Sunday 4 January 2009

The Gaza Withdrawal in Retrospect

As I write this piece, the IDF ground troops are entering Gaza in order to stop the attacks that Israeli citizens have had to endure. The Gaza War over the past week has brought Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza more than 3 years ago into sharp focus. The obvious questions arise as to whether this was the right thing to do, and whether it may have contributed to the war that is currently being fought. It would be fair to say that there are more than a few Israelis, aside from the evicted Gaza settlers, who feel strongly that the decision to evacuate Gaza was wrong.

I was a supporter of the Israeli government's decision to withdraw from Gaza at the time that it was done, and remain convinced that it was the right decision. My support for this decision brought me into direct conflict with many people, even members of my own family. The view of those who did not support withdrawal is that any decision to give up Jewish land shows a weakness on the part of Israel that we cannot afford to demonstrate at this stage in our history. This view is even more strongly felt in the case of the Gaza withdrawal, where the land was given up unilaterally without any agreement giving Israel something in return. And, if the truth be told, I agree with this view too. So, how can I be a supporter of both positions?

The purpose of the Gaza withdrawal, according to the government's official position, was to reduce Palestinian attacks on Israeli citizens. In December 2003 PM Ariel Sharon said that the withdrawal was to "increase security of residents of Israel, relieve pressure on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians". When measured in these terms, I would have to agree that the withdrawal has not achieved its objectives. It is always difficult to compare what has happened to what might have been in the event that we would have remained in Gaza. In objective terms, however, it would be true to say that there continues to be a lack of security for residents of Israel (in Sderot, Beer Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon and areas near Gaza instead of those living in the Gaza Strip), the IDF continues to experience pressure on the Gaza borders and that there continues to be friction between Israelis and Palestinians. Is this more or less than before the withdrawal? Or what would have happened if we continued to stay in Gaza? I have no answer, but clearly the security situation since withdrawal has not been good and the withdrawal has failed to achieve the stated objectives.

The critical point that allows me to seemingly stand on two sides of one argument, is the minor issue of 1 million Arabs living in the Gaza Strip. If the Gaza Strip was a piece of land which had few or no Arabs living there, or at least a Jewish majority, I would advocate hanging onto it with every part of our being. It is land that Jews have a historical link to, that many Jewish lives have been lost in defending and which large amounts of Jewish time and money have been invested. This piece of land, however, comes with 1 million enemy citizens all of whom have to be taken care of. It is my view that no Israeli government wishes to, or should agree to take responsibility for 1 million citizens who are not at all part of its constituency. More than this, the large majority of these people actually advocate the destruction of the people and nation that this same government represents. Although this point was never raised by the government at the time of the withdrawal from Gaza, I believe it to be a significant factor. In most countries around the world, this is known as treason. So why should the Israeli government have to tolerate it in Gaza?

If it is accepted that we do not want our government taking responsibility for the welfare of enemies of the state, it leaves only one of two options to alleviate the problem. The first option is expelling the enemies of the state entirely. This option appears to be unrealistic in the extreme, as the prospect of uprooting 1 million people and settling them elsewhere is impractical and would do Israel no public relations favours. The second option is to withdraw from governing over these people. This is what was done.

What advantages did this withdrawal bring?
The first, and most important advantage, is that the government no longer has to take care for the welfare of enemies of the state.
The second advantage is that Israel can no longer be accused of "occupying" the Gaza Strip. This has long been held up as the reason for all terror activities against Israel, and has now been removed as an excuse. The response by the Palestinians in Gaza has been to link Gaza to Judea and Samaria, and to justify any terror activity on the fact that the West Bank remains "occupied". We know that the real reason for the terror activity is the intention to destroy Israel.
The third advantage is the separation of our responsibility to defend ourselves against terrorists, from the responsibility for the welfare of the citizens. This allows Israel to treat the enemies as exactly that, and not to have a dual responsibilities that contradict each other.
The final advantage is the fact that the entire Gaza Strip is free of Jewish citizens and soldiers. This effectively means that the entire area can be declared enemy territory which allows the IDF and the IAF to utilise different military options which are appropriate to this situation.

I am extremely sensitive to the strong Jewish links to the land, and to the memory of those who were lost fighting for it. I believe that Israel, with the little land that we have, could benefit immensely from having Gaza within its borders. I believe that Gaza could equally benefit from Jewish care and investment in bringing to be a thriving and viable area. I can never be convinced, however, that governing over 1 million enemies of the state is desirable or justifiable. For me, it is better that we withdrew from this harsh responsibility.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Anthony, that the disengagement and withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was the correct decision. The Palestinians squandered the opportunity to show the world that they were capable of governing themselves responsibly when the Gaza Strip was handed to them. This does not, however, make the Israeli decision to disengage a mistaken one, especially when viewed from the perspective of 2005.

We should also remind ourselves that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza took place 2 and a half years ago, but the rockets have been flying from the Gaza Strip into Israel for eight years. The conclusion must be that the presence of the Israeli army and certainly the presence of Jewish settlements there did not provide the quiet which the Israeli army is now seeking with its incursion into the Gaza Strip.

Let's hope that the army can create a new reality in Gaza and a new reality for the residents of the South. I too wish the army godspeed and hope that our troops are home in Israel soon.


craig reich said...

I am thoroughly enjoying your blogs,having just discovered them.I am thankful that they are in english.Your brief historical references combined with your view of the current events gives me some sence of what is transpiring in rel-time.