Prophesy is Another Person's Heresy
Given my above expressed suspicion and outright contempt for the motives of non-Jews who feel the need to suggest to Israelis what we should do with our country, imagine my delight in receiving the following unfortunate Evangelical e-mail less than 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina made landfall:
As improbable and even irrational as it may sound there is a direct connection, a lineal, cause and effect nexus between hurricane Katrina and President Bush's pressuring Israel to give up Gaza and West Bank settlements to the Palestinian Arabs. Its in the Bible. You will notice that every time Pres. Bush pressures Israel along his "Roadmap for Peace" to trade land for security and peace the US is hit hard by hurricanes or natural disasters--just days after. Correlate the dates of these hurricanes on a "Biblical" scale with actions taken by the Whitehouse to implement the "Roadmap". It will send chills down your spine. Joel 3:2 "There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they.....DIVIDED UP MY LAND." This passage, although it specifically applies to an attack on Israel in the near future by by all the Islamic nations that surround Israel, tells us that God is active in the affairs of Israel today. We ignore this to our own profound injury. Both the Old Testament and the New are full of prophesies concerning the times and the events taking place now in our lifetime.
Although I suppose I should have felt honored to have been the only recipient other than firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, I was less than amused. Using his reasoning, Mecca would have self-eviscerated decades ago and that little boot on the northeastern coast of the Mediterranean would have been washed away more than a millennia ago.
Further, perhaps using the e-mail author's logic, we might, God forbid, instead attribute the hurricane to the interference of the Christians who traveled to the Holy Land in a misplaced attempt to alter the decisions the Almighty's "chosen people" and the will of His sovereign Jewish state that exists only through His Divine providence. Although I obviously do not subscribe to such gruesome cause-and-effect simplicity, my logic seems far more plausible from my perspective than does his thesis.
Go one step farther and consider the devastating bombings in Indonesia last week and the magnitude 7.6 earthquake that just killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis. Is this the reward for these two countries having warmed up to Israel? Certainly many in the Moslem world would agree and will write the same letter to their leaders.
I understand the temptation to read the tea leaves of tragedies. And surely seeing on newspaper pages images of Americans forced from their homes at gunpoint while being evacuated from New Orleans -- adjacent to photos of demolished Jewish settlements in Gaza -- has led more than one person to find irony or even meaning. Yet, as they say, "even a stopped clock is correct twice a day." (Bob Denver and William Rehnquist died within 24 hours of each other, too, and nobody is making too big of a deal out of that, although I am sure many have been tempted, especially considering that they were never seen together.)
I also am horror-struck by the handful of rabbis who have encouraged Israeli soldiers to ignore their orders. This is a disgrace. Yet, as tortuous as this kind of ruling appears, it is nothing in relation to those who have openly called for the death of Sharon. There is a sickness afloat when even one rabbi states such filth, especially in the wake of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
and Unfounded Rage
After my last was put on the Aish.com web site, I got a huge amount of e-mail from people all over the world, many of whom wanted to talk about disengagement. One particular Jewish grandmother in New York wrote, among other things: "I am a second generation American whose heart is breaking over what is happening in Gush Katif, partially because I feel terrible for the people who have been evicted from their hard worked for homes etc. and treated like the Jews of Nazi Germany..."
was practically catatonic after reading the above flame, not knowing whether to
suggest to the woman that she take a history class or a
was not the only unfortunate passage in an ever increasing barrage of disturbing
e-mails. I replied to the
grandmother asking that she tone down the rhetoric, and consider
the historical realities.
During her hallucinations,
apparently she totally missed the point that our soldiers were praying with the
evacuees and comforted them,
performing their duties with a
sensitivity that far surpassed anyone’s wildest expectation.
Yet her e-mail barrage on me continued, with epitaphs against the Israeli
government and Prime Minister escalating
sting that I had only previously
observed in the Arab press.
Finally I replied:
Nazis took Jewish babies and smashed open their heads on street poles. The
Nazis irradiated men and then removed their testicles without anesthesia.
The Nazis used 10-year-old Jewish girls as their whores and forced their mother
The Nazis made mother choose between children and then shot the looser on the
spot. The Nazis starved, shot, gassed and burned 6 million of your people.
The Nazis deported people to gas chambers; the Israelis relocated people to
hotels and beachfront bungalows.
can you be so heartless as to make such vile comparisons? Nothing I have see
done in Gaza is as ghastly as is your ignorance. Do you have no sense of
history or reality? Your statements
a grip on yourself. 6 million of your people's souls are diminished by your
disgusting comparisons. If I
haven't shamed you sufficiently by now, walk up to a Holocaust survivor as ask
if you have made an appropriate analogy.
stop e-mailing to me.
Then I blocked her e-mail address and hoped that she would get some perspective.
Likud: Par For Their Course
I hate to tell you, but for those who feel utterly betrayed by Sharon, you should have known what you were getting when you voted the Likud party into office. Likud has given away more Jewish land than any other party in the history of Israel: Menachem Begin gave away the entire Sinai and Benjamin Netanyahu forfeited Hebron -- the final resting place of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah -- in 1997. Netanyahu followed that up a year later when he negotiated the Wye River Accord's, giving away another 13% of the West Bank. Neither Begin nor Netanyahu sought to bring this critical issue to the people through a referendum. Indeed, Ariel Sharon is the third of four Likud prime ministers who has disregarded the will of his constituents and his party platform by giving away precious Jewish land.
In the dictionary under "impatient" should be the picture of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here is a man who failed in the last election to unseat Ariel Sharon as Likud chairman. Yet Bibi looked as though, as Finance Minister, he not only had found his niche, having revamped the formally socialist Israeli economy, but he seemed to have learned that the appearance of ambition is unbecoming -- and even more counterproductive. Bibi was so quiet for so long that "team player" could have been his new identity.
But Bibi opposed disengagement, sometimes more and sometimes less. At times he supported the government with "Yes" votes and at times he supported the government by abstaining. But as the disengagement process continued, although he was complaining loudly, Netanyahu was still in the government, unlike Minister of Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky who quit in May on principle, because of his vehement disagreement with disengagement. Finally, just before disengagement was to commence in July, Bibi quit the cabinet.
Although Netanyahu thought he had the winning hand to force Sharon out when he announced that he was quitting the cabinet to topple Ariel Sharon, in the first 11 days after his announcement, his support within the Likud dropped by 11%. Bibi made the mistake of reading his own press clippings while, at the same time, not grasping that the majority of Israelis support disengagement. Last week he lost his bid to move up the Likud primary and, thus, will find himself dining with Ehud Barak for the next several years. It is too bad. Perhaps Bibi will finally learn that the life expectancy of the grossly obese means that the current Prime Minister is working on borrowed time and that, if Bibi simply keeps his mouth shut, his time will come again.
In 2001, while bombs were blasting buses and cafés to their foundations on Arafat's weekly schedule, I visited Israel to show support for my people. My friends (but not my wife, of course) thought I was crazy to travel in the midst of the carnage. While I was there, in fact, . Fifteen people were killed, including 7 children, and 130 were injured, while I was dining at a hotel in Tel Aviv. All night long I stared out the hotel window, hoping to see squadrons of F-15s screaming south to raze Gaza City. Sadly, it did not happen. During my trip I asked my friends -- all of whom had made the commitment to live here, with the certainty that their children would serve in the Israeli Army -- about a solution. Uniformly, I was told that we needed to separate from the Palestinians. The fence -- security barrier -- was not even contemplated, and my friends, all of whom were very much against disengagement, felt that we needed to move our most vulnerable people away from evil. It seemed like an impossibility at the time. Today it is considered rational and has obviously been proven to be practical, especially when you have a four-star bulldog leading the way.
Peace is a process. I know it sounds Pollyanna-ish. I know that it practically screams: "Oregon leftist!". And I know that my opinions are in the minority amongst observant Jews. But I believe peace is a process that started in 1948 and will succeed within 5 years. It will have taken two generations of Arabs to understand that Israel is here to stay. Sooner or later the Palestinians might just realize that, if massive Arab armies supplied with billions of dollars of the most sophisticated Soviet tanks and fighters could not destroy us, Palestinians will not fulfill their anachronistic, genocidal dreams with homemade and smuggled hand rockets. And I believe -- contrary to most -- that the catastrophe of Oslo was necessary in order to reveal the real intentions of the Palestinians and, more importantly, to relieve political pressure on Israel. With or without Oslo, the Arabs would have found another venue to unleash a terror that resulted from Oslo, killing thousands. Without Oslo we probably would not have the de facto final border called the security barrier. Without the spurned opportunities offered to them at Oslo, the Palestinians would still be seen in the world as the underdogs. Oslo changed world opinion revealing the Palestinian leadership to be bloodthirsty terrorists and incompetent political hacks.
Ultimately I believe that there is little chance that the settlements in the Gaza Strip were ever anything more than bait -- on which the world just bit. Disengagement from Gaza is one tactical step in a larger strategy that will produce a demilitarized Palestinian state. Its border will be (for the most part) the security fence, with an elevated freeway running between Gaza and the West Bank, and will provide some token Palestinian political presence on a few inches of Jerusalem's soil.
Notwithstanding the previous 8,000 words, I still have not articulated my litmus test concerning Gaza: Yehuda, my son. I will be proud in 12 years to watch my son be inducted into the Israeli Army at the Kotel (Western Wall) as is our tradition, here. I will encourage him without reservations to defend this country. I cannot say that I would have felt the same sending him off to Gaza, as did many of my friends with their sons and with their understandable reservations.
Perhaps, if I had been living in Gush Katif, I would have tried to shame the government into reversing their decision. Perhaps, just as a few of the evacuees expressed their final disapproval of their status, I too would have taken a gas can and lit up the joint on my way out the door. Disengagement was not simple.
I have argued that there is no compelling reason to perpetually defend Gaza. The answer to all of my arguments (shoved convincingly down my throat by my wife), is that many in Tel Aviv or Haifa might say the same thing about sending their children to defend a bunch of stinking Americans who are rich enough to settle in Jerusalem. As the crow flies, of course, we currently live in the heart of Jerusalem, about three blocks from the Green Line. So, when I have said that I would die for Jerusalem and not for Gaza, it has been pointed out to me with conviction that my red line is just as subjective as the line drawn by those against disengagement. And I am defenseless to this argument against disengagement.
I’ve struggled to think of something I might say to Rena Ackerman, the evacuated mother of 11, who spends Shabbat with her family in our building. I finally realized what to say, "Rena, I want you to know that I am grateful for the patriotic life that you have lived and the example you have given us all. Nothing you have done has been in vain. I want to say that I feel your pain, but that is impossible. I could never be ripped from my home and watch my community be dismantled and my synagogue burned, watching my land inhabited by those who are committed to our destruction. But Rena, it is over and you have not been knocked off the board. Realize that you are still in the game; you are simply on a different square now. Hundreds of the soldiers who defended you over the last 20 years are not as fortunate; many more are maimed; but, thankfully, many more will not face the same fate. And now, if you want, Rena, you can become a knight or a castle or even a queen. Now, Rena, is the time to get back into the game."
So what colors adorn our family car?
Anyway, thanks for reading this far.
I appreciate and look forward to your comments and greetings.
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Please stay tuned for Chapter 25: "Who is Billy Baynu."
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