Disengagement, Not Separation

Preparations for the major battle about to take place along the coast of Gaza have been completed. The gladiators have been thrown into the arena, the anticipation of the final round is at its peak.

Preparations for the major battle about to take place along the coast of Gaza have been completed. The gladiators have been thrown into the arena, the anticipation of the final round is at its peak. Among the spectators: citizens of the global village and Israeli citizens - the blue, orange and transparent camps. The dais is reserved for two important groups: citizens from the Jewish past, whose consciousness has been scarred by battles of the kind that took place in Jewish history; and citizens of the Jewish future, on whose identity the present battle is likely to leave a profound impression.

Who are the gladiators? What are they fighting for?

It depends where you place the arena: in politics (center and left versus right), in law (the rule of law versus its violators), in the regime (the sovereign versus the "lords of the land") or in religion ("the beginning of the growth of our redemption" versus "to be a free nation"). For us, the most significant arena is the socio-cultural one. In that sense, the two gladiators are seen as two shadows being cast by one body - Jewish Israeli society.

The two sides are making use of an absolutist rhetoric of justice: universal-democratic justice on the one hand; religious-theological justice on the other. Since the sides have seized upon absolutes, the ambition is to achieve the total defeat of the other side. The baggage of absolute values that each sides carries with it, turns into armor that prevents it from demonstrating understanding and consideration for the other side.

When the curtain falls, we will remain here together, sharing the responsibility for everyday life in Israel. How will we maintain security, society, the economy, the Israeli spirit and identity, after one of us has crushed his friend? What are the conditions for carrying on the struggle through dialogue?

We are not suggesting compromise or concession. Our suggestion is to carry on the struggle differently - genuinely leaving room for the other side. How? The settlers, most of them religious, have chosen a confrontation between the religious source of authority and the democratic source of authority. Their position is expressed through halakhic decisions (based on religious law). This is amazing halakhic activism, which is difficult to justify, as the halakha has for 2,000 years been silent on subjects relating to political questions.

In any case, since the rabbis have turned to halakhic discourse, they are obligated to demonstrate responsibility to hand down decisions concerning the limitations of opposition to the disengagement according to the halakha, as they see it. We have heard almost no clear and lucid halakhic decision by a leading authority, forbidding the refusal of an order, the use of physical violence or suicide. There must be a halakhic-public statement regarding the normative red line, even when it means undermining the mitzvah (religious commandment) of settling Eretz Israel. Rabbis who deliberately choose to conceal the halakhic limitations that must be placed on the struggle, in their opinion, are presenting a one-dimensional viewpoint, whose purpose is absolute negation of the other.

The Israeli left is also guilty of negating the other: For example, comparing the settlers in Gush Katif to someone who is moving to another home in deluxe conditions, demonstrates a disregard of the complex historical reality and the existential awareness of the settlers. The left, bearer of the humanist portfolio, is being tested. The sovereign is about to use its (legitimate) power against citizens. A basic instinct of those who champion human rights obligates them to stand and defend the citizens, even if they reject their values.

When army brigades invade a civilian settlement to evacuate it, the leftist activists must make sure that human dignity is maintained and that the use of force is kept in proportion. It is difficult to protect the human rights of those who have not always protected the human rights of others, but that is the true challenge of the left. It must act as a watchdog supervising the forceful process. Compassion and solidarity are required toward those whose world has fallen apart, rather than alienation and self-righteousness.

How can the sovereign power help the combatants to leave the arena limping, but looking toward a shared future? It must explain the meaning of the disengagement plan and declare: We are disengaging from 1.4 million Arabs, and are thus reinforcing the Jewish character of the state, without undermining its democratic values. The government must declare that the huge concession demanded of the religious public has its compensations. The move is only a first step in a series of constitutional, legal, social and culture actions whose aim is to strengthen the Jewish character of the state.

We propose a social-cultural package deal: The settlers and their rabbis will bear responsibility for a demarcation of the boundaries of the struggle; the left will bear responsibility for protecting the basic human rights of the settlers; the state will place the text of the disengagement within a visionary strategic context, which is shared by most of the Jewish public in Israel. The struggle will be decided without the destruction of our shared tomorrow.

Avi Sagi is a professor of philosophy at Bar-Ilan University; Yedidya Z. Stern is a professor of law at Bar Ilan.