AN IDIOT’S GUIDE TO THE GAZA DISENGAGEMENT.
A few weeks ago we stood at the entrance to the Christ Church compound and watched as an anti-disengagement demonstration walked past. There were many thousands in this demonstration and the procession took over an hour to pass our compound. Later I took a shortcut to a look-out point overlooking the Western wall and the whole area was completely packed by people, most of whom carried orange ribbons- the colour chosen by those who oppose disengagement and the dismantling of the settlements in Gaza.
Many cars now carry orange ribbons on their aerials, while others- whose drivers favour the pullouts- carry blue ribbons. This has led to an epidemic of aerial vandalism and worse- even to punch-ups!
A common slogan these days goes, “Yehudi lo megaresh Yehudi!” (A Jew does not drive out a Jew!” Feelings run incredibly high on this issue and few issues have divided Israel more. It is similar to the time that Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, ordered the sinking of the Altalena in 1948, a ship which was bringing in weapons to Menachem Begin’s rival militia, the Irgun. Ben Gurion did this because he was determined that there would be only one Israeli army and not several competing militias. He succeeded in this, but the bitterness that resulted persists in some quarters to this day.
So who is right? Sharon wants to pull the Jewish settlements out of Gaza- and he is right. Then there are those who want to stay and they are right? But how can they both be right? As Tevye said, in Fiddler on the Roof, “You’re right too!”
To understand the issues involved, we need a potted history of the area:
In 1917 the British took the whole land off the Turks and in 1919 the British Mandate began. The original purpose of the mandate was to organise the hand-over of the land to the Jewish people, in accordance with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. At first, things seemed to be going well. Emir Faisal, who supposedly represented the Arabs- even though he was only Emir of the Hejaz the area around Mecca- welcomed the Jews home at the Paris peace talks in 1919. The Moslem religious authorities, however, vehemently opposed the plan because it meant they would be giving up Moslem land to the infidel. This resulted in years of strife and bloodshed and it got to such a pitch that the British eventually handed the problem over to the United Nations, more-or-less saying, “Here! If you think you’re so clever, you sort it out!”
The UN came up with a plan to divide the area between the Jews and the Arabs. In 1947 they took a vote and the partition plan was accepted. The Jews weren’t too happy about it but they thought it was the best deal on offer and they accepted it. The Arab leadership rejected the plan outright and several Arab nations attacked the new nation of Israel, when it was only a few hours old. In the war that followed, Israel not only survived but also won some stunning victories and in the cease-fire of 1948 the land was again divided between the Jews and the Arabs. During this time there was a certain amount of give and take and some Jewish settlements including one called Kfar Darom, which had been established near Gaza in 1946, was dismantled and the settlers went to other areas.
The 1948 Armistice line held for 19 years after that. To the Southwest of the coastline was a thin strip of land, known as the Gaza strip. Egypt controlled this area. From the southeast corner of this strip the Egyptian border went southwards towards the Negev and Eilat. The Gaza strip contained many thousands of Arabs, who had fled from the area that became the Jewish State of Israel. Many of them were deliberately packed together in refugee camps, where they were given nothing to do but to seethe with hatred for the Jews and to plot revenge. At that time Gaza was a constant source of trouble for Israel- and for Egypt.
Then came June 1967 and the Six-Day war. During this war Israel took the Golan, the West Bank and the whole of the Sinai Peninsular as far as the Suez Canal and, included in the captured area, was the Gaza Strip.
Simplifying things a bit- the Gaza Strip consisted of a sea of Arabs living in Gaza proper and in other settled areas running roughly parallel to the Mediterranean coastline. Between this sea of Arabs and the coastline was quite a wide area- mainly sand dunes- with almost nobody living there. It was decided that this area should be settled. Firstly, virtually nobody was there so they would not have to kick anyone out. Secondly, by having an Israeli presence on the sand dunes, it would make it harder for hostile forces to land and cause trouble. Finally, the Israelis had the know-how to make those sand dunes productive. The area would add to the security of the State and it would also provide employment for many Jews and Arabs. It could become a blessing to the area.
In the early seventies, a Moslem Arab farmer from Gaza said this to me:
“The Israeli occupation was the best thing that could have happened to Gaza. When the British were here, they had a lot of farming experts and we prospered under them. Then we were under the Egyptians. The Egyptians knew nothing about farming and they couldn’t have cared less about us. We suffered under them. Then the Israelis came. They have a lot of farming expertise and we have never been better off…”
So, settlements started to be built. Kfar Darom, abandoned in 1948, was rebuilt in 1970, as was the Alei Katif produce factory. Morag was started in 1972. Katif was founded in 1973. Netzer Hazani also started in 1973. Bnei Atzmon started in 1978. These were originally from a settlement in the Sinai peninsular and they moved to Bnei Atzmon in 1978. Bedolach, Gadid and Ganei Tal started in 1979. Slav began in 1980 and Nissanit in 1982. In 1982 came Gan, followed by Alei Sinai in 1983. Many members of Alei Sinai are former residents of Yamit in the Sinai Peninsula, which was evacuated as part of the treaty with Egypt.
These settlements were followed over the years by Kfar Yam, Neve Dekalim, Rafiah Yam, Netzarim, Pe'at Sadeh, Dugit, Tel Katifa, Kerem Atzmona and Shirat HaYam. Ariel Sharon was one of the leaders who urged Israelis to create “facts on the ground” like these settlements and for many years it made sense.
Then came the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. After the war in 1973, President Anwar Sadat realised that Egypt could never win a war with Israel and decided to bargain for peace. He was prepared- he wrote to US President Carter- to sacrifice half of Sinai (which the Israelis had taken off Egypt) in return for peace. President Carter stuffed the letter in his pocket and promptly forgot about it. He certainly did not tell his allies the Israelis. Menachem Begin, not knowing this, gave up almost everything that Israel had taken from the Egyptians in return for a genuine peace with Egypt.
And this was the start of the Gaza settlement problem. Before the peace treaty, Israel had controlled all the land down to the Suez Canal. Israel surrounded Gaza. Towards the sea, the settlements took up about 25% of the Gaza coastal strip. Now, after the peace treaty, these same settlements are cut off from Israel. To the west lies the coast. To the north and to the east lies Gaza and about a million hostile Arabs. To the south lies Egypt. The only thing connecting the Gush Katif settlements to Israel proper is a thin strip of land, known as the Philadelphi corridor. Without that corridor- which Israel insisted on at the peace talks- the settlements would be completely cut off from Israel. The only way to defend the settlements is through the Philadelphi corridor. For this reason, because of the peace treaty with Egypt, what began as military sense became military nonsense. If President Carter had told President Begin that Sadat would have given up half of Sinai for peace, none of this problem would exist. Gaza would, at this time, still be surrounded by Israel and the Gush Katif settlements would still make perfect military sense.
So, Sharon’s original decision- at the time a reasonable decision- for Israel to settle the area has been turned by the Egyptian peace treaty into military nonsense. Now, whatever one’s opinion of Sharon, he is not an idiot. He is an experienced soldier, who has been fighting the same enemy since before 1948. In 1948 he was a young officer of 19 and saw heavy fighting in that war (His autobiography, “Warrior” is worth a read) and he has been involved in the defence of his country ever since. You name it, he has been there- 1956 in Sinai, 1967, in 1973 he crossed into Egypt and surrounded a large part of the Egyptian army. Then there was Lebanon…General Sharon has, in fact, been involved in practically everything going since Israel became a state and he is totally sick of it and one of the main things he is sick of is having to defend indefensible settlements in Gaza and in the West Bank at great cost in the lives of his soldiers.
Sharon is trying to simplify matters. He reasons that, if the settlements are abandoned, Israeli soldiers will no longer have to risk their lives trying to defend them. They will no longer have to ferret out the gangs firing rockets at those settlements because they will not be firing rockets because there will be nothing to fire at. In this way he can straighten the border and make it easier to defend.
So Prime Minister Sharon is right?
So perhaps the Israel government succeeds in expelling all the settlers. The army will no longer have to defend them and they will be able to straighten the line of defence. This will make it easier to defend the rest of Israel. It will solve a lot of problems….Or will it?
Conventional wisdom would have it that, without the settlements, Israel will no longer need the Philadelphi corridor in order to have access to those settlements. They will be able to give up the corridor to the Egyptians and give them the responsibility for security in that area. Gaza could become a part of Egypt again. It could become an Egyptian headache and no longer a headache to Israel. The Egyptian border would be almost exactly where it was before 1967 and there would be peace in the area…Correct?
What was the situation when Egypt controlled Gaza? Gaza was a haven for terrorists, who constantly attacked Israel. Even now, with the Israeli army in full control of the Philadelphi Corridor, a great many tunnels are dug under the corridor into Egypt, through which terrorists and weapons flow. Without the corridor, they would not even have to dig tunnels. They would be able to pass almost unhindered through Egypt into Gaza and cause mayhem that the Israelis would no longer be able to control without crossing into Egyptian territory. Intelligence reports have stated that Al Qaida wants to use Gaza as a new base of operations in the Middle East. Without the settlements and the Philadelphi corridor this would be quite practical.
Another problem is that the Israeli withdrawal is being interpreted as weakness by the Moslem fighters- particularly by Hamas. In their minds the area, known as Israel, is on Moslem land and it is their duty to take it back. Any peace treaty is for the purpose of building up their strength so that they can overcome the infidel. Any weakness shown by the enemy must be exploited to the full. They have vowed that, though they might stop the attacks during the disengagement, they will keep up the bombardment before the disengagement and after it is completed. Their ultimate aim is the liberation of the whole of Palestine.
Article Eleven of the Hamas charter
The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. No Arab country nor the aggregate of all Arab countries, and no Arab King or President nor all of them in the aggregate, have that right, nor has that right any organization or the aggregate of all organizations, be they Palestinian or Arab, because Palestine is an Islamic Waqf throughout all generations and to the Day of Resurrection.
Article thirteen of the Hamas charter
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: "Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware."
Does Israel really want to give up the Gaza settlements in return for a promise of….more terror?
Now let’s hear it from the settlers involved. Firstly most of those settlements were established when they made military sense. Secondly- and more important- those settlers were (and are) pioneers. They have made those empty, unproductive sand dunes so productive that they now produce a very high percentage of Israel’s agricultural produce.
Did you know, for example, that the agricultural produce of Gush Katif represents some 10% of all agricultural produce raised in Israel; that it accounts for 65% of Israel's organic export industry; 90% of Israel's bug-free leafy vegetables; 45% of tomato exports and 95% of Israel's cherry tomato exports; 60% of Israel's herb exports; that 60% of Israel's geranium exports come solely from Ganei Tal in Gush Katif?
Did you know that there are 350 family agricultural enterprises in Gush Katif, employing 5,000 Jews and 5,000 Palestinians from Gaza; that Gush Katif greenhouses cover an estimated 900-1,000 acres and are estimated to be worth over $80 million; that the total annual revenues are around $60-70 million?
Did you know that there over 5,000 school-age children (including boarders from all over Israel); that there are 44 day care centers, 33 kindergartens, 6 elementary schools, 3 high schools, 6 yeshivot (rabbinical education institutions), 3 kollelim (institutes of continuing rabbinical education), 4 midrashot (women's further religious education colleges), and 1 mechinah tzva'it (pre-army institute)?
Did you know that approximately 40 educational institutions are currently operating in the Gush Katif area, with approximately 1,680 students.
Did you know that there are almost 1,700 Israeli families and households in the Gaza Strip settlements?
To quote Michael Caine: “Not a lot of people know that.”
So, these settlers are halutzim (pioneers) who have made an incredible impact, not only on the area they are in, but in the rest of the country and they have made their mark on the rest of the world- and they are employing at least 5,000 Palestinians from Gaza as well.
The next point is this: a disproportionate number of those settlers are religious. They firmly believe that God has brought the Jewish people back to this land to build it up and to carve out the land for their families. They believe that God is protecting them and they see evidence of this every day. Almost every single day, for example, rockets are fired from Gaza at the settlements (Last weekend they fired over 100 rockets!) and almost nobody is killed or injured. They firmly believe that God is protecting them and I would put it to you that they have a strong case.
Recently a group of them went into Gaza (presumably under escort) and one of the shopkeepers beckoned them over. “How is it that we can’t kill you!” he yelled. “We fire rocket after rocket at you and you won’t die. The Israeli soldiers find our rocket crews and they kill them but we can’t kill you! Why is that!?”
The settlers know their situation. They can see the sea to the west. They can see the vast, hostile Arab population to the north and to the east. They can see the Egyptian border to the south. They know that their only link with Israel is through the thin Philadelphi corridor and they know that their situation looks hopeless- from a human point of view. They are not blind and they are not idiots.
But that is just the point. They don’t see things from a human point of view. They firmly believe that they are in the hands of God and that nothing will happen to them- unless he allows it to happen. Every day they see miracles of deliverance and they give credit for those miracles to the God who brought the Jewish people back to the land after their exile. They reason that, if God is giving them so much protection in this impossible situation, then he will not allow them to be driven out. Most of them believe that- regardless of deadlines, the way things look and the lines of police- it will not happen. Most of them have made no plans to move because they are convinced they will never have to move. God has brought them to that area and he will keep them there- regardless.
So the settlers are right?
But they can’t both be right! So who is right?
The problem is that most of the men making the decisions in Israel are secular because Israel is still predominantly a secular state. Most Israelis in fact, are just as secular and non-religious as most Britons Americans or Europeans. About 49% are totally secular and roughly 10% would classify themselves as religious and many of them are lukewarm at best. The fact is that most Israelis do not even believe in the existence of the God, who appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.
They need to consider this: If God does not exist, it follows that their entire history is a collection of myths; It follows that he did not choose the people of Israel; It follows that he did not bring them out of Egypt; It follows that he did not bring them through the Red Sea; It follows that he did not lead them across to Mount Sinai and that he did not make a covenant with them at the foot of that mountain; It means that he did not lead them over the Jordan river to this land and that he did not give them this land- that he has not been involved in bringing them back from their exile. It is all a bunch of myths.
If God does not exist, it means that he is not protecting Israel and it means that the Jews have exactly the same right to this land that any other nation would have- the right of the strongest. If God does not exist, then the Israelis are left with simple mathematics- about 5 million Israeli Jews (with roughly 18 million Jews worldwide, including Israel) against about 200 million Moslem Arabs who are dedicated to their destruction- not to mention a total of about 1.3 billion Moslems in the world and practically every other nation against them as well! With those odds- if there is no God- who would you say is eventually going to win? You don't have to be a professor of mathematics to realise that Israel is eventually going to weaken and be destroyed. It is inevitable.
Their morale, in fact, is already beginning to weaken. They have been fighting the same war against the same enemy for generations. It doesn't matter how often they win or how decisively they win, the same hate-filled enemy is still there and they have to go on fighting them; their sons will have to go on fighting them and their sons will have to go on fighting them....and their sons....and their sons...No nation on earth could keep up its moral strength for generation after generation- as the Israelis have- for all these years, without finally caving in. It is inevitable that one day Israel will weaken and will be destroyed- and Sharon and his government know it……
.....If there is no God.
But the God who created this planet does exist; the God who appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob does exist. At rock bottom they know God exists.
The Jewish people could not have survived 2,000 years of persecution without God. Israel could not have survived through 1948 without God. The State would have lasted for about six weeks after its independence was declared- just as General Montgomery predicted!
Israel would not have won the 1967 war so decisively without God. (At that time, oddly enough, I was on a training course with the British Army. As an assignment, we had to write a report on what we thought would happen in the coming war in the Middle East. With one exception, everyone on the course thought that the Jews would win. The one exception was me. I was convinced that there would be another holocaust.)
Israel would have been destroyed in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 without God. Anyone who was in that war (as I was as an innocent tourist, doing my best not to get blown to bits!) knows that deep down.
No, the fact is that God does exist and the Israelis don't have to worry about the maths. He invented maths but he is not bound by it. He is fighting on their side and he is going to win- whatever the odds. God is God and He can tell the Spirit of Islam, “Enough already!” any time he wants and that Spirit (and it is a Spirit) will no choice but to obey. If the Israeli people turn back to God- the God, who brought them out of Egypt; the God who gave them this land in the first place and who has brought them back from their exile- then they can forget the mathematics. The future is theirs.
If the rest of us stop fighting God, and turn to that same God in sincere repentance, then we will be able to share with them in that future.
The fact is that the only one who is always right is Almighty God. His will be done!
(Since writing this article, the planned pullout from Gaza has occurred and we await further events.)
"When you walk in the streets of Gaza City, you cannot but close your eyes because of what you see there: unimaginable chaos, careless policemen, young men carrying guns and strutting with pride and families receiving condolences for their dead in the middle of the street."
This is how Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority government and a former newspaper editor, described the situation in the Gaza Strip in an article he published on Sunday on some Palestinian news Web sites.
The article, the first of its kind by a senior Hamas official, also questioned the effectiveness of the Kassam rocket attacks and noted that since Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip, the situation there has deteriorated on all levels. It holds the armed groups responsible for the crisis and calls on them to reconsider their tactics and to stop blaming Israel for their mistakes.
"Gaza is suffering under the yoke of anarchy and the swords of thugs," Hamad wrote. "I remember the day when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and closed the gates behind. Then, Palestinians across the political spectrum took to the streets to celebrate what many of us regarded as the Israeli defeat or retreat. We heard a lot about a promising future in the Gaza Strip and about turning the area into a trade and industrial zone."
Hamad said the "culture of life" that prevailed in the Strip has since been replaced with a nightmare. "Life became a nightmare and an intolerable burden," he said. "Today I ask myself a daring and frightening question: 'Why did the occupation return to Gaza?' The normal reply: 'The occupation is the reason.'"
Dismissing Israel's responsibility for the growing state of anarchy and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip, Hamad said it was time for the Palestinians to embark on a soul-searching process to see where they erred.
"We're always afraid to talk about our mistakes," he added. "We're used to blaming our mistakes on others. What is the relationship between the chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, indiscriminate murders, theft of land, family rivalries, transgression on public lands and unorganized traffic and the occupation? We are still trapped by the mentality of conspiracy theories - one that has limited our capability to think."
Hamad admitted that the Palestinians have failed in developing the Gaza Strip following the Israeli withdrawal and in imposing law and order. He said about 500 Palestinians have been killed and 3,000 wounded since the Israeli pullout, in addition to the destruction of much of the infrastructure in the area.
By comparison, he said, only three or four Israelis have been killed by the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip over the same period.
"Some will argue that it's not a matter of profit or loss, but that this has an accumulating effect" he said. "This may be true. But isn't there a possibility of decreasing the number of casualties and increasing our gains by using our brains and making the proper calculations away from demagogic statements?"
The Hamas official said that while his government was unable to change the situation, the opposition was sitting on the side and watching and PA President Mahmoud Abbas was as weak as ever.
"We have all been attacked by the bacteria of stupidity," he remarked. "We have lost our sense of direction and we don't know where we're headed."
Addressing the various armed groups in the Gaza Strip, Hamad concluded: "Please have mercy on Gaza. Have mercy on us from your demagogy, chaos, guns, thugs, infighting. Let Gaza breathe a bit. Let it live."
'Gaza caught in anarchy and thuggery'
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 28, 2006
THE HAMAS CHARTER
Interviews with Hamas women
Hamas in its own words
A CRY FROM THE HEART
Has there ever been a peace process?
CAN ISLAM MAKE PEACE WITH ISRAEL?
WHY DID YASSER ARAFAT SIGN THE OSLO ACCORD?
The treaty of Hudabiyyah
The treaty between Saladin and Richard I
Peace? What peace?
Sermons in Palestinian mosques
The truth about Arafat and the Palestinians
Yasser Arafat over the years
Aid money used for weapons
Obituary of Yasser Arafat
Egyptian tributes to Arafat
Marwan Barghouti could succeed Arafat
Palestinian leadership should get real
Hamas on the 1967 borders
Arafat and the Viet Cong
The Hizbullah programme
The Gaza disengagement