Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addresses the nation on the disengagement from Gaza, August 15, 2005.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Among the many calamities marked by the Jewish people on Tisha Be’av since the destruction of the Temples millennia ago, many single out the abandonment of Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip. The coincidence of this year’s 11th anniversary falling – like the evacuation in 2006 – immediately after Tisha Be’av, suggests to some a linkage between events.
They point to the result of what was then termed by the government at the time as “disengagement” (rather than the less palatable “withdrawal”) as proof of the inevitable consequences of relinquishing territory: a Hamas terrorist dictatorship pledged to destroy Israel, whose ongoing missile attacks have led to recurrent brief wars.
It would be an historic error to equate the destruction of a weak Jerusalem by the superior forces of ancient Rome or Babylon with the challenges faced by a powerful, sovereign Jewish state today in dealing with terrorist attacks by a Palestinian splinter group, even one supported by Iran.
Similarly, despite the timing of the withdrawal on the heels of Tisha Be’av, the coup two years later by Hamas seizing power from the Palestinian Authority was a consequence of Palestinian internecine conflict unforeseeable by Israel and for which Israel was not responsible.
Nevertheless, supporters of Jewish settlement in Gaza depicted the decision by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon as folly. “It was a national disaster,” Maj.-Gen. (res) Uzi Dayan told a conference at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University marking last year’s 10th anniversary of the disengagement. “In my opinion this will go down in history as the sixth disastrous event of Tisha Be’av.”
It seemed to many like a good idea at the time, despite the trauma of people being forced to leave their homes after decades. The ultimate justification, despite varying political views on the subject, was security: preserving life in an environment inimical to Jewish settlers and the disproportionate number of IDF soldiers necessary to protect them.
The argument that Israel gave up territory – where it replaced Egypt as occupier after the Six Day War – in a gesture for peace only to get thousands of Hamas rockets in return is not an indictment against giving up territory for peace, but against the unreliability of Hamas as a peace partner compared to Egypt. The Palestinian Authority has proven itself no less problematic as a partner for peace.
One inevitable result of the Gaza withdrawal is that it has made a sizable portion of Israelis reluctant to consider a similar withdrawal from PA territories, due to the possibility of an eventual Palestinian state being taken over by Hamas. According to a BESA poll on the 10th anniversary, 47 percent opposed withdrawal and 53% supported it contingent to a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
A decade later, some uprooted Gaza settlers have moved on, while others still dream of returning. The evacuees of Netzer Hazani, for example, rebuilt their community under the same name in central Israel, and another of Gaza’s 21 communities has been reestablished near the West Bank settlement of Ariel. On the other hand, several hundred former Gush Katif residents are still living in government caravans, waiting for promised government housing. The same BESA study found that some 51% of Israelis say Jews should return to the Gaza Strip.
There is little argument about the disengagement’s catastrophic consequences for the Gazans themselves. Since the Hamas coup, Gaza’s 1.8 million residents have been dragged into four wars that cost some 4,000 Palestinian lives and destroyed thousands of their homes.
According to the World Bank, Gaza has the world’s worst-performing economy, with the world’s highest unemployment rate of 43%, including 68% among those aged 20-24. Since 1994, real per capita income has fallen by nearly a third and manufacturing has shrunk by 60%.
The architect of the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon, suffered a stroke less than five months afterward and fell into a coma that lasted until his death eight years later. His declared goal at the time was to establish an exchange of territory for peace – the same post-Six Day War mantra of land for peace – that could become a model for a settlement with the Palestinian Authority.
Even a former supporter of the disengagement, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, has become disillusioned. “We failed in our assessment that post-withdrawal Gaza would become the Hong Kong of the Middle East,” he told a rightwing conference last month. “Instead, it has become one big rocket base.”
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