This time five years ago Israel was preparing to withdraw from Gaza. It was a contentious move, not least for the settlers who were uprooted from their homes on the orders of Ariel Sharon, a man who had previously been a cheerleader for the settlement movement. The scenes of Jewish families being dragged from their homes by Israeli soldiers were heartbreaking, as was the realisation that the graves of the evacuees’ relatives would need to be exhumed.
But even before these gut-wrenching scenes, the disengagement made little sense to me. I’m in awe of the way Israel has always taken tough decisions in the interest of its own security. After all, good leaders are willing to sacrifice their own popularity in the interests of good, and they will look to the long-term as much as the short.
Five years on is too soon to constitute the long-term, but it is still an appropriate time to consider what followed the disengagement. In the immediate aftermath of Israel’s withdrawal Palestinian mobs destroyed the lucrative greenhouse industry that had been left behind, along with the synagogues. Terrorists then increased the rate of rocket fire that rained down on southern Israel.
Emboldened by the sense that it had Israel ‘on the run’ Hamas grabbed power in 2007 and imposed its oppressive ways on the Palestinians, including inhumane control of the aid sent their way. As a result of the Hamas threat both Israel and Egypt ‘blockaded’ Gaza. Thousands of rockets and mortars continued to be fired into Israel. Eventually Operation Cast Lead was launched in response, leading to civilian deaths on both sides of the conflict.
I support Israel’s right and duty to defend itself. I just wonder whether anyone has really benefited from the disengagement. Not Israel, in my view. In my years of taking a strong and supportive interest in Israel I’ve never known it to seem quite so vulnerable and so unfairly vilified. Sadly, as we saw after the withdrawal from Lebanon, and again after the Camp David offer was turned down by Arafat, world opinion does not seem to respond favourably to concessions from Israel.
On the contrary, the more Israel gives the more the world seems to hate it. To blame the growing regional threats and the increase in the world’s blind bigotry on the disengagement would a huge oversimplification. But I still struggle to see how life has been become anything other than more hazardous for both Israel and the Palestinians of Gaza during the last five years. As a huge admirer of Ariel Sharon I occasionally find myself wondering what he would have made of the aftermath of the disengagement he ordered.
Whatever your view on this contentious issue I hope we all agree that those forced to leave Gush Katif deserve to be looked after properly by Israel. Sadly, a report released this month accuses successive Israeli governments of “absolute and complete failure” in dealing with the uprooted settlers who are said to have become “refugees in their own country”. The community they built in Gush Katif was beautiful and magical, it makes my heart ache to think of how they’ve been treated since they were torn from there.
I’ve never gone along with the blind hatred of settlers, who I fear are in danger of becoming the scapegoats of scapegoats. Many of them had and still have low incomes, which is also true of many of residents of the city of Sderot who got a raw deal from the disengagement themselves in the form of increased rocket fire.
I support Israel all the way as it faces both its regional enemies and the bullying bigots the of wider world. But its seemingly shambolic and negligent treatment of the former residents of Gush Katif makes me angry and sad. They deserve much better.
The above is my latest column for Jewish News. You can read Jewish News online here.
You might also like to watch the documentary Home Game, which documents the final days of Gusk Katif via the experiences of an Israeli basketball team. You can also read here about the community of Netzer Hazani, who were uprooted from their homes and are now striving to rebuild the town.