June is not Ariel Sharon's lucky month. Television commentators this week spoke more about the disgrace of June 1982 and the war in Lebanon than about the victories of June 1967 and the Six Day War. If Sharon really does implement his plan to withdraw from Gaza and evacuate settlements, it seems that this decision, too, will become entwined with a June story. But when Sharon does take a moment for historic reflection, he can take comfort: The march of foolishness to Gaza and back started a long time ago.
Yigal Allon, a military commander during the War of Independence, who held several cabinet posts starting in 1961, used to say that if he and his men had had another day or two, they would have captured Gaza in 1948. He was once asked if it was right for Israel to have given up on conquering Gaza, because of all the refugees living there. A new book on the young Allon, written by Anita Shapira, quotes his response: First of all, there weren't so many refugees living there yet, and second of all: "If we had been in Gaza, it would have decreased the number of refugees."
That's also what David Ben-Gurion thought when he proposed capturing the Strip in April 1955. Some of the records of the government meetings in which his proposal were discussed are confidential, but one can easily figure it out, as the subject is referred to in other ministers' comments. Ben-Gurion essentially suggested deporting the refugees to Jordan, an idea the government rejected.
About a year and a half later, Israel captured Gaza in the 1956 Sinai Campaign, but within a few months was, fortunately, compelled to return it to Egypt. On the eve of the Six Day War, Israel's leaders once again discussed conquering the Strip, and once again considered what they would do with the hundreds of thousands of refugees there. Aryeh Bar-On, an aide to then defense minister Moshe Dayan, attributed to Allon a proposal to deport the refugees to Egypt. Levi Eshkol, prime minister at the time, played with the idea of relocating the Gaza refugees to the West Bank - or preferably to Jordan or Iraq.
The first few months after the Six Day War led to plans aimed at rehabilitating the Gaza refugees, who would be moved outside the Strip. Almost nothing was done, a major mistake that spawned many poverty-stricken refugees to this day.
Only one mistake appears more grave: that former prime minister Menachem Begin did not make the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt conditional upon Egypt's agreement to take the Gaza Strip back. He thought he was doing the Jewish nation a favor by leaving Gaza in Israeli hands and that it would be worthwhile for Jews to move there.
Ariel Sharon also believed that until recently, and who knows what he believes today. If he sincerely intends to withdraw from Gaza and evacuate the settlers, he will have to come to terms with their claim that they are being exiled from their homes, and this rationale may even be used by those who support exiling the Arabs. There are responses to this claim, and it cannot be ignored.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now