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MaozNews

Author
Category Articles
Date August 25, 2005

MaozNews

News about events in Israel and the ministry in which the Maoz family is involved

The Disengagement

By the time our readers receive this issue of MaozNews, all or most of the Israeli settlements in Gaza and those designated for evacuation in northern Samaria will have been evacuated. It has been a heart-rending experience for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, many of whom have been personally involved in the process, either as evacuees or as part of the evacuating forces.

Settling in the Gaza Strip

Whatever may be one’s view of the construction of Israel’s settlements in the Gaza Strip, it is impossible not to share the pain of the hundreds of families that lived, loved, laboured, prayed, hoped, suffered and rejoiced in homes and fields which they have been forced to leave. Many were born there. Others buried loved ones in local graveyards which must now be moved lest they be desecrated by those who will settle in their stead. Until the settlers arrived, the land was arid. Within a few short years the Israeli settlements became one of Israel’s major breadbaskets, the pride of Israel’s agricultural produce.

Compare an average home in Gaza with an average home in one of the settlements and you will see the difference: in Gaza, hovels, often without sewage or running water, stacked one on top of the other alongside narrow, winding alleys full of filth – the most densely populated portion on the face of the earth; in the settlements attractive, two story red tiled-houses surrounded by well tended gardens, and broad, clean streets. The Egyptians who ruled here before the Israelis would not allow the Palestinians to build a respectable way of life, create an infrastructure, establish an industry, vote or conduct their own business without the constant intervention of Egyptian military forces.

The main impetus for the construction of Israeli settlements was religious, at least so far as the settlers themselves were concerned, although their religious zeal was cynically used by cold-blooded politicians and would-be politicians in whose minds there was not the slightest inkling of religious motivation. Most of the settlers believe that they are reclaiming land that originally belonged to the nation of Israel as promised by God. A large minority simply came because right-wing Israeli governments offered them substantial material benefits if they would settle in these areas. Israeli politicians, such as Ariel Sharon, sought to extend and determine the future borders of Israel by establishing such settlements. Many of the West Bank settler leaders, and not a few of the settlers themselves, shared that aspiration and consciously engaged in the establishment of settlements in specific areas with that goal in view.

The Palestinians

Israeli and Palestinian efforts to meaningfully negotiate failed – both sides were too far apart and both believed that time and sheer force will soften the other side’s reticence to concede. Israel began constructing settlements, at first at a distance from Palestinian towns and cities, but religious zealots soon began forcing on successive Israeli governments Jewish settlements in areas very close to Palestinian homes. Inspired by a religious zeal untempered by a respect for others, a few of the settlers began harassing the Palestinians, destroying their crops, stealing their sheep, cutting down their olive groves, shooting at their solar water heating systems and intimidating their children. Israeli police responded with reticence and a culture of hate, already to be found on both sides, was accentuated.

The majority of the Israeli populace knew little of such goings-on and was disgusted with what it knew, but did even less to bring it to an end. There was little thought in the early days after 1967 of seizing the opportunity by extending to the Palestinians an invitation to establish their own independence. Small wonder in light of the almost complete lack of Palestinian civilian leadership, Palestinian cohesion and Palestinian political aspiration. The only body that claimed to represent the Palestinians had supported that claim by the same means it employed to represent Palestinian interests before Israel – the gun.

Under Egyptian and Jordanian control until 1967, the Palestinians had not been allowed to develop political infrastructures – nor openly cultivate aspirations to that end. Their only common bond was their or their parents’ former residence in what had become Israel, their shared displacement and the shared social, economic and political suppression by the various Arab governments under which they lived in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, including a large number in the West Bank (under Jordanian Control) and Gaza (under Egyptian control), which had been designated by the UN for an Arab Palestinian State, but which were tightly held by the respective governments concerned.

The looser, more moderate and far more humane Israeli rule established in 1967, and the consequent struggle against Israeli rule, created a national Palestinian spirit and gave the rise to national Palestinian institutions and political movements. Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement took the lead over these by the same means it had always employed. The Palestinians, frustrated by encroaching ambitions represented by the Israeli settlers and by the constant humiliation at their hands, responded with suicide bombing and premeditated attacks against civilians because they believed that these represented Israel’s soft underbelly. Israel acted in self defence, and the seemingly endless, mindless, heartless vicious cycle of violence spun out of control.

Israeli Response

In an effort to protect its civilian population from terrorism, Israel commenced the construction of a defensive barrier between itself and Palestinian areas. Most of this barrier is simply a fence. Some 3-5% of it, where dictated by the proximity of Palestinian homes from which attacks were repeatedly launched, is a wall. The Gaza strip, which is completely surrounded by such a barrier, has never successfully sent a single bomber into Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, 7,500 Israeli settlers lived among 1.5 million Arabs. Their amazing economic success was a bone in the gullet of Palestinian pride and national aspirations. Their proximity was considered to be a door of opportunity for Palestinian resistance. The settlements were repeatedly attacked by every means possible. Israel was forced to invest a disproportionate amount of its military effort to defend these settlements. It also faced persistent political pressure from the USA and Europe.

Concluding that no acceptable resolution of the conflict was in view in light of now-deceased Arafat intransigence and the weakness of the present Palestinian political leadership, Ariel Sharon concluded that the only recourse left to him is to disengage. The defensive barrier, the evacuation of some Israeli settlements and the complete separation of Israeli and Palestinian economies will reduce occasions of friction between the two sides. Allowing the Palestinians to create their own economy and forcing them to link it to the Arab nations surrounding them rather than to Israel, would create a mutuality of interest that, in the process of time, create an impetus for peace – after all, if you have no port to lose, no infrastructure that can be destroyed, there is more likelihood that you will engage in violent activity. If you do not want to lose these, you will think twice before you undertake an attack on neighbouring countries.

The Political Process

In light of these considerations, Ariel Sharon decided to disengage. He rammed his decision through every body that Israeli law and custom required ratification of his decision. He gained governmental approval by firing two ministers and including the major opposition party in his coalition government. His own party was divided between opponents and (some unwilling) proponents of the disengagement plan and Sharon lost the support of the majority of his party members. When his party voted against his plan, he disregarded the vote and insisted on the legality of his decision. He won repeatedly supportive votes in the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral house of legislature.

The settlers’ leadership organised tens of thousands of protesters, in two instances over 200,000 of them. The country was blanketed with citizens calling for a rejection of the disengagement plan, thousands of Israeli cars decorated themselves with orange ribbons as an expression of their drivers’ opposition. On two occasions, some 20,000 protesters gathered with the intention of marching to the Strip and joining the settlers in an effort to create an critical mass which will render it impossible for the government to carry out the disengagement plan. An as of yet still disputed number of 3,000 – 7,000 determined youth managed to infiltrate in spite of police and army efforts, but the majority were effectively blocked.

The Evacuation

On Monday, August 15, the Strip was effectively sealed off by the army and the police, who delivered evacuation notices to as many of the setters as possible. In some cases they were blocked, especially by the young infiltrators. No force was used. Tens of thousands of soldiers and police officers had been carefully trained over the last few months to deal with expected opposition with firm tolerance. Faced with extreme provocation, the young men and women of the forces performed magnificently. They wept with their weeping fellow citizens but refused to concede an inch. They silently listened to prolonged harangues from settlers, rabbis and even Knesset members.

Some settlers used every ploy they could think of. They and many of their rabbis called upon soldiers to refuse to obey orders, some threatening religious soldiers with eternal damnation if they participated in the evacuation. Men, women and children engaged in profuse praying and weeping as soon as the soldiers (or the media) appeared. In some cases the holocaust was utilized, with settlers donning yellow Stars of David similar to those forced by the Nazis on the Jewish population. A child wept in agony while a soldier stood by, comforting him and waiting for him to collect his belongings. When it became clear to the child that nothing would avail, he suddenly ceased his weeping, turned to his father and said, “Dad, it didn’t work.” A teenager was overheard telling her peers, “You should cry lots, it really affects the soldiers”.

It was a prolonged traumatic event, in the course of which thousands of settlers were called upon to pack their belongings and leave their homes, memories and hopes behind. The evacuators warned, explained, coached and led ever more of the settlers to cooperate. Some of these had been evacuated before, in 1982, from Yamit, a city Israel had built in Sinai and evacuated following the Peace Pact with Egypt. For a body of men and women trained in the use of force, it was moving to see how the kind, compassionate patience with which the soldiers conducted themselves. Most of these men and women are in their late teens and early twenties. Yet they behaved with fortitude and a gracious maturity than was nothing less than moving.

Brothers and brothers-in-arms met on both sides of the political divide, embraced – and were evacuated. Parents clutching their children were either persuaded to leave on their own feet or were gently carried to the waiting buses. The young infiltrators were dealt with gently, but every time they sought to obstruct the forces in carrying out their duty, they were firmly warned and then arrested. Many of them will be indicted. The majority of settlers evoked sympathy and respect because of the manner in which they handled their grief, expressing protest while avoiding all forms of violence. Some evoked anger because of the irresponsible way they used their children, exposing them to the trauma of the evacuation, or cynically compared the evacuation with the Holocaust.

The first two days were without violent incident. These were followed by an abuse on the part of the young infiltrators of the sanctity of synagogue. They first barricaded themselves in the synagogues and then decried their purported desecration by the armed forces who, under extreme provocation, entered and forcibly removed the young men and women. On the West Bank a Jewish settler brutally shot four innocent Palestinians in the hope that the resulting conflagration would bring an end to the evacuation process. He was immediately arrested and arraigned for murder and the Israeli public, both official and unofficial, rejected such a dastardly act with the disgust it deserves.

The army had estimated it would require three weeks to evacuate the Strip. Evacuation was effectively completed in ten days, including Saturday, when all activity ceased for the Sabbath. The Army will remain in area for a few more weeks while it removes its bases and redeploys.

The Future

a. The Contender

Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, served in Sharon’s government as the Finance Minister. He is widely recognized as Sharon’s major political opponent and most likely successor. He assumed office when Israel’s economy was shrinking, to no small extent due to the disproportionate burden of public spending in contrast with income-incurring private enterprises and top-heavy governmental involvement in industry. He commenced a successful reshaping of Israeli economy by transferring industries to private hands and drastically reducing public spending. However, his economic wisdom was not tempered with social sensitivity. Over 60% of Israeli children were forced under the poverty line. The average take-home pay was reduced by some 15% while significant tax breaks were accorded the wealthy and the higher wage-earners. The elderly, single parent families and the physically handicapped were reduced to extreme poverty and prices continued to rise.

Netanyahu’s economic policies were widely hailed overseas. They also enjoyed the support of many in Israel who stood to gain from them and who shared his almost total lack of concern for the weak and needy. The economy began to improve, production grew, export increased and Netanyahu’s political influence grew among the moneyed power-mongers in Israel. At the same time he lost the support of his traditional power base among the lower levels of Israel’s society. His sole leverage with them was his inconsistent opposition to Sharon’s disengagement plan.

What appears to be a lack of political courage kept him in government when he could have effectively led those in government and outside who opposed Sharon’s plan, cost him still further loss of political support. After threatening to resign and then with-drawing his threat, and while the implementation of his economic plan is at a critical stage, Netanyahu resigned. He left for a series of lucrative lectures in the USA once the Knesset ratified the disengagement plan for a second time, thereby giving a green light for the execution of the plan to commence. His political future is now unclear.

On the one hand, Netanyahu is considered to be the most likely candidate to replace Sharon, who is nearing his 80th birthday (Sharon turned 77 on Feb. 2005). On the other, he has not displayed the political wisdom or will necessary to take on such a formidable opponent. His has earned a reputation of being an inveterate opportunist whose word cannot be trusted and whose working relations with those around him were always problematic. Will the largely-religious nationalist wing rally around him? Time will tell.

b. Israeli Society

The cohesion of Israeli society has been threatened by Netanyahu’s economic policies and by the disengagement. Long-standing tensions between religious and secular have been accentuated by the fact that the most prominent leaders of the settler movement and many of the settlers themselves are religious, while those who supported disengagement are secular. Israelis tend to be fiercely patriotic, but the political right has often wedded itself to a form of extreme nationalism that others in Israel find discomforting, especially in light of the Jewish people’s own suffering at the hands of nationalist movements in the recent past. The more secular left, although respectful of national traditions, aspires to a liberal, democratic society in which freedom of speech and religion are maintained, while the religious openly speak of their hope to impose Jewish religious restrictions on all members of Israeli society.

There is a significant segment among the religious that considers the land to be a moral ultimate and possession of the land a moral imperative that overrides most other considerations. For years, Ariel Sharon was their champion in spite of his wholly irreligious way of life and his total disregard of Jewish religious restrictions. The fact that he and his two sons have been suspected of corruption never bothered them so long as he supported their efforts to settle the land, often in spite of express governmental policies to the contrary. Now, shattered by Sharon’s turn-about and by the support he received from the majority of Israeli citizens, there is stringent talk about yet another disengagement – that of the religious and nationalistic from the rest of society.

Tensions between the two are likely to become more overt, possibly translating themselves into a new political constellation. Since the late 1970’s, the difference between Israel’s traditional political parties has steadily been eroded. The political divide is no longer between Socialists and Liberals but between the nationally patriotic but secular and the significantly religious Nationalists. Once the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved and Israel’s final borders are drawn, there will be a new political divide, but present realities are such that the conflict and the form of its resolution are the major issue facing Israeli society.

Many settlers have spoken of their disappointment with the present Israeli political system and of their emotional disengagement from Israeli society. They have expressed their renewed determination to change the course of events in Israel, to gain control of the political system and to take revenge on Ariel Sharon and all who support him. Others have told the press they will no longer carry Israeli ID cards because they consider themselves no longer bound by Israeli norms, which failed them so dismally. A Holocaust survivor and former Partisan returned his medal, awarded by the State of Israel for bravery during the Second World War. Another tore the Israeli flag into shreds, stamped and spat on it. As can be expected, some of this kind of a response is the natural product of aroused emotions that will hopefully subside in time. The armed forces’ careful handling of a potentially explosive situation will undoubtedly contribute to that end. But the makings of a significant rift in Israeli society are evident.

The settlers’ leadership, including its religious leadership, failed those who followed them. They promised the settlers a miracle, but none such happened. They threatened widespread civil disobedience, but none such was to be seen. They promised to topple the government before it implemented the evacuation, but the government still stands. Most of the settlers handled themselves with dignity and fortitude while their leaders made hysterical statements and seemed to be at loss for what to do. It remains to be seen whether the full and successful evacuation will bring about a change in leadership and, perhaps in aspirations. Needless to say, to some extent, whatever happens to Israeli society will also be impacted by Palestinian behaviour.

An illustration of the danger of rupture in Israeli society may be found in the following summary of an article by Yair Sheleg following an interview with a prominent religious Zionist, published in Haaretz on August 23 consequent to the disengagement from Gaza. Yohanan Ben-Yaakov is a classical-official religious Zionist, formerly the partner of secular Israeli Zionists, a “settler” who refused to participate in any settling of the land without prior permission from the proper governmental settling authorities. During the 1986 Independence Day celebrations he was invited to light one of the torches at the annual national ceremony thanks to his “unique contribution to Israeli democracy”. Since 1990 he is an official of the Ministry of Education. Ben-Yaakov is a moderate on the right-wing of Israeli politics. He believes that Israel should not have allowed the ongoing lack of civil rights for millions of Palestinians. He refused to join the religiously motivated settlers movement know as Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) because he believes that any disregard of the political process, which disregard characterised the activities of the movement, constitutes the heart of messianism, which he eschews.

Following the disengagement, Ben Yaakov is furious and has expressed second thoughts about the alliance he sought to foster between the religious and the secular in Israel: “On the axis between Jewishness and Israeliness, we have to turn more in the Jewish direction, to conduct a dialogue with the [ultra-Orthodox and anti-democratic] Haredi community, even at the expense of dialogue with the liberal-democratic elite.”

Ben-Yaakov explains that his greatest crisis of faith today does not stem from Sharon, but from the “knights of democracy in Israel”, who declined to oppose what he considers to be blatantly undemocratic moves in order to ensure support for the disengagement.

“Where … are all the partners to social pacts? How are they letting such a thing take place in a country that is called democratic? … Their hypocrisy hurts me more than anything else in this process, just because all these years I have felt committed to this partnership and to democratic decisions.”

Ben Yaakov insists that we are now witnessing an historical rupture. In the past, religious and non-religious parties cooperated for the good of the State. With deep sorrow he insists that “the grounds for such cooperation have been destroyed. The main issue is no longer that of national political issues but of ‘Jewish values’. “The Haredi community does take those values into account. I differ with many of them, but in their community it would be impossible to trample Jewish values … Democracy was supposed to secure in the same way in a largely secular society, but it turned out that this is not the case.

He consequently now strives for “a greater closeness to the Haredi community, a desire for dialogue with it” and less dialogue with the liberal-democratic elites. We are now engaged in “a clash with a culture that lacks values“.

C. The Palestinians

Apart from a few, potentially explosive, incidents the Palestinians exercised utmost restraint during the Israeli evacuation. They had every reason to do so: Israel was about to hand over territory the Palestinians had contested for some time. Israel had also warned that attacks would freeze the evacuation process and be met with a fierce Israeli response. Israel remains in control of Gaza’s ports and air space. It provides Gaza with most of its electricity and a sizeable portion of its GNP by allowing a decreasing number of Gaza residents to work in Israel. Israel has stated that it will concede these so long as advantage is not taken of them in support of further attacks on Israel. The Egyptians, on the other hand, have undertaken to close the porous border between itself and the Palestinians in Gaza, thus bringing an end to an important smuggling route through which both drugs and arms passed into Palestinian hands.

There is room for concern over what will follow. Heartened by the Israeli withdrawal, the Hamas has insisted that Israel withdrew in the face of violent resistance, and that more violent resistance in the West Bank will lead to similar results. Consequently, the Hamas has announced that it will move to burden of its operation against Israel to the West Bank. Even Mahmoud Abbas, who leads the Palestinian Authority, and his Prime Minister Abu Allah, have stated “Gaza first, the West Bank next”.

Israel recognizes that peace accords will require further territorial concessions and seems to be ready to make them. But will that suffice for the Palestinians? Can agreement be reached as to the nature and extent of those concessions? Will the Palestinians insist on “the Right of Return”, according to which all displaced Palestinians and their immediate family would return to Israel and thereby spell the demise of the Jewish State? This remains yet to be seen.

Trouble in Arad

In Arad, a small town in the Negev, the tiny community of believers is facing increasing harassment by the ultra-Orthodox. The stated aim is to harass and intimidate the believers to the point that they leave the town – and, ultimately, Israel itself!

Recently a clubhouse used by one couple as a chess club and store-front outreach, was burned down. The pastor of the congregation, who himself faces weekly demonstrations in front of his home, writes:
Last night, I was invited to the police station in order to identify one of the ultra-orthodox who was acting against the believers during the last year and a half. He was arrested last night after refusing to sign on a deposit of some sort. Today, 8.8.2005, he and a few of his friends are due to face trial in the Beer-Sheva court. This will be concerning all sorts of disturbing acts they were doing against believers during the last year. There is no evidence concerning the burning of E’s chess club – as far as I know. I also know that the charges were delivered to the court at least two weeks ago, so without apparent connection to the fire. None the less, what happened at the club can only convince the judges of the urgency to act for the protection of believers in Arad. I know from the police that the state’s request from court will be to keep those few ultra orthodox away from Arad. We are not praying for vengeance upon them, but rather that they may come to the point they realize they are actually acting against God. May God bring His plans to come about in Arad, and may He save many, also from the ultra-orthodox population.

IJEF 2006
The next IJEF conference, with the theme: TO THE JEW FIRST! is scheduled for March 29-31. The exact venue will be announced shortly. Please mark these dates in your calendar. All are welcome. If you know Jewish Christians who would be interested, please let them know. If you would provide us with their addresses so that we could extend a personal invitation to them, this would be helpful.

An electronic magazine will be soon ready for distribution. If you wish to receive this, and to be regularly informed of IJEF activities and news, please let us know by writing to or by sending us a message through the IJEF contact page on the website,

Papers from the first three conferences are now available on the website, as well as the IJEF constitution, which was adopted in the 2005 conference.

___________________________________________

MaozNews A periodic report from Israel.
Tel. +972 8 869 2542, Fax. +972 8 869 2531
Visit our website at www.GandT.org.il

For information on IJEF go to www.ijef.org

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