The value of apology


As the 10th anniversary of the Gaza disengagement approaches, the media in Israel have naturally started looking back on that event. Last Shabbat, Yedioth Ahronoth featured a photo essay showing once-thriving Jewish communities now used as launching pads at Israel.

The pictures brought me straight back to the anger, frustration and the abiding sadness not only of the summer of 2005, but of the 12-year period leading up to it. To a large degree, 1990s-era politics were defined by two things: stubborn refusal by supporters of the peace process to even acknowledge potential flaws in the Oslo Accords, and by the collective accusation that skeptics of Oslo were enemies to be vanquished. Even before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, opposition to the Oslo process — or even questioning its administration — was enough to render one at best an outcast, and at worst an enemy of Israel.

Disengagement was carried out in that context: The withdrawal from Gaza was a legitimate political decision. The open theft of 1,800 homes and livelihoods by the government bordered on criminal. A decade later, some of Gaza’s Jews continue to live in caravilla mobile homes in “temporary” communities, and many have yet to rebuild their lives. One might use the word refugees.

On a personal level, it is clear that Ariel Sharon planned to “deal” with the West Bank settlers — with me — the same way he’d taken care of his previous allies in Gaza in just four days.

As I simmered again over it all this week, it occurred to me just how far an apology would go. It got me thinking about how much a visit to Efrat by former Meretz MK Yossi Sarid, one of the architects of the “settlers are the enemy” approach, would mean. Not for him to stand down on his left-wing principles, but to apologize for the needless hurt that he, and so many of his colleagues, caused for making me out not to be wrong in our opinions, but to be an enemy.

“I still believe that Israel and the Palestinians must separate into two states for the benefit of Israel,” he could say, “and I think we were right to do what we did during the 1990s, and even that we were right to pull out of Gaza in 2005.

“But we were wrong to have painted you and your community as enemies. Your opposition was principled and legitimate, and I apologize to the people we hurt with our attitude.”

All of which got me thinking about the nature and value of apology between Israel and the Palestinians. I believe the overall picture of the Israel-Palestinian conflict shows a clear moral victory to Israel: The Arabs started wars, Israel defended itself, and usually tried to act morally under difficult circumstances.

But too often, we have hidden behind that fact in order to inure ourselves to Palestinian suffering. Regardless of the justice of Israel’s cause, many Palestinians have gotten hurt as a result. No, Israel need not — must not — apologize for becoming a successful nation, for welcoming and absorbing millions of Jewish refugees from the Arab world, from Russia and elsewhere, and for building a thriving cultural and economic life.

But is our society mature enough at least to identify with Palestinians’ pain over the loss of a culture that was annihilated as a result? Can we recognize the fact that despite our best efforts, we have failed morally on too many occasions?

Furthermore, would a listening ear and true empathy help create space for the children and grandchildren of 1948 refugees to internalize that that war is over and to begin the process of admitting there will be no return to Sheikh Munis, Talbiyeh or Al-Ja’una?

And what about the sins we have committed, such as the 1956 killing of 49 civilians at Kfar Kassem, an Arab town inside Israel’s 1948 border? But we stopped short of apologizing for the killings, perpetrated by IDF border police units. Or the deaths of 13 Israeli civilians protesting IDF tactics at the start of the Second Intifada in October 2000. Or the thousands of Palestinian homes that have been violated — often with just cause, and often without — by IDF troops searching for terror suspects.

The last example is a strong case in point. Of course, we must search for terror suspects, including in private homes. But those searches are a violation, and they necessarily violate the privacy of many innocents. Can we identify with the humiliation, the shame, the rage they must feel?

No, the War of Independence was not
Israel’s fault — had the Arab states not invaded, there would have been no war in 1947-48. Palestinians will say the opposite: Their parents and grandparents became refugees through no fault of their own, but rather because of Zionist “bandits” raging through Palestine.

This sort of argument will lead nowhere. The emotion of competing historical narratives makes discussion of that period, and of so many events since then, impossible. It is critical today to leave history to the historians, and to work together toward a joint future. That process can begin only by agreeing to disagree on historical narratives and concentrating instead on sharing emotions, feelings and a commitment to a joint future. 

Jewish life in the City of Lights


Fortunately I traveled to Paris before Pesach, because missing buttery croissants and oven-fresh French baguettes would have been ruinous to my experience. Indeed, France is most famous for its delicacies — wine, cheese, pastries, foie gras — but it is also home to a vibrant Jewish community; one that has prospered for the better part of 2,000 years, but currently suffers from a malaise of bad press.

Despite the historic turbulence of Jewish French life, current population statistics suggest there are between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews living in the region, the majority of whom reside in the cultural capital of Paris. The figure is surprising, considering frenzied media depictions of French anti-Semitism, recent waves of Jewish French immigration to Israel and also because the population was estimated at 300,000 prior to World War II, which suggests that, even though France is depicted as less than empathetic to the Jewish community, the Jewish population there has actually grown.

However, the aftermath of Nazi occupation in France left the country scarred, with a visibly guilty conscience, which I investigated during my stay in a 16th century walk-up on the Ile St. Louis.

In a bustling student cafe on Rue Saint-Guillaume just across from the elite French university Sciences Po, a young Parisian typed on his laptop before striking up conversation about the thesis he is writing on generational divides. He seemed well informed, so I asked, “Is it true that the French are hostile to their Jews?”

He laughed, and said that too many people argue politics about the Arab-Israeli conflict without knowing the history, essentially implying that if there’s hostility toward the Jews it’s related to Israel. But it also begged the question: Is argumentation or even Palestinian empathy what the world perceives as hostile to French Jews?

The following night, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai attended a screening of his new film, “Disengagement” at an artsy independent theater in Place Saint Germain. The film, a French-Israeli co-production (and a good sign of comity in the arts), depicts a woman’s search for the daughter she abandoned, set against the backdrop of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. The film was, in short, riveting; and the Q-&-A that followed revealed French cineastes. were provoked by its content.

Dressed in black with a white scarf draped around his neck, Gitai, 58, stood aloof at the front of the room, fielding question from critics and fans, brooding during one man’s rant about the film’s lack of a Palestinian portrayal.

“This is an Israeli story,” Gitai said, explaining that the conflict in the film was not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizens they were ordered to remove from their homes; a conflict between secular Jews and religious Jews.

Scrubbing aside content and politics, there was still the idea that an Israeli filmmaker — telling an Israeli story — had been invited to screen his film at a distinguished arts venue, in a city ensconced in highbrow cultural snobbery. Perhaps more importantly, a famous and beautiful French actress (Juliette Binoche) figured prominently on the theater’s marquee, wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Whether fueled by guilt or regret or just plain reparation, Jewish culture is pervasive almost anywhere you go in Paris: There’s the sophisticated bookstore, Librairie Gallimard, which contains shelves full of books about the Holocaust, French resistance fighters and Nazi occupation, along with a special section devoted to Israeli literature; there’s the Holocaust Memorial on the Ile de la Cite, just behind the Notre Dame cathedral, certainly one of Paris’ most popular destinations; there’s the Jewish quarter, Rue de Rosiers, undeniably well situated in the trendy Le Marais, with some of the city’s best shopping, and near the historic Place des Vosges, an opulent 17th-century manse built for royalty.

So for the few-thousand French Jews who have made aliyah since 2004, there emerges new hope, like Gitai’s crosscultural storytelling or the Paris-born, Israeli-raised pop singer Yael Naim whose shows sung in Hebrew, French and English sell out among young, bourgeois Parisians.

In the song “Paris,” Naim’s enchanting ode to her beloved birthplace, she best captures the conflicting sentiments Jews feel for the City of Lights: I came here / A bit disenchanted / This beautiful illusion of mine / The country is so good to me here / So why do I cry and get upset?

Well, because it’s hard choosing between Paris and Israel. But still, it’s delightful to have that choice.

The Changed Man


In May of 1998, a wealthy Israeli-born businessman called our offices and suggested I go to the Peninsula Hotel to interview his friend, Ariel Sharon.

I said no.

At the time, Sharon was 70. He was minister of infrastructure in the government of the Likud Party’s youthful new leader Benjamin Netanyahu. By all accounts the former general and war hero had been irreparably damaged by his past, then eclipsed by a younger generation. He was just another minister, and I had other appointments.

The businessman, Uri Harkham, wouldn’t relent.

“This is a real hero!” he said.

So I went. It was a Saturday morning. Sharon, a bull of a man in a dark blazer and open-collared shirt, was sitting alone at a round table in the sun-drenched dining room of the Beverly Hills hotel, sipping from a china coffee cup painted with delicate pink roses. Nearby stood a knot of Israeli security guards.

Harkham sat at another table, working over a self-storage-unit magnate for a contribution to Sharon’s political future.

The idea that Sharon had a chance of usurping the telegenic, popular Netanyahu and becoming a mainstream Israeli politician struck me as ludicrous.

Sharon welcomed me and insisted I order something. We spoke for the better part of an hour — the man was in no rush. I believed I was talking to a has-been, a military hero with a U-Haul of baggage, whose role in Israeli life was purely historical.

Now, as I look back on 5765, I think of that breakfast, because the Jewish year that was belonged to Ariel Sharon.

Today there is almost no way to overstate the impact of his policy to disengage from the Gaza strip and parts of the West Bank.

The disengagement was swept from the front pages in part by the hurricanes and other news, but also due to its own success. Predictions of civil war proved to be hype, or wishful thinking. A nation changed course bravely and bloodlessly.

Nothing Sharon said to me that morning, nothing in his past, would have foreshadowed these events.

“This isn’t the stock market,” he admonished me when I asked why he refused to accede to a 13 percent pullout from the West Bank. “Every percent is meaningful.”

By that he meant it was important to hold on to every precious percent of land. And he derided the Americans for thinking they understood Israel’s security needs.

“They don’t even know what’s happening in the next state,” he said.

His supporters, Sharon said, knew he could be trusted not to give away the store — or even, apparently, a percent of the store. Everyone, even the Palestinians, he boasted, “knows exactly where I stand.”

Sharon’s past left little room for doubt.

As defense minister in the 1970s and ’80s, he spearheaded the development of settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. He pushed Israel’s army into Lebanon.

That decision cost hundreds of Israeli lives, and led to his political exile after the Kahan Commission investigated Israel’s culpability for the Sabra and Shatilla massacres.

He reclaimed center stage in 1999, after Netanyahu’s election defeat, winning 62 percent of the vote. Netanyahu’s compromises with Clinton had weakened him on the right, and Sharon’s no-nonsense reputation reassured terrorized Israelis: You knew where he stood.

Then, suddenly, you didn’t.

The man who writer Amos Oz prophesied would “deepen the oppression, deepen the occupation,” made the boldest step yet to lessen both.

His religious and nationalist supporters accused him of duplicity, even treason. His enemies, even his supporters, predicted everything short of the apocalypse.

But Sharon held fast. Israel’s pragmatism has always been more dramatic than its heroism. Founding Prime Minister David Ben Gurion compromised Israel’s very dimensions to establish the state. The late Yitzhak Rabin gave his life to take a risk for peace. Sharon has joined their ranks.

To this day, no one has offered a definitive explanation for his decision. Months before, he had dismissed the very idea. Some believe disengagement was Sharon’s last chance to enter history as a peacemaker, though there’s scant evidence such things matter to him. Some say his hand was forced by his good friend, President George W. Bush. Some say his interests have always been Israel’s strategic security, and relinquishing Gaza made strategic sense.

If the reasons are murky, the immediate outcome is clearer. The disengagement reengaged Israel on the international stage.

“There is a real change in the attitude of the world to the State of Israel, and we see it even in our relations with Arab neighbors,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said during a visit to Los Angeles last month.

Disengagement placed the onus for responsible government on the Palestinians. It lessened the human and economic costs of occupation. It strengthened Israel’s relationship with the United States — no small things.

Seven years ago, my breakfast with Sharon ended with me thinking the old man would never change. He did. I’d like to believe it happened as a result of a thoughtful stock-taking — a political and practical heshbon nefesh that resulted in a clear-eyed view of where the occupation of Gaza would lead Israel.

The change brought forth progress, which shook loose a debilitating status quo. It brought victory for new beginnings over old patterns, and presented Israel a chance to renew itself and its promise.

At this time of personal stock-taking, teshuvah and renewal, I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson there for us all.

Israel – Tourists Unfazed by Gaza Pullout


For visitors to Israel this summer, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip proved hard to ignore.

“Everybody’s orange,” said Rebecca Kaminski, from Berlin, with a laugh, referring to the color adopted by the anti-disengagement activists. “I’m on the blue side, I guess.”

Sitting on the beach in Netanya, the 22-year-old was working on her already impressive tan with a group of girlfriends, all students at a six-week summer ulpan, or Hebrew-language immersion course, in Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon.

They have not been deterred from visiting Israel during its exit from the Gaza settlements and parts of the West Bank.

In fact, Kaminski is thrilled to be here right now.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “We’re in the middle of a country that the whole world is watching. It’s historic.”

Her friend Sharon Asscher, 20, from Amsterdam, was not about to let the idea of trouble thwart her visit here.

“I haven’t come to Israel for five years because of the intifada and I missed it,” she said.

Alona Van t’Hoog, 25, from The Hague in Holland, is also a firm supporter of disengagement.

“I knew that, of course, it was going to be a hard time, but I have faith in the State of Israel and the army so I thought it would be OK,” Van t’Hoog said.

Sitting next to them on the sand, Melis Taragano, from Turkey, was less enthusiastic.

“It’s going to be bad for the Israeli people, I think, because here it’s going to be one big terror,” the 18-year-old said.

Tourism in Israel has yet to return to pre-intifada levels, with native Israelis still the dominant presence on beaches and boardwalks. But visitors are slowly returning as the threat of repeated suicide bombings fades. And with terror on the rise around the world, some vacationers reckon they may as well take their chances in Israel as anywhere else.

“They thought New York City was safe in 2001, and terrorists are blowing up London now, so is anywhere safe?” asks 30-year-old Marquis Cross from Baton Rouge, La., biting into a huge hamburger alongside his cousin James Yage at the Tel Aviv pub Mike’s Place, itself the site of a 2002 suicide bombing that killed three people.

Non-Jewish tourists, the pair have visited Jerusalem and taken in the Tel Aviv beaches, with the Dead Sea still to come.

“These are nice people. This is a fun city,” said Yage, 35, shaking more ketchup onto his fries.

And as for the political situation, “they’ve been going through these problems for years, and it seems pretty calm now,” he added in his Southern drawl.

“It’s pretty interesting, but I don’t have much of a view so I just turn on the sports,” Cross admitted sheepishly.

Dramatic television scenes of orange-clad settlers battling Israeli police and soldiers were ignored by retirees Samuel and Jutta Rosenblat, from Boca Raton, Fla. They were visiting the resort town of Herzliya, along with numerous members of their extended family, as they have for many years. Undeterred by terror in the past, they saw no reason why the disengagement — which they both support — should put them off this year.

“A lot of people in Florida are afraid to come every year because of the suicide bombings,” 82-year-old Jutta said. “It’s important to show that we’re not afraid and we have to support Israel.”

Her 83-year-old husband, a Holocaust survivor who was in five different concentration camps, agreed that showing faith in the Jewish state is vital.

“If we had had Israel before the war, then not so many Jews would have been killed,” he said. “We would have had somewhere to go.”

The disengagement has also provided an unexpected bonus to the tourism industry, especially in the southern parts of the country. Although most Israelis may be avoiding vacationing in the coastal region around Gaza, with the military imposing many restrictions on travel, journalists have flocked to the area.

Thousands of foreign journalists and TV crews snapped up every room in the vicinity, and kibbutzim close to Gaza rented out not only their bed-and-breakfast accommodations but all available spaces in their dining rooms, schools and community centers.

 

A Palestinian Verdict: Terror Worked


The question on the Palestinian street now is who will successfully claim credit for expelling Israel from Gaza and northern Samaria – Hamas, an organization that carries out terrorist attacks, or Fatah, the official Palestinian ruling party?

Whatever the answer turns out to be, one thing is certain. Both factions are presenting Israel’s withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza and the northern West Bank as a Palestinian military victory.

The Arabic word indihar is being used these days by Palestinians who view the pullout as a victory for the al-Aksa intifada, which erupted in September 2000. And there appears to be a growing number of Palestinians who are convinced that the withdrawal is nothing but an Israeli retreat achieved through the blood of thousands of shahids, or martyrs.

Still, many also consider the disengagement strategy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a conspiracy designed to tighten Israel’s grip on the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The “Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic” translates indihar as “banishment and defeat.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in the Gaza Strip were the first to refer to the disengagement as a “fruit of the resistance attacks” against Israel over the past few years. In recent days, even senior Palestinian officials, who are likely to play a role in peace negotiations, have begun labeling the pullout as an Israeli defeat.

On the streets of Ramallah and other West Bank cities, Palestinians across the political spectrum were unanimous this week in defining the disengagement as a retreat in the face of rocket and suicide attacks. Only a few said they regarded the move as a direct result of the peace process and international pressure on Israel.

“Of course this is a victory for the blessed intifada,” said Samir Tahayneh, a 22-year-old university student who describes himself as a Fatah supporter. “Had it not been for the Kassam rockets and suicide bombings, Israel would never have thought of running away from our lands. The disengagement proves that the only way to liberate our lands is through the resistance, and not at the negotiating table.”

Scores of people interviewed over the past week in various parts of the West Bank echoed those sentiments.

“We have always said that the only language the Jews understand is force,” commented Ala Abu Jbarra, a 30-year-old shopkeeper. “The Oslo process did not give us as much as the second intifada. By God’s will, we will pursue the struggle until we liberate the rest of our lands.”

A survey conducted by the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Information Center Web site reported that more than 94 percent of Palestinians see the Israeli indihar in the Gaza Strip as an “achievement for the Palestinian resistance.”

Less than 6 percent of the 2,551 respondents said they viewed the withdrawal as a result of political negotiations and international pressure.

It follows that the political battle on the Palestinian street is over who gets credit. The faction that prevails in this propaganda contest will get an edge in its bid for power. Both Hamas and the ruling Fatah party are separately preparing mass celebrations in the “liberated” areas with the hope that each can claim responsibility for driving Israel out of the Palestinian territories.

In an attempt to circumvent Hamas, Fatah leaders earlier this week kicked off celebrations by holding two mass rallies in the Gaza Strip. The message was that the disengagement is the result of the “sacrifices” made by Fatah fighters during the intifada. At another rally in Ramallah, organized by the Palestinian Authority’s Political Guidance Commission, Palestinian leaders hailed the disengagement as a significant victory for the “resistance.”

Col. Ribhi Mahmoud, acting director of the Political Guidance Commission, welcomed the Israeli indihar as a first step toward liberating Jerusalem. He and several spokesmen who addressed the rally drew parallels between the disengagement and the Israel Defense Forces “retreat” from Lebanon in May 2000.

“Palestinian blood has defeated the mighty sword of Israeli occupation,” declared Sheikh Hassan Youssef, the de facto Hamas leader in the West Bank. “Our blood has forced Israel to abandon its strategy of occupation, just as the Lebanese did.”

Qais Abdel Karim, a top leader of the Marxist-Leninist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told the crowd that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was forced to take the decision to leave the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank because of stiff Palestinian resistance.

“Sharon was forced to announce the so-called disengagement under the pressure of Palestinian steadfastness and resistance,” he said, drawing thunderous applause. “This is the first time that Israel is forced to dismantle Jewish settlements established on Palestinian lands.”

Abdullah al-Ifranji, a senior Fatah activist in the Gaza Strip, said the majority of Palestinians view the withdrawal as a “fruit of four years of the second intifada.” But, he added, the disengagement is also seen as the result of “tremendous political efforts” made by Yasser Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.

Ifranji admitted that his party was engaged in a competition with Hamas over post-disengagement celebrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“In the past six months, Hamas has prepared 40,000 military uniforms, 70,000 green flags and 100,000 hats,” he said. “They have also bought dozens of jeeps and painted them in Hamas’ color — green. They want to appear as if they were the ones who liberated the Gaza Strip.”

On the other hand, Fatah has prepared only Palestinian flags that will be distributed to Palestinians celebrating the disengagement. However, various Fatah members in the Gaza Strip have already announced that they will hold paramilitary marches in the settlements after they are evacuated.

Hamas officials claim that the Palestinian Authority has allocated millions of dollars for the Fatah-orchestrated celebrations, with most of the money coming from European donors. According to a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, the European Union has decided to finance the Fatah celebrations with the hope that the message to the Palestinian public would be that the disengagement is a victory for the peace process, not terrorism.

“Of course the Palestinian people are not naive and no one will buy this argument,” said the Hamas official. “Even Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] knows deep inside that the withdrawal is the result of the resistance operations, but he can’t say this in public.”

Many Palestinians are worried that the presence of thousands of Hamas and Fatah gunmen in the emptied settlements after the disengagement, along with some 20,000 Palestinian policemen, will lead to violent clashes. Hence Abbas’ repeated calls to the Palestinians over the past few days for calm during and after the pullout.

Aware that the Palestinian security forces would not be able to stop Hamas supporters from reaching the Gaza settlements, Abbas met this week with the Islamic movement’s leaders and implored them to restrain their men. The two sides agreed to set up joint committees to oversee the celebrations and avoid internecine fighting.

Yet Abbas, like many Palestinians, has to know that a confrontation of some sort with Hamas is almost inevitable.

His agreement to form joint committees with Hamas is seen as capitulation to demands set by the movement. Until last week, Abbas had adamantly refused even to talk about such coordination with Hamas.

“We in Fatah are not seeking a clash with Hamas,” said Ifranji, the Fatah leader from the Gaza Strip. “We are saying that Palestinian blood is a red line that should not be crossed. On the other hand, we won’t accept a situation where Hamas would try to harm or undermine the Palestinian Authority.”

The fact that so many Palestinians see disengagement as a reward for violence and as indihar has many Palestinian officials in Ramallah and Gaza City extremely worried.

“I’m afraid that the disengagement, which is not being carried out as a result of peace talks, will weaken the moderate camp among the Palestinians,” a top Abbas aide said. “That’s why we need to work together with Israel and the international community to make this move appear as if it were part of the peace process.”

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab, is the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and U.S. News and World Report.

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Show Gaza Sympathies to the Other


The disengagement from Gaza has exposed raw emotions and wrenching scenes of families being uprooted from their homes of decades.

Many in the Jewish community, while believing that the disengagement was necessary and even overdue, have felt the pain of the settlers. Some have even found a measure of truth in the settler slogan that “a Jew does not expel a Jew.”

We all empathize with those who have had to leave their homes, especially the children born and raised in the settlements of Gaza. But their pain — and our hand-wringing over it — must be placed in perspective. The settlers were given months of notice that the elected government of the State of Israel planned to remove them from Gaza — a decision supported by a solid majority of Israeli citizens. They were offered attractive compensation packages of up to $400,000. In addition, we cannot forget that they were living on land that most of the world, including the United States, regarded as illegally occupied.

Our sympathy then must be tempered, especially when the settlers and their supporters have the temerity to compare their plight to that of Jewish victims of Nazism. The government of Israel and the entire Jewish world have treated the Gaza settlers with a degree of respect and generosity that few groups of protesters have ever received, in Israel or elsewhere. Why don’t we conjure up the same sympathy for the Israeli soldiers who demonstrated tremendous restraint in the face of taunts and threats from recalcitrant settlers who refused warnings to vacate?

And why we don’t conjure up the same sympathy for the 1.5 million people, including every third child, who live below the poverty line in Israel, good and decent folks in Jerusalem and Yerucham, Be’er Shevah and Bat Yam, who struggle to make ends meet and never receive anything remotely resembling $400,000 government grants? For far too long, settlers have received lush government benefits to support a high standard of living while the underprivileged in Israel’s cities and developments towns have gone hungry. Why does their fate escape our attention?

And while we empathize with the small number of Jews uprooted from their homes in Gaza, do we ever dare to consider the fate of Arab citizens of Israel? Do we ever think of the Palestinians whose houses are demolished without reason in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem? Even more unlikely, do we allow ourselves to think of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were dispossessed during and after the 1948 War?

It is not just that they left their homes and were not permitted back. Nor is it that hundreds of their villages were destroyed and millions of dunams of their land expropriated in the State’s first years. It is that almost every trace of their previous existence has been erased from the Israeli national landscape — from road-signs, maps, and other place-markers.

These claims are deeply discomfiting to us, but we cannot dismiss them as mendacious anti-Zionist propaganda. (One need only consult the exacting and painful account of former Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meron Benvenisti in “Sacred Landscape.”)

The point of this self-reckoning is not to insist on the repatriation of the 1948 refugees nor to delegitimate the State of Israel. The right of Jews to national self-determination in their homeland is clearly established in international law; likewise, the right of Jews to a peaceful and secure existence cannot be subject to debate. But still we must ask, in the best tradition of Jewish asking: Why does the fate of the Other escape our attention? Why do we turn off our well-tuned humanitarian sensors when it comes to Arabs (or underprivileged Israeli Jews, for that matter)?

Why are we so selective in our compassion, caring only for our own, and even then, only a precious few among us?

As we approach the New Year in the spirit of teshuvah, we should certainly recall the settlers who have lost their homes. But we should also recall the teaching of the late French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, who devoted much of his career to exploring the ethical responsibilities toward the Other. Levinas taught that the face-to-face meeting with the Other is an essential ethical act of humanization. We may never come to know the Other fully, but the encounter reminds us that we do not dwell alone in our own autonomous universe. Rather, we must share the world with all of God’s creatures, including and especially those who are foreign to us.

Some may see Levinas’ teaching as naive and weak-kneed universalism in a world of hardened tribalism. But we can also choose to see it as the very essence of our Jewish identity, resonant with the biblical injunction to “love thy neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18) no less than with the modern value of tolerance that we hold so precious. If we do follow this alternative path, then perhaps we will come to see that the circle of misfortune and dispossession extends far beyond Neve Dekalim.

David N. Myers is a professor of Jewish history at UCLA.

 

First Person – Torn in Two


To the Jews of the Diaspora:

I recently returned from a monthlong vacation to the United States. Since I’ve gotten back home to Israel,

however, it seems as though “reality” has smacked me upside the head. I say this because of such a severe contrast between daily life in the United States and Israel.

Every minute of television, radio and Internet coverage is dedicated to the disengagement currently taking place. I feel so torn. It is just as hard to see people being booted out of their homes, as it is to see the soldiers unwillingly carrying out their orders because they have no choice in the matter. When the TV is filled with images of a kippah-clad settler crying and dancing arm in arm with a kippah-clad solider, one the evictor and one the evictee, how can a Jew not be profoundly moved to tears?

The disengagement is not solving any problems — it just creates many smaller ones. Where are these people supposed to move? The government has not planned sufficiently for this. People are living in tents.

A mother holds her child up and says, “Look, sweetie, this is who evicted you from your home … remember….” Is this the kind of image we want our Israeli/Jewish youth to have of our own Israel Defense Forces (IDF)? Is that how people will see me when I don an IDF uniform in a month, when I am to be drafted? Why should soldiers be forced to carry out these orders? They do not deserve this type of bad reputation.

How on earth is this “good for the State of Israel,” as Ariel Sharon claims over and over? Will the terror stop? Will the imams stop chanting and preaching “Allah is great and kill the Jews?” Will they stop educating their kids to do the same and will suicide bombers’ parents stop being proud of their children who “died for the cause?” Does Sharon not see and hear on Al Jazeera how the Arabs are dancing on the rooftops at the Israeli retreat? Does he not hear their preachers saying, “This is only the beginning?” What are Israelis receiving from the Palestinians in return for our bending over backward for them?

How can a Jew not cry when he sees four crying female soldiers trying to console one another while at the same time forcefully carrying out a crying woman from her home or shul?

How can a Jew not tear his garments when he sees crying rabbis and yeshiva heads abandoning their shuls and batei midrash where they spent days and nights sanctifying God’s name and learning Torah? They lead somber processions of their students, Torah scrolls in hand. They stand together in a circle with soldiers singing “Hatikva,” their voices cracking. Seeing these images and hearing their souls singing and their “Shema Yisroels” resonating is equally as mind boggling, disturbing, moving and awe-inspiring as thinking of how Jews throughout our history have done everything possible to make Kiddushei Hashem in the face of the worst situations imaginable.

I cannot just go on with daily life and not be affected. I feel like I have so much more to say. The simplest questions of “How are you? How was your day today?” take 2,000 words to answer. What if it was me being evicted? What if one day I’m going to be commanded to evict some of my neighbors? How can I ever raise children in this country when this is what they might have to face? The State of Israel and all of its people are in a state of mourning. I feel so lonely. I feel like there’s nothing I can do, completely helpless to reverse this awful direction my country is taking. It makes me want to run away, back to the States. I ask myself so often now, “Why am I here? Am I crazy?”

A planeload of 250 immigrants from Canada and the United States arrived in Israel last week. Former mayor of Jerusalem and current Finance Minister Ehud Olmert greeted them. Immediately upon arrival, they engaged in heckling him and the government’s “crazy” policies. He shouted back at them, “Well, if a million of you would’ve come a long time ago, maybe things wouldn’t be this way.”

Is this the kind of greeting new ideological immigrants to Israel, who give up “the good life” in the States are supposed to have from a government minister? Is Olmert right, though? Hopefully reading what I’ve had to say has made you just stop and think for a minute or two. I just wish you were here with me.

Robert Strazynski is a former resident of Los Angeles who has been living in Israel for the past seven years. He resides in the West Bank settlement of Ginot Shomron.

There’s No Place for Ugly Words on Gaza


The withdrawal of Israeli settlements and settlers from the Gaza Strip will dominate the Jewish summer.

Now, you can think that’s a good idea or a bad one, be for it or against it. All that’s fine and in the best tradition of Judaism. What is not fine and what is desecrating Judaism is how some of those opposed to the disengagement are seeing it, what they are saying about it.

What we are seeing and hearing are allusions to the Nazis, to the Holocaust. Somehow, when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compares treatment of soldiers at Guantanamo to the Nazis, Jews go nuts, find that outrageous.

And yet, too many Jews are using Nazi allusions, making Holocaust comparisons when describing the intention of the democratically elected government of Israel to do what it believes is in the best interest of the State of Israel — which is exactly what governments are elected to do.

It might be nice if all those Jewish right-wingers so desirous of seeing democracy come to Iraq would show some respect for democracy in Israel. But they do not. Even worse, much worse, they play the Nazi card in talking about the government of Israel.

It started when a large number of settlers in Gaza and the West Bank began wearing orange stars, reminiscent of the yellow stars the Nazis forced the Jews of Eastern Europe to wear during the Holocaust — orange stars being worn in the State of Israel to make a point about the action of the government of Israel.

Seeing Nazi behavior in the disengagement is not only as nuts as seeing anti-Semitism in the shuttle disasters, but is far more obscene, way beyond the pale.

The Holocaust is a sacred memory in the life of the Jewish people. Six million of our people, babies and grandfathers, whole families, whole towns were systematically murdered in the most barbaric of ways, in an atrocity unique in human history.

And so for Jews to wheel it out to make some political point about a political decision of an Israeli government is to act in as shameful a way as a Jew can act.

After a while, even the settlers recognized that, and so they stopped wearing the orange star. Which seemed to signal that they had learned something.

But evidently not. For just this past week, several Gaza settlers wrote their Israeli identification number on their arms in an attempt to evoke the memory of the tattoos the Nazis put on the arms of Jews in the concentration camps. How disgusting. What a desecration of the memory of the 6 million.

How can Jews in 2005, living in the State of Israel, dare to compare the decision by the Israeli government to leave Gaza to the decision by the Nazi government to identify every single Jew for the purpose of murdering every Jewish man, woman and child in Europe?

Nothing, nothing, shows how lost we are as a people, how far we have fallen, than this.

That so many Jews put on the orange star, while tattooing their arms is bad enough. Even worse is how many Jews, how many American Jews support that.

And how many American Jews are using ugly words? One press release that just crossed my desk comes from a group sponsoring a prayer vigil against the Gaza disengagement. Nothing wrong with that. What is wrong, what is disgraceful, is that in describing what they are opposing they say it is “Sharon’s edict of deporting Jews from Gaza.”

Edict. Deporting. Words that are loaded with the weight of Jewish history, Jewish suffering. Words that have no place in the debate over Gaza.

Sharon is not issuing an edict. He was elected by the people to be prime minister. He has put the Gaza issue to a vote several times before his Cabinet, and each time the Cabinet has authorized the pullout. He has then put the issue several times before Israel’s democratically elected parliament, the Knesset, and it, too, has voted for the pullout each and every time. This is a democratic decision made by a democratically elected government.

And no one is being deported. The government of Israel has made a decision as to what is in the best interest of the people and the State of Israel. A decision as to what would best ensure the security and improve the future of the state and people of Israel. And that decision involves having some people move.

That is no different than the concept of eminent domain in this country, where a city or state can require that the people of a neighborhood move so that an airport or a new highway or such can be built for the greater good of all.

While such decisions always involve some personal discomfort for some, they are routinely made. No one says those who had to move so that the new ballpark could be built were “deported.” And none of the settlers in Gaza are being deported.

The press release from this group also notes that “Jewish people have never been expelled from Israel since the modern state was created in 1948.”

Oh, where to begin. For starters — and this is also directed to those who mindlessly babble the mantra, “Jews do not evict Jews,” — ever hear of the evacuation of Sinai after the peace with Egypt?

But such ignorance pales in comparison with the ugliness of using the word “expelled.” And never mind, of course, that no one is being expelled from Israel. The use of such ignorant arguments, and of such inflammatory and despicable language, shows just how weak the case is of those who oppose the pullout.

The next month will be a key one in the life of the Jewish people and in the democracy of the State of Israel. Which is why pullout opponents must immediately stop using such symbols as stars and tattoos and such pornographic terms as edict and deportation and ghetto and expulsion when discussing the disengagement from Gaza.

And why senior rabbis in the State of Israel must immediately stop urging Israeli soldiers to disobey orders, and why they must immediately stop making speeches full of halachic references that strongly imply it would be a mitzvah to assassinate the prime minister of Israel.

Two things that have always been unifying forces for the Jewish people have been holding sacred the memory of the Holocaust and respecting the nonpolitical role of the Israeli army.

By doing what they are doing, saying what they are saying, too many opposed to the Gaza pullout are recklessly endangering those unifying values, and in so doing are endangering the Jewish people.

Joseph Aaron is the editor of the Chicago Jewish News.

 

Q & A With Daniel Ayalon


The mid-August Israeli pullout from Gaza is fraught with risks and unknowns, but the Israeli government remains committed to “unilateral disengagement,” says Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Ayalon spoke with The Journal about the reasons for disengagement, a policy he characterized as virtually inevitable and worth the sacrifice of the Israeli settlers who will have to leave their homes.

Ayalon, age 49, has served as Israel’s top diplomat in the United States since July, 2002. He played a leading role in negotiating the blueprint for a two-state solution known as the “Roadmap for Peace.” Prior to his U.S. posting, Ayalon was chief foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. From 1997 to 2001, he was deputy foreign policy adviser to former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Jewish Journal: To what extent was the government prepared for the protests and resistance to the pullout from Gaza?

Daniel Ayalon: The government has been prepared and, I think, is prepared. It wasn’t something that we did very cheerfully. We did foresee objections. We do empathize with the people. We’re talking about three generations, 8,000 people who made their lives there. It is very difficult to uproot.

But the prime minister had to make the decision because he knew this was the best course of action to take and the best way to strengthen Israel — politically, securitywise, economically and I also would say socially. And understanding that Gaza is not an asset but a liability.

JJ: What do you mean when you speak of Gaza as a liability?

DA: Everybody realizes that there was no future for a Jewish presence in Gaza. You have 1 million or 1.2 million Palestinians and 8,000 Jews. The numbers talk here. And from a historical or biblical point of view, I’m not sure that Gaza was part of our land in the past.

JJ: What history are you talking about? History covers a long time in this part of the world.

DA: The past of the Jewish people. Gaza as I recall was Philistine land. Back in March 1979, during the negotiation of the second Camp David accord between President Carter, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, at that time Begin offered Gaza to Sadat and Egypt together with the rest of the Sinai peninsula.

So there was no great attachment to the Gaza, ever.

JJ: But there was a Jewish presence.

DA: Right, although strategically you cannot compare Gaza to Jerusalem, the Judean Hills, the Jordan River valley and all these areas.

JJ: Yet the Israeli government did allow and encourage these settlers to go to Gaza.

DA: Totally. They were sent by successive Israeli governments.

The first settlements there were built before the peace treaty with Egypt. So on the southern front we still had all these threats when Egypt was still the enemy. Egypt is no longer an enemy and the demography is also a factor. After all these years we have 8,000 people surrounded by these 1 million Palestinians.

[Years ago] you couldn’t really foresee the [future] developments. I can guarantee you: Had we had 1 million Israeli settlers in Gaza, we wouldn’t have left Gaza. If we had 500,000 Israelis, we wouldn’t have left Gaza.

JJ: How much does it cost Israel to protect the settlement region, Gush Katif, on an annual basis?

DA: Well, listen we had to keep there a division, about 20,000 troops. I would say it was quite costly. But the cost is not the factor. Protecting other areas is very costly as well. Strategically there is just no merit in staying there.

JJ: Of course, you could allow the settlers to stay, but inform them that they may soon become citizens of a Palestinian state.

DA: This is not realistic. No one was even contemplating this.

JJ: So you’re saying the settlements are a dead-end vestige of policies that, in the past, seemed to make sense. That doesn’t exactly make things easier for the settlers.

DA: We are very proud of the settlers’ achievements. I believe that their effort, their endeavors, were not in vain. And we applaud the achievements of the settlers over there. We do understand their pain.

It is incumbent on us, the government, to make sure the people who are losing what they’ve spent all their lives building will feel the least pain possible. And for that there are packages of compensation and other services that will be rendered and offered to the population there, from economic help to professional advice and placement, to psychological treatment as well. We try to prepare all of this.

JJ: You’re saying that all this upheaval is justified for the greater good of Israel.

DA: By doing the disengagement, by leaving Gaza, we have much strengthened our position in Judea and Samaria. Sometimes you come to a juncture when you have to make a choice and you have to look ahead. And you have to think of the global picture.

Disengagement is a very timely thing to do, the right thing to do for the people of Israel, and I hope for the region.

One more thing: 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 has to be viewed in the context of Israel-United States relations. It was enthusiastically endorsed by President Bush, and most in the international community are also accepting and endorsing it. Disengagement is something that creates a common agenda between us and the United States.

In support of disengagement, President Bush wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sharon reiterating his commitment to Israel’s security, and his commitment to strengthening Israel’s defense and deterrence capability. And President Bush went to an extent that no other president did talking about Israel living in recognized and defensible borders.

Not to mention that the American government now supports the realities on the ground. They do not expect us to return to the 1967 or 1949 lines, which is also a great asset. They don’t expect the Palestinian refugees to ever go back to Israel. That also is a great benefit that we have received because of the disengagement.

And we have received the political reassurance that the only road ahead is the roadmap to peace. The United States will not accept any other initiatives that are undesirable from any other quarter of the world. And there’s also a commitment to strengthening the Israeli economy. So all these factors are also very important in the decision to pull out from Gaza. Israel will be much stronger after the disengagement.

JJ: To what extent does the success of the pullout depend on the Palestinians?

DA: We would expect two things. First of all, during the disengagement, we would like to see that they make sure that terror doesn’t erupt. Toward that goal we have allowed them to move 5,000 security troops of the Palestinian Authority from the West Bank to Gaza. And we would expect they would create a perimeter or a buffer for our own troops, who would mostly be engaged with our own population, dealing with them and pulling them out — something that is not only excruciatingly painful but also very complicated.

If we encounter enemy fire and terror we will have to respond. And we will have to respond in a very decisive way because we will not allow them to pursue us as we move out. We will not allow even the perception of terror winning.

Secondly, we would expect the Palestinians to coordinate with us all the economic and civil affairs. For instance, we intend to leave most of infrastructure intact for the Palestinians to use, to create value for the Palestinian economy. For instance, there are greenhouses that could employ 8,000 to 10,000 people, which could sustain 100,000 or more Palestinians, about 10 percent of the population of Gaza.

After the disengagement, they will have to dismantle the terror infrastructure. They will have to disarm Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror organizations. They will have to arrest the fugitives and the known terrorists, break their cells and do it on a sustainable basis, so they can really come with us and negotiate on the roadmap. But the ticking bomb of Hamas is re-arming, re-grouping, recruiting new terrorists on a daily basis, and nothing is being done about it. The Palestinian Authority will have to take it head on if they want to be a viable partner for the future.

JJ: Isn’t there an argument for leaving intact the houses once occupied by Israeli settlers? Or at least letting the Palestinians make that decision?

DA: They have conveyed to us that they would prefer for those houses to be demolished because they are not suitable for Palestinian living because they are very expensive on land consumption. With the density of the population in Gaza, I think they would prefer high rises. Instead of 8,000 Israelis, they can inhabit this same area with tens of thousands of Palestinians.

We would like to see Palestinian refugees settled over there. It’s very unfortunate that throughout all these years, and certainly since the Palestinian Authority was created with Arafat in 1993, that they have not done anything to help their own refugees. Certainly they can move those refugees out of very miserable and inhumane conditions to new housing. Also by creating this housing, by building new housing, it can give a lot of immediate employment to the citizens of Gaza.

JJ: So how will the demolition be handled?

DA: The houses will be demolished by Israel. And the debris will be taken out by the Palestinians, who would not have to bear the costs for it. Israel is willing to participate in that cost. The international community should as well.

JJ: Some critics characterize disengagement as a defeat, as a retreat that will just encourage more violence and bring enemies who will never accept Israel’s existence closer to Israel’s doorsteps.

DA: I don’t think this is the case. We are leaving Gaza quite triumphant. Hamas was on the run. If you recall, we have taken on all its leaders, including Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Sheik Yassin. [Israel forces killed Rantisi and Yassin.] We really demolished all the infrastructure.

The reason the Palestinians have voted in a massive way for Abu Mazen is because he offered them a strategy of quiet and of doing away with terror. He has not really performed yet, but the terrorism did not further the Palestinians’ national interest. They have lost militarily. They have lost economically. They have lost in international legitimacy. And they have not done what they wanted to do, which is break the Israeli spirit.

Will terror spring out of Gaza? I doubt it. If it does, we will have all the legitimacy to respond in a very decisive way. And the Palestinians would want to see Gaza as a showcase. If they can govern Gaza in a responsible way, without terror, then they may have a case to start the roadmap and talk about other areas. If not, then nothing will be moving ahead.

JJ: Critics on the left say that even while Israel is withdrawing from Gaza, it is entrenching itself elsewhere in the territories and even expanding areas of control.

DA: Everything always depends on the performance of the Palestinians. If they will make good on their obligations in the roadmap: to dismantle the terror organizations, to complete their reforms, to create a viable entity with one rule of law and a monopoly over the military and the guns — then we can negotiate in good faith.

We cannot move forward to the second stage before the first stage is completed.

JJ: Is anything nonnegotiable, such as the status of Jerusalem, for instance?

DA: I repeat to you what Prime Minister Sharon said: Jerusalem is the one indivisible, united, eternal capital of Israel forever and ever.

JJ: Do you have a particular message for the Jewish community of Southern California?

DA: There is great compatibility between the American economy and Israel. In Israel, we’re talking about a very developed high-tech economy with a very well trained labor force that is also excelling in areas like entrepreneurship. We are proud to be the United States’ largest trading partner in the Middle East.

There are many American companies that are represented in Israel. And we would like to see more. I would like to see them look into business opportunities for joint ventures and investments. Now is the time to invest. Equity is still cheap in Israel. The growth is up and tourists are back. The economy is moving in the right direction. We are deregulating, changing the tax code, privatizing — so I think now is a good time to invest in Israel.

Also in your area I have met with many leaders in the entertainment industry. I have invited many of them to Israel and many of them did come. I would take this opportunity to [invite] actors and actresses to come to Israel, to discover Israel, and also to promote it.

JJ: Is there anything that could derail or postpone the pullout?

DA: I hope not. We are prepared to do it. And we are going to do it. We understand the demonstrations. We are a democratic country and they have the right to do it. But Israel also is a country with the rule of law. D-day will be Aug. 16, and we would expect the settlers to leave voluntarily. I hope most of them will. And those who will not, we will have to deal with them, very compassionately and with great patience. And just bring them back one by one.

Disengagement Now — No Way to Peace


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for an Israeli pullout from Gaza and a few more settlements in the Shomron has found extensive initial approval among Jews in the Diaspora.

At first glance, this is understandable. The absence of a credible Palestinian negotiating partner, combined with Israel’s vigorous desire to create a more peaceful atmosphere in the Middle East, has made a partial segregation from the Palestinian Arabs appear to be a step in the right direction.

But before we leap, let’s look. Let’s pay attention to the serious voices of dissent.

Avi Dichter, outgoing head of Israeli intelligence, declared a few months ago, in front of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, that the evacuation of the northern Shomron (Samaria) would reproduce at Israel’s southern border the dilemma of constant mortar shelling that used to afflict the northern border. It required the intervention of Israeli ground forces to stop cross-border shelling from Lebanon.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Schlomo Ben Ami, a member of the Labor Party, as well as Shabtai Shavit, former head of intelligence, stated in near unison that the unilateral abandonment of the Gaza Strip under prevailing conditions would destabilize the region.

“The plan does not create the necessary minimum of balance that would enable long-term co-existence,” Shavit said.

Many in Israel and abroad see Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, as representing a basic change in the strategic goals of the Palestinians. However, his past as a close confidant of the late Yasser Arafat and his alarmingly militant statements about the future status of Jerusalem and the “right of return” raise doubts.

“Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] is not Arafat,” Zalman Shoval, Israel’s previous ambassador in Washington, stated last month. “But his objectives — not only according to intelligence assessments, but according to his own statements, as well — are no different from those of this predecessor.”

The Gaza pullout offers an appropriate opportunity to verify Abbas’ support for peace, and to test his influence for pursuing peace within the Palestinian Authority. This giant endeavor — the compulsory evacuation of some 10,000 Israeli citizens — could be set up in complete coordination with the Palestinian authorities. Lacking such agreement, the disengagement may cause devastating aftermaths:

In the absence of clear-cut accords with Abbas, the security situation in Israel could decisively degrade. Outgoing Chief of General Staff Moshe Yaalon said recently that in addition to Sderot, many other places are likely to be surprised with missiles from the Gaza Strip.

Terrorist groups would proclaim Israel’s unilateral step as their own victory, and this would likely aggravate future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. As former General Security Chief Ami Ayalon stated: “Retreat without getting anything in return is liable to be interpreted by some as surrender, and likely to strengthen extremist forces.”

The political situation could become much more complicated, and the pressure on Israel to continue making unilateral steps could also, according to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, be enormously intensified. The pullout from Gaza now is considered as a step within the “road map” (peace plan) and no longer as a unilateral act in the absence of a Palestinian interlocutor. After the withdrawal, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States will probably force Israel to make additional, far-reaching concessions.

The inner discord in Israel could become huge and almost unbridgeable, especially as Israelis are getting nothing from Palestinians in return. We should not forget that the large majority of Israelis who supported Sharon and Likud voted for a party that was strictly against any unilateral abandonment of territories — which is exactly the policy Sharon advocates now. He defied the will of his party that opposed the Gaza pullout, and refused to conduct a referendum — even though the Israelis of Gaza asserted that they would have accepted the results of a referendum.

The Jewish ethos would be strongly tarnished. Dozens of synagogues and Torah centers, built with the full backing of the Israeli government, are slated to be violently destroyed by the IDF. The pictures of these holy houses, destroyed by Jews themselves, will be satellite-transmitted all over the world.

What a terrible negative impression such devastating pictures would leave with all viewers, Jews and non-Jews alike. It is and remains incomprehensible that such a traumatic action should happen without a binding accord with the Palestinians.

Finally, the Zionist ethos would be substantially enfeebled by a unilateral pullout. A impressive settlement in the desert, explicitly subsidized by the government, in which barren land was made miraculously fertile in the Zionist pioneering spirit, is on the verge of being devastated by Israel itself. A large swath of land that had been settled by Jews in the days before the 1948 War of Independence now shall become “free of Jews,” without any quid pro quo. By contrast, an orderly turnover of the Gaza Strip would allow many practical problems to be solved, such as the fate of the Israeli houses, farms and orchards in the Gaza Strip. On the condition that the Palestinians deliver real tradeoffs, the disengagement could become a meaningful step toward co-existence between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

A relinquishing of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians is not to be rejected principally. An abandonment of the Gaza Strip — if done in the scope of a bilateral peace process involving Abbas — would certainly weaken the strong opposition against disengagement. The settlers’ great sacrifice then would make more sense.

However, one-sided concessions are dangerously counterproductive. In this, former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky stands by his political credo consistently, unflinchingly. Sharansky’s thesis is that democracies do not war with each other, and that a peace with the Palestinians, therefore, can only be achieved in partnership with a democratic Palestinian authority. According to him, Israel gives up far too much when it pulls out from Gaza before the Palestinian government has fulfilled its promises for democratization and other reforms, which must include forswearing all future terrorism.

It is not surprising that the backing for Sharon’s disengagement program has fluctuated greatly, dipping below 50 percent at times.

People fail to understand why Israel does not require from the new Palestinian leader a meaningful bilateral negotiations for peace, especially as Israel prepares to do something so remarkable and unprecedented for the sake of peace.

Arthur Cohn is the Academy Award-winning producer of numerous films, including “The Garden of Finzi-Continis” and “One Day in September.” He lives in Basel, Switzerland.

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Letters


The Gaza Fight

Imagine a person’s agony when the doctors tell him that in order to save his life, he must amputate a limb. (“The Battle Over Gaza in America,” June 17). Imagine the increased agony when a second group of doctors tells him that not only will amputation not help his condition, it will actually worsen it.

I think this is an apt analogy when thinking of the imminent withdrawal from Gaza.

Regardless of a one’s political and/or religious sentiments, every Jew should feel a great sense of agony over what is occurring to our brethren in Gush Katif. Necessary or unnecessary, it is nothing less than an amputation of our people from their land.

That is why I appreciated your fairly written cover story on Jon Hambourger and savegushkatif.org. Hambourger is a level-headed, pragmatic person, who respects and loves all Jews regardless of their political and religious affiliation. Despite the fact that his political views may not exactly coincide with yours or mine, he has earned my respect as a Jew who will not stand by silently amidst his brothers’ and sisters’ pain.

We stand together with Hambourger and savegushkatif.org, and pray on behalf of our troubled brethren in Israel.

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin
Kehillat Yavneh
Los Angeles

In February of this year, I traveled with my sister to Gush Katif. My life changed. My main mission became how I could help save this precious place. In the Gush (Kfar Darom) I saw schools, shuls, factories and, most important, a people who are dedicated in their belief in God, surrounded by a murderous enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy them. Please all God-fearing Jews and non-Jews, help save the Gush and Shomron. Without them, there goes Israel!

Mimi Matasar
Via e-mail

I just don’t understand what drives people like Jon Hambourger and his anti-Gaza disengagement group. They use two lines of argument to base their insistence on retaining Gaza: 1) Eretz Israel, including Gaza, was given to the Jews by God, and 2) Gaza is needed for Israel’s security. The first argument is weak, and the second is incorrect.

How good is a biblical claim from more than 3,000 years ago in the modern world, especially considering that the claim was not maintained for most of those 3,000 years. It is true there have been Jewish residents of Jerusalem, Hebron and the Galilee continuously since before the Babylonian exile, but except for about 100 years during the first century B.C.E. Hasmonean (Maccabee) Kingdom (which did include Gaza), there has not been Jewish control of the land until the U.N. partition in 1948. The land was controlled by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabians, Christian Crusaders, Ottoman Turks and the British.

Israel’s right to exist comes from the U.N. separation, and the fact that for almost 60 years, millions of Jews have lived on the land and built a democratic, economically successful nation. But we must not forget that Palestinians have lived in the region for far longer, and they, too, have earned rights to the land. And that brings us to the security question.

Israel’s security ultimately relies on Israel being a democratic society. Sure a strong military can maintain control in the short term of an Israel that includes the West Bank and Gaza. But a Palestinian population that is treated as second-class citizens and feels dispossessed will be a continual security threat. To control that population, the Israel government will continue to get less democratic. The Palestinian population will develop into the majority over the few years, which brings up the very worrisome demographic problem.

Surely the demographic problem is one of the reasons that pushed Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to back Gaza disengagement. It puts off the demographic problem for about 15 years.

So why do anti-Gaza pullout people like Jon Hambourger want to retain Gaza? It will surely make them feel good. But, as a Jewish American, I worry that if they are successful, it will result in a weakened Israel and will end Israel’s being a Jewish homeland.

Jeff Warner
La Habra Heights

The Real Brains?

After reading this article in the June 10 edition of your newspaper, I was hard-pressed not to think it was racist (“Rare Ailment Occurs More in Ashkenazis”). Yet, in a strange way, I was also flattered, as my husband and I are both Tay-Sachs carriers, and I can only think that some other “sphingolipid-storage”- challenged researchers came up with the tests to determine if a fetus has the disease. Thanks to them, we have three healthy, intelligent kids.

Amy Schneider
Northridge

The question of Ashkenazi intelligence has previously been discussed by Max Dimont in his book, “Jews, God and History,” where he connects it to genetics and social values, coupled with natural selection and Darwinian evolution. If finches in the Galapagos can evolve into different species within generations, then Jewish intelligence can be linked to the tradition that sends the first-born son to the Yeshiva and marries him to the daughter of a rich father who can support him and his family while he devotes his life to study. All of which is in contrast to the Catholic tradition of giving the first-born son to the church and a life of celibacy without issue.

E Richard Cohen
Encino

Correction

In “Israeli Artist Paints a Path to Healing” (June 17) Rhea Carmi’s age should have been listed as 63. Her relative who died in the Yom Kippur War was her brother-in-law.

Merchant Mistake

I read your article in an April 1 issue titled, “Zucky’s Counter Culture,” where you quote Zucky Altman as saying that in 1954, “Santa Monica had one Jewish merchant, a dress shop.”

Altman’s memory is incorrect. I can remember at least four Jewish merchants in Santa Monica in 1954, and I believe there were a number of additional ones:

1. My mother (Rose Gold) and uncle (William Shalat), who had a ladies’ clothing store at 1431-1433 Third Street (I count these as “one merchant”).

2. Adolph Braun (my godfather), who owned Braun’s Men’s Wear next door to my mother’s store.

3. Marty Goodfriend, who owned Goodfriend’s Jewelers.

4. The Jewish owner of another ladies’ clothing store across Third Street from my mother’s store. I cannot remember that person’s name.

Arnold H. Gold
Studio City

Chabad Necessity?

I wish I could agree with Jacob Neusner’s praise of Chabad in your June 17 article (“Why Reform, Chabad Are Necessary”). I find them to be a bigoted, self-servicing religious body best described as a cult with lots of chutzpah, and whose pockets are lined with lots of money, and no lay board to govern them. Nor do we need ghetto living in America.

Hyman H. Haves
Pacific Palisades

As I read Jacob Neusner’s column I was reminded of the old adage, “Those who know, do; those who don’t know, teach). It is a shame that one who teaches Judaic studies apparently knows so little about Orthodox Judaism. I am a member of both a Conservative and a Chabad shul and have attended a Reform synagogue a few times in order to say Kaddish and as a bar mitzvah invitee. Contrary to Neusner’s assertion that the Reform movement is “willing to cope with problems that Orthodox reading of halacha treat as cut and dried, and which they botch completely,” and that “there is a human dimension to take into account,” which Reform takes into account completely misstates the Orthodox and especially the Chabad movement. The non-Jewish woman he cited who raised “three Jewish children” and could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery did not raise Jewish children. She gave three children, born of a Jewish father, a Jewish education for which Hashem should bless her. She had the chance to become Jewish by converting prior to her death but, for whatever reason, she did not do so and therefore cannot be buried in a halachically Jewish cemetery. It is not a matter of being heartless but of observing Torah Judaism. If you want to be buried with your spouse in a Jewish cemetery you should marry a Jew. It is one of the things that people intermarrying should discuss beforehand but probably never do.

Morton Resnick
Oxnard

 

U.S. Acts Cautiously on Mideast Issues


It may be the most ideological presidency in recent memory, but on at least one issue, the Bush administration is pure pragmatism.

As Israel gets set for its summer of disengagement discontent, the administration has responded with a cautious, practical approach that has angered ideologues on both sides of the Mideast debate.

That could be the best strategy in a situation rife with potential for nasty surprises. But it could also be a dangerous dead end if the administration’s caution is just a cover for something else — a desire to avoid messy Mideast matters.

The recent Washington visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas triggered a new burst of speculation about what could come next, after Israel has left all of Gaza and part of the West Bank in August.

The administration continues to send out mixed signals — not a surprise, given its goal of helping both Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon deal with strong domestic opposition. At a joint news conference with Abbas, the president seemed to back away from his April 2004 promise that this country doesn’t expect Israel to abandon every inch of the West Bank, an acknowledgment of tacit understandings between Israel and the Palestinians about the big settlement blocs.

In fact, there was no change in U.S. policy — the administration has always said final borders need to be negotiated — but that didn’t prevent shudders of anxiety among pro-Israel leaders.

At the same time, the administration refused to do what Abbas wanted and ratchet up the pressure on Israel on the always-explosive issue of Jewish settlements.

The reason for both actions was the same: the Bush administration, taking things one step at a time, does not want to do anything to jeopardize either the upcoming Gaza disengagement or Abbas’ efforts to start moving the Palestinian Authority down the road of peace and democracy, key first steps in reviving any active peace process, the administration believes.

To do all that, officials here are willing to cut Sharon some slack as he faces declining support for the Gaza plan at home, and overlook the fact that Abbas has been less than aggressive in confronting terror groups.

The administration appears determined to keep its focus glued to immediate, practical priorities, instead of what could come next, despite strong pressure from some quarters to start talking more about the next steps in a revived peace process.

Administration Mideast strategists want the road map for Palestinian statehood to move to the center of the diplomatic game board after disengagement, and they hope the pullout will create conditions that will jump-start that plan, but there is a realistic awareness that there are too many unknowns to plan much beyond the present.

Those unknowns include the possibility new Palestinian terrorism or violence by Jewish extremists could delay or derail the plan.

Once implemented, the pullout could result in an orderly transfer of power to the Palestinians and a strong effort by Abbas to pacify the region — or it could turn Gaza into the launching pad for new terror attacks.

There is also the Palestinian elections, which have been postponed until November, in which Hamas expects to do well. Just how well and how successful Abbas is in turning the terror group into responsible players in his government are big unknowns.

Then there’s the question of Sharon. Does he plan to use the disengagement to tighten Israel’s grip on major West Bank settlements and put further negotiations into “formaldehyde,” as a top aide colorfully put it? Or has he started something that will inevitably lead to new pullouts and create conditions for the negotiation of a final settlement, as another aide has hinted?

Sharon isn’t talking, and nobody in Washington can accurately assess his intentions.

Then there’s the Abbas wild card. Many Jewish leaders here believe that he is sincere in wanting to reform his government and pursue peace — but uncertain about his ability to fill that tall order.

Given those huge uncertainties, the administration has adopted the view that a cautious, incremental approach may be more practical and less risky than the grandiose but failed Mideast plans of past administrations. There is a realization that if the disengagement fails, the region will once again plunge into chaos. So working for the disengagement is the top priority; while the road map remains on the table, figuring out how to make it happen will wait until the disengagement is complete.

That approach makes sense, but there are risks. Without assertive U.S. leadership, the current window of opportunity in the region could slam shut. Finding the proper balance between cautious pragmatism and creative leadership will be the top challenge facing this administration in the months ahead.

A one-step-at-a-time approach makes sense in today’s fluid environment, but it could prove disastrous if, after the August disengagement, it is revealed as a cover for a different kind of disengagement — the disengagement of the United States from active involvement in the search for Middle East peace.

 

Nation & World Briefs


High Flier Takes Over

Dan Halutz, a former air force commander, replaced Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon as chief of the Israel Defense Forces’ General Staff at a blue-ribbon ceremony Wednesday. Considered a confidant of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Halutz’s immediate challenge is implementing the Israeli withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.

“The decision of the government and the Knesset on the matter of ‘disengagement’ will be carried out with the proper sensitivity and the required determination,” Halutz said in his inaugural speech. Halutz, 56, is Israel’s 18th chief of staff but the first to come from the air force. Another strategic concern facing him is the Iranian nuclear program, which analysts describe as the greatest threat to Israel’s existence.

Dollars for Withdrawal

Israel will pay evacuated settlers an average of $450,000 per family in compensation. The government figure was presented Wednesday at an interministerial meeting in Jerusalem. Some 8,500 settlers are to be relocated when Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank beginning in mid-August. Their compensation packages will be set according to criteria including family size and how long they lived in their former homes. Some settlers have petitioned against the withdrawal plan at Israel’s High Court of Justice, calling the relocation terms inadequate.

Ya’alon: Another Intifada Seen

Israel can expect Palestinian terrorism to flare up after it withdraws from the Gaza Strip, the retiring chief of staff said. In an interview with Ha’aretz published in part on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon said that unless Israel continued ceding land to the Palestinians after the withdrawal planned for this summer, they would inevitably return to terrorism.

“If there is an Israeli commitment to another move, we will gain another period of quiet,” he said. “If not, there will be an eruption,” adding, “There is a high probability of a second war of terror.”

Terrorist groups in the West Bank and Gaza largely have honored the cease-fire declared by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last February, but Ya’alon said this was no indication of lasting peace prospects. Citing Abbas’ calls for a “right of return” for millions of Arab refugees to land now inside the Jewish state, and Abbas’ refusal to crack down on terrorist groups, Ya’alon said that a future Palestinian state would try to undermine Israel and ultimately would lead to war.

Holocaust Heroes Honored

Yad Vashem posthumously honored a Dutch couple and a Pole for rescuing Jews during World War II. On Wednesday, Albertus and Margaretha Haverkort of Holland and Zofia Wroblewska-WieWiorowska of Poland, who hid nine Jews from the Nazis, were named Righteous Gentiles.

Irish Group Protests Israel

An anti-Israel group in Ireland will stage a protest before an Israel-Ireland soccer game. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign has organized a demonstration against Israeli “occupation” to coincide with the arrival of the Israeli soccer team and its hundreds of traveling supporters in Dublin on Saturday for a World Cup qualifying match. The protesters will be marching from the center of Dublin to the Israeli Embassy two blocks from the soccer stadium. The group is encouraging people attending the match to wave Palestinian flags. An attempt to get Irish fans to boycott the last match between the teams in Tel Aviv in March was met with complete indifference. Neither the Israeli Embassy in Dublin nor the Israel Football Association would comment on the planned protest.

Denying the Deniers

Internet providers should block French users from accessing a Holocaust denial site, Paris’ district attorney said. The comments, made Monday, came during a trial on the issue of whether Web users should be allowed to access Aaargh, which in French stands for the Association of Amateur War and Holocaust Historians. The case, which went to trial March 8, was brought by eight anti-racist associations fighting to put into effect Internet filters to forbid access to Aaargh in France. A law passed in June 2004 would allow a French judge to order the site’s host to shut down the site or prohibit access to it. Two of the site’s hosts — OLM and Globat — have agreed to prohibit access, but a third — the American company ThePlanet.com — has refused to cooperate.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Israel Foresees Pullout Headaches


 

On the face of it, nothing illustrates Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s political odyssey from settlement builder to settlement dismantler better than a recently published report on West Bank outposts.

The report details how government ministers and officials broke the law and circumvented regulations in building and funding dozens of unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank.

Sharon, once one of the greatest culprits, was the man who, in his new incarnation, commissioned what he knew would be a scathing indictment.

But it’s not that simple. Sharon commissioned the report under intense American pressure to take down the outposts. And so far, despite the report’s findings and recommendations, the Americans are not convinced he intends to act.

The response to the report highlighted another key issue. It shows just how difficult it will be to implement Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank.

Israeli officials are expecting such massive resistance to the disengagement that they have developed a detailed plan of operation to carry it out.

After adopting the report’s findings, the government deferred dismantling the 24 outposts it had long promised the Americans to remove. That led some politicians and pundits to ask how, if it backs away from taking down tiny outposts, the government will dismantle 25 full-fledged settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank when the time comes this summer?

Sharon commissioned the report to demonstrate good faith and carry out commitments he made to the Bush administration last April. After promising the Americans to dismantle unauthorized outposts built since March 2001, he found he did not know the genesis and precise legal status of each one. Similarly, under pressure not to expand full-fledged, authorized settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he found he lacked accurate information on their precise borders.

So he set up two teams: One, under lawyer Talia Sasson, was to clarify the legal status and history of the unauthorized outposts. The other, under reserve Brig. Gen. Baruch Spiegel, was to demarcate the physical boundaries of all existing settlements.

But the Americans remain unimpressed.

American officials note that although Sharon had shown good faith, they still do not have a list of unauthorized settlements or a timetable for their evacuation. Nor has Spiegel yet produced the required border documentation.

The report by former chief prosecutor Sasson, released last week, charged that ministers and senior aides, some of them settlers, had systematically turned a blind eye to the law.

It also charged that budgets were funneled clandestinely through the Housing Ministry, that building permission was covertly granted by the Defense Ministry. There was a system of saying one thing in public and doing the opposite behind the scenes and Likud and Labor administrations were equally at fault.

“The picture that is revealed is one of crass violation of the law by state institutions, public authorities, regional councils in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and settlers, all by creating the false impression of an organized system operating according to law,” Sasson wrote.

The most important thing now, she said, was to regulate the procedures and stop the double talk.

In response, the government set up a committee under Justice Minister Tzippi Livni to root out the covert practices by laying down clear regulations for authorizing and financing outposts and initiating new legislation if necessary.

At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Sharon was adamant about the need to dismantle the 24 outposts established since March 2001. That was an Israeli commitment in the internationally approved Israeli-Palestinian peace “road map,” he explained. But he did not propose any timetable.

That brought deep differences between Likud and Labor ministers to the fore. The Labor ministers wanted to see immediate action; the Likud ministers favored waiting.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz of the Likud argued that disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank was Israel’s top policy priority, and the government could not afford to be sidetracked by other issues.

But Labor’s Haim Ramon countered that to do nothing now would be to show weakness and send a message to the extremists that they could stop the disengagement by using threats and force.

Rejecting the Labor argument, the government decided to concentrate only on implementing disengagement.

To that end, 18,000 police officers — three-quarters of the entire Israeli police force — and two army divisions have been assigned to the job, and already they are gearing up to meet a wide range of settler and extremist threats.

Only when this huge operation is complete, Sharon and Mofaz say, will they focus on the outposts that the Sasson report, American pressure and Israel’s road map commitments demand they take down.

Whether the United States and the rest of the international community have the patience to go along with this policy remains to be seen.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report

 

Groundwork Laid to Evacuate Gaza


Despite political hurdles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, giving various government agencies the green light to prepare for the evacuation of settlers — using both carrots and sticks.

Even as Israeli police begin laying the groundwork for evacuating Gaza, an interministerial team of some 70 officials is working out details of a bill to compensate evacuees in hopes that the prospect of money and alternate housing will help avert a violent confrontation between settlers and police.

Despite police objections — "no budget, no manpower" — the Cabinet decided that Israeli police would perform the actual evacuation.

Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently resigned as minister of internal security, wanted the army to do the job, as it did in the evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai 22 years ago. But most ministers preferred to spare young soldiers the experience of a potentially violent confrontation with Jewish citizens.

So police have begun making necessary preparations. Step one: allocating the funds.

Not only will the government need to pay generous compensation to evacuated settlers — about $400 million — the actual process of evacuation will require substantial funds. Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi met Sept. 5 with senior officers to assess the costs involved.

The cost of the evacuation will depend on the scope of resistance, both in Gaza and in Israel proper. No one knows for sure how many people will actively resist the evacuation, or over what period of time. Therefore it’s not only a matter of budget but of recruiting the necessary manpower.

It’s assumed that large police forces will be kept busy not only in the Gaza Strip but also within Israel, dealing with demonstrations against the disengagement.

Police were planning to set up an "evacuation administration" comprising two arms, one responsible for planning the evacuation and the other for carrying it out. The Border Police, which usually is deployed in the territories to deal with the Palestinian population, has been selected to evacuate the settlers.

The Border Police plans to reinforce its 12 companies with an additional 20 reserve companies, which will free up regular forces to cope with the evacuation.

Sharon hopes to create sufficient motivation among settlers to evacuate their homes willingly in exchange for generous compensation packages, avoiding violent confrontations like those in Yamit.

An interministerial team is working out details of the compensation bill. The general idea is to offer settlers a house in exchange for a house; they also will be given the option of relocating en masse to communities in Israel.

Government assessors were instructed to appraise the houses according to equivalents in regions that are better off than development towns, but not as upscale as Tel Aviv.

The evacuation administration already has proposed advance payments that would be deducted from final compensations, but advances can’t be handed out until the complicated legal procedure behind them is finalized.

The government will commit itself to paying out the full value of compensation packages even if the disengagement plan eventually collapses. Settlers also will receive special compensation worth six months’ salary to find alternative employment.

Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif settlement bloc, insisted in an interview with JTA that only a handful of families have expressed interest in entering negotiations on compensation.

"We regard this entire talk on compensations as psychological warfare," Sternberg said. "Sharon in his desperation shoots in all directions."

The overarching imperative in preparing for the evacuation is to avoid civil war. Policemen in the evacuation task force will undergo special psychological seminars, preparing them for confrontation with their "brothers."

When will all this take place? Sharon recently told his Likud Party’s Knesset faction that he did not intend to "drag out the disengagement plan over a long period of time."

He has presented the following timetable for the disengagement:

\n

• By Sept. 14, the prime minister will present the Cabinet a blueprint for evacuation and compensation of the settlers.

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• By Sept. 26, a draft disengagement bill will be presented to the Cabinet.

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• By Oct. 24, the financial compensation bill will be brought to the Cabinet.

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• On Nov. 3, the compensation bill — "The Law for Implementing the Disengagement Plan" — will be brought to the Knesset.

It’s assumed that the actual evacuation would take place no later than February 2005.

After Likud voters rejected Sharon’s disengagement plan in a May 2 party referendum, and following the impressive human chain protest of some 130,000 people in late July, settlers now are planning additional anti-disengagement campaigns, including an upcoming massive protest in downtown Jerusalem.

"Over 3,000 children and youths began the school year this week at our schools," Sternberg said. "I’m sure we will all be there to open the next school year."

A Settler in Favor of Disengagement


This is a soul-wrenching time for all of us who love the Land of Israel. Jewish homes and villages, farms and factories — the settlement work of three decades — are soon to be uprooted in Gaza. We know that more demolitions may be coming.

Politically — for the first time in the history of the Jewish people — the State of Israel is apparently working toward establishing foreign sovereignty over a part of our land. If George Bush and the European Union think this is a swell idea, that’s partly because they can disregard the moral, historical and emotional ramifications to us, as Jews are rousted from their homes, as well as the potential security implications of giving Gaza to our enemies.

Nonetheless, and though I’m a "settler," I find myself reluctantly supportive of disengagement — an opinion that makes me a minority of one in my West Bank village. Here are six reasons why.

1) Reorder the demographics, or start to. Nearly as many Arabs as Jews live in the Land of Israel already, whereas a Jewish state requires a large Jewish majority. That’s a cliché but true. Getting rid of Gaza unloads 1.3 million Arabs for — relatively — a small price, relocating just 7,000 Jews.

2) Consolidate Jewish gains. Forget about "peace in our time"; that’s Peace Now’s delusion. The war with the Palestinians, Syrians, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran is far from over. But leaving Gaza will shorten Israel’s defensive lines while allowing us to secure the gains of the last three decades by bolstering the settlement blocs near Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Green Line. The security fence now being built to incorporate those communities will mark new borders for Israel.

3) Return to pragmatism. A part of Israel’s population is being driven mad by the dream (which I admit I share) of a Jewish state stretching from the river to the sea, the entire Land of Promise. But right now — as in all previous generations — it has proved impossible for us to inhabit the whole land. Only God knows why, but let’s acknowledge that the Messiah didn’t come and meanwhile gratefully accept the great gift we’ve been given: the world’s only self-governing Jewish state. A firm connection to reality always improves one’s survival possibilities. And meanwhile there’s work to do.

4) Doing the work. While we’re waiting for God to give us the rest of the land, there’s much to build and heal in the large portion we possess. If disengagement succeeds, the hostile friction between left and right, often following the fault line between religious and secular, will be muted. That energy can then be directed to projects to improve Jewish life, such as feeding the hungry, educating Jews to Judaism, cleaning Israel’s polluted rivers, lending a hand to Diaspora communities and so forth.

5) Strengthening the center. The real news in last month’s Likud Party vote against disengagement was that 40 percent of Israel’s largest right-wing party voted for it. As the party of Jabotinsky transforms itself, we’ll see a strengthening of centrist government, with its stability, its preference for slow change and its responsiveness to the sensible center that makes up most of the country’s electorate. Gen. Ariel Sharon, a military mastermind, turns out to be a political genius, too.

6) Improve Israel’s international position. By far. The world is sick of us and the Palestinians. Even we’re sick of us and the Palestinians. Sharon has warned that Israel will not be able to resist much worse plans for bringing peace, quiet and a good business environment to the Holy Land in the absence of "a plan of our own." Even though he’s a politician, I believe Sharon on this one. Israel has to get off the dime for its own sake, rather than be left fighting a rear-guard, negative battle against an imposed solution that will endanger us.

Am I unworried? Hardly. Disengagement raises security fears, in particular. But no military withdrawal has to be permanent, and the Palestinians know that. And in any future round of fighting, at least the Israeli army will be unencumbered by the need to protect Jewish civilians.

Israel has, for years, lived inside a conundrum: We can’t drive the Palestinians out of the country (neither the nations nor the Jews will permit it) or magically "disappear" them or, apparently, convince them to live in peace beside us. To me, even more confounding is the possibility that neither withdrawing from Gaza nor staying is the correct path — that, given the Arabs’ limitless hostility, Israel has no really good options except remaining heavily armed and vigilant.

But I think we can do that at least as well from outside the fence that surrounds Gaza. Let the Palestinians eat the bread they’ve buttered for themselves. Until they come to their senses (or the Messiah arrives at last), we have the Jewish people to protect and the Jewish state to build.

David Margolis is a journalist
and novelist who made aliyah from Los Angeles in 1994 and now lives in a village
in the Judean hills. He can be reached through his Web site,

www.davidmargolis.com.

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