Twelve Powerful Images From the Gaza Disengagement

Ten years on, Haaretz publishes dramatic scenes of Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and four northern West Bank settlements.

Israeli soldiers arrest a young settler on the road leading to the Gush Katif settlement.
Soldiers arrest a young settler on the road leading to the settlement of Shirat Hayam in Gaza, August 17, 2005, after a group of settlers blocked road to protest pullout. AP

It has been ten years since one of the most dramatic events in recent Israeli history nearly tore the nation apart: Between August and September 2005, Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip and four northern West Bank settlements. Thousands of citizens were relocated within the Green Line in a plan masterminded by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon better known as the Disengagement.

After seizing the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Six-Day War and occupying it for 38 years, Israel evacuated 21 settlements in the coastal territory that was home to some 1.3 million Palestinians at the time of the disengagement, along with the four West Bank settlements. The plan aimed to bolster security for Israelis and lessen the tensions between them and the Palestinians. All in all, some 9,000 Israeli citizens were relocated.

The Disengagement produced images that shocked the nation and reverberate to this day. On the tenth anniversary of the historic event, Haaretz takes a look back at some of them.

From settlement to ‘closed military zone’

Orange was the color of the Israeli anti-disengagement protest movement. In this picture from August 15, 2005 - the first day of the pullout - residents of Netzer Hazani, one of 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza, wait for Israeli soldiers to arrive with eviction notices. Orange bands litter the shot. At midnight, the area was declared a closed military zone. Residents of Gush Katif and of the four Northern West Bank settlements included in the plan, had until August 17 to leave voluntarily. (Credit: Eyal Warshavsky / BauBau)

Those who left voluntarily

Over a two-day period, Israeli soldiers went from house to house, asking Israeli residents to leave voluntarily. In this August 16 photograph, a man is seen weeping at the Kissufim checkpoint between Israel and Gaza. In the background are vehicles carrying others leaving the Strip of their own volition. As the midnight deadline for voluntary evacuation neared, around half of the residents of Gush Katif had left. Meanwhile, it was believed that thousands of nonresidents had entered the Strip in the weeks leading up to the pullout in order to protest it. (Credit: Eyal Warshavky / BauBau).

The sweat and tears of disengagement

The evacuation was a painful process, both for the settlers and for the security forces carrying out the plan. Haaretz’s front page from August 16, 2005 shows a resident of the settlement of Nisanit weeping in the arms of a soldier during the dismantling of a synagogue there the previous day.

Settlers versus soldiers

After the 48-hour voluntary evacuation period ended, thousands of troops in the Strip removed the hundreds of families who hadn’t left of their own volition, along with opponents to the pullouts who had infiltrated the Strip. The settlements with the most resistance, Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom, were evacuated on August 18. Both evacuations ended with hours-long standoffs, as settlers barricaded themselves in synagogues. Haaretz’s front page on August 19 showed young settlers on the roof of Kfar Darom’s synagogue, where they attacked security forces.

Tears and rage in Neve Dekalim

This photograph from August 17 shows settlers crying before being removed from Neve Dekalim, the largest settlement in Gush Katif.  In this AP video below, settlers pray at the Neve Dekalim synagogue as the Disengagement Plan continues. (Credit: Reuters).

The last to leave

The last Gaza settlement to be evacuated was Netzarim, on August 22. That day, residents and soldiers - some of whom had guarded over the settlers for years - prayed together in the synagogue. Then, the Torah scrolls and the menorah that had been removed from the synagogue’s roof, were carried through the streets. “The scene was reminiscent of images depicted on the Arch of Titus, which shows Romans carrying away a menorah and other booty looted from the Second Temple during the fall of Jerusalem in 70,” Haaretz reported at the time. (Credit: Reuters)

The four small West Bank settlements

Kadim was one of the four small settlements in the northern West Bank that were included in the disengagement plan. In this photograph from July 7, 2005, the Mockin family are seen moving out of their Kadim home. The majority of the families in Ganim and Kadim had left their homes in the weeks leading up to the August deadline. By August 15, less than 10 families remained in those settlements, and they all left that day. (Credit:  Itzik Ben Malchi)

Where opposition was expected

Most of the resistance to the northern West Bank pullout had been expected in the remaining two settlements, Homesh and Sa-Nur. To illustrate the point, Haaretz’s front page on August 21 featured a photograph of women and children opposing the evacuation the previous week in the settlement of Gadid in Gush Katif.

Bringing down the houses

After the settlers were evacuated, the IDF destroyed the buildings that they left behind. The last private home left in Neve Dekalim was destroyed on September 1. In this picture from that day, graffiti on the house compares then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who spearheaded the Gaza pullout, to Titus, the Roman military commander who destroyed the Second Temple. Some 3,000 homes were razed altogether, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Israel left behind dozens of synagogues, however, as well as the greenhouses that had not been torn down by the settlers themselves, as well as infrastructure, such as pipes and roads. (Credit: Micki Kratzman).

Relocating the dead

48 graves in the Gush Katif graveyard at Neve Dekalim were also moved inside the Green Line as part of the pullout. Pictured here are mourners at the cemetery on August 23, about a week before the bodies were exhumed and moved. The graves were moved to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Moshav Mavkiim, Nitzan, and other sites. (Credit: Reuters).  

Celebrations turn violent 

The Palestinians were jubilant over Israel leaving the occupied territory, but the celebrations turned chaotic. After IDF troops had left the Strip, thousands flocked to the abandoned settlements, shooting in the air and raising flags. In some places, synagogues were torched, destroyed and looted, as were the greenhouses that were left behind. The day after the pullout was completed, Palestinian police blocked off the settlements in an attempt to impose order, but the forces were overwhelmed and the looting continued. This picture shows Palestinians burning a synagogue in Netzarim early on September 12, the day that the last Israeli soldier left the coastal enclave. (Credit: AP).

Leaving Gaza for good

Israel’s 38 year-presence in Gaza ended on September 12. Leaving at dawn that day, Gaza commander Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi was the last Israeli soldier in the Strip. At a ceremony at the IDF’s Gaza Division headquarters on September 11, the Israeli flag was lowered - as pictured on Haaretz’s front page - before the army’s Gaza bases were dismantled and the troops started to leave. “The disengagement decision holds hope for a better future; it transfers responsibility for the Strip to the Palestinians, who will be in charge of their destiny,” then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said at the ceremony. “Their true test will be to prevent terror.”