This Week in History: Gaza Disengagement begins

Move raised questions about possible dangers, consequences of any future mass evacuation in W. Bank should peace deal be reached.

disengagement 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [archive])
disengagement 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [archive])
On the morning of August 15, 2005, tens of thousands of soldiers descended on the Gaza Strip – without their weapons. Less than two years earlier, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon had presented his Gaza Disengagement Plan (then known as the Separation Plan), ending once and for all what had been considered a permanent Israeli military and civilian presence deep inside the Gaza Strip.
Sharon first announced the plan in 2003, just months after the United States presented the Road Map to Peace plan, the latest US effort at forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In presenting the plan, Sharon explained that he attached great importance to peace talks but due to other problems faced by Israel outside of the Palestinian conflict, “I do not intend to wait for [the Palestinians] indefinitely.”
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"We are facing additional challenges, which must be addressed,” Sharon told the Herzliya Conference in 2003, which he listed as “the economy, educating the young generation, immigrant absorption, enhancement of social cohesion and the improvement of relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel.”
"I attach supreme importance to taking all steps, which will enable progress toward resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians,” the prime minister added. “However, in light of the other challenges we are faced with, if the Palestinians do not make a similar effort toward a solution of the conflict I do not intend to wait for them indefinitely.”
And thus, the Gaza Disengagement Plan was born.
But the Disengagement was an about face for Sharon. One of the most strongest historical patrons of the settler movement – in both his military and political career, His decision to remove Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers from the Gaza Strip alienated him from his traditional supporters on the Right.
Twenty-one months after first announcing the plan, Sharon gave another speech with a different tone on the eve of the Disengagement Plan's implementation.
"Citizens of Israel, the day has arrived. We are beginning the most difficult and painful step of all - evacuating our communities from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria,” Sharon said in an televised address on August 15, 2005.
For weeks and months, massive cleavages had developed in Israeli society. Settlers and ideological sympathisers covered the country in orange ribbons, t-shirts and banners reading “Jews don't expel Jews.” Public calls were made for IDF soldiers to refuse orders to carry out the evacuation. Fears spread by word of mouth and through the media that violence would break out between security forces and settlers who refused to be evacuated.
Protests decrying the plan were staged around the country, blocking roads and attemptinig to disrupt the planned evacuation. Supporters headed toward the Gaza Strip in an attempt to stop the Disengagement with their bodies, although many were prevented from entering the Strip by military orders that prevented the entry of non-residents in the weeks before the plan's implementation.
In the weeks leading up to the evacuation, IDF and police forces took part in massive training operations preparing them for the sensitive and emotional operation in which they were asked to forcefully evacuate Jews from their homes.
IDF soldiers were sent into the Gaza settlement communities slated for evacuation to help families pack their belongings into shipping containers.
Some half of the Gaza settlers had voluntarily evacuated by the August 15 deadline, but around 4,000 remained, reinforced by an additional 4,500 right-wing activists who infiltrated the settlements over the previous month.
On the morning of August 15, 2005, some 14,000 IDF soldiers and police officers began the task of forcibly evicting those settlers and activists remaining in Neve Dekalim where clashes broke out between residents and right-wing activists and security forces.
The more violent scenes of the Disengagement saw settlers barricading themselves on rooftops, throwing paint and acid on police officers attempting to evacuate them. But for the most part, the famous images of violent clashes were relatively isolated. Even more powerful images of pain-struck and emotional soldiers carrying away crying settlers were imprinted on the collective Israeli memory.
Within a week, the entire Jewish population of Gaza settlers were evacuated and relocated into Israel proper.
In early September the IDF completed the withdrawal of its personnel and equipment from the Strip, where it had been deployed for 38 years. On the morning of September 12, the last IDF soldier left the Gaza Strip and the border gate at the Kissufim Crossing was locked behind him.
The Gaza Disengagement was one of the most traumatic events in recent Israeli history due to the societal cleavages it exposed and the resistance it was met by. The willingness of a prime minister - who was thought of as one of the settlement movement's strongest allies - to evacuate the entirety of the settlements in Gaza and a small number in the northern West Bank was a shock and raised deeper questions about hte future of the entire settlement enterprise.
The Disengagement also raised questions about the possible dangers and consequences of any future mass evacuation of more ideologically-founded settlements in the West Bank should a peace deal be reached with the Palestinians.