A Time Not to Destroy

Why does the Israeli government intend to demolish the hundreds of homes of the settlers in Gush Katif and in the northern Gaza Strip?

"As a rule, residential buildings of the settlers, and sensitive buildings, including synagogues, will not be left in place. The State of Israel will try to transfer other facilities, including industrial, commercial and agricultural structures, to an international third party, which will use them for the benefit of the Palestinian population that is not involved in terrorism." So says Article 8 ("Real estate") of the amended disengagement plan approved by the government on June 6. The formulators of the decision apparently were embarrassed to write that the residential buildings will be "demolished" and preferred the euphemism "will not be left in place."

Why were they embarrassed? Because it's uncomfortable to write in an official document of a civilized country that the government is planning on wholesale demolition of buildings that serve as homes and can continue to do so in the future. "Will not be left in place" doesn't sound as bad, it's as though we're dealing with items that can normally be taken or left.

Why does the Israeli government intend to demolish the hundreds of homes of the settlers in Gush Katif and in the northern Gaza Strip?

Several reasons have been offered. First, because the settlers - particularly those who will refuse to abandon their homes of their own free will, but will be removed by force - will try to return and to infiltrate their houses before the Israel Defense Forces leaves the area or afterward, and are liable to cause serious incidents. But the conclusion to be drawn from that is not that the homes have to be demolished, but that, after the evacuation of the settlers, we have to be strict about preventing infiltration from both sides of the separation fence, and to supervise the transit points carefully.

Second, because Hamas terrorists will rush to seize the buildings, and will celebrate the expulsion of the Jews and the victory over Israel from the rooftops. The conclusion doesn't mean that the buildings must be demolished, but that we must make sure that a less destructive group receives control over the areas of the settlements. Preferably, that would mean a third party backed by an international force, and if not, representatives of the Palestinian Authority, which according to estimates has about 20,000 soldiers under its command who are trained to maintain order.

Third, we must create conditions that will enable the Palestinians to build multistory buildings in the area of the settlements, in order to provide housing for the hundreds of thousands who are living in the refugee camps in shockingly crowded conditions. That's a lofty thought, but it's not a justification for destroying one- and two-story buildings. It's true that the existing buildings can absorb only a small percentage of the refugees who are in need of housing, but the decision as to what type of houses they will live in should be left to those responsible for them. This reason reflects an intolerable paternalism.

And there are three reasons for not demolishing the houses in the Gush Katif and northern Gaza Strip settlements. First, so that Israel will not be accused of vandalizing the country, the accusation that will undoubtedly be raised at the sight of the bulldozers mowing down the houses. None of the three doubtful reasons mentioned above in favor of the destruction of homes will convince enlightened people of the justice of the act.

Second, leaving the houses as they are will constitute compensation of sorts for the damages caused to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip as a result of the acts of demolition and the razing of agricultural land carried out during the course of our war against terror. It isn't necessary to cast doubt on the justice of these activities, in order to raise this consideration: The demolition and razing were the right thing to do in order to save the lives of Israeli civilians and soldiers. But in the course of their implementation, masses of Palestinian citizens who don't participate in terrorism suffered greatly. If a few thousand of them will enjoy an improvement in their standard of housing because of the evacuation of Gush Katif and the settlements in the northern Gaza Strip, we will be able to recall the demolition and the exposure with fewer pangs of conscience.

And third, in the historical accounting that we can undoubtedly expect one of these days (as far off as it may be) regarding the real estate lost by Arab residents of Eretz Israel since 1948, and by Jews who lived until then and afterward in Arab countries, and were forced to leave, we will be able to introduce the real estate in Gush Katif and in the northern Gaza Strip into the equation. In its entirety.