The Sebastia Syndrome

The evacuating forces' conduct toward both the evacuees and those who have infiltrated into Gush Katif is beginning to recall the dark days of Sebastia.

Most of the soldiers who will have to evacuate settlers from their houses next week do not remember Sebastia, but the evacuating forces' conduct toward both the evacuees and those who have infiltrated into Gush Katif is beginning to recall those dark days the first days of the emotional manipulation of the government and the Israel Defense Forces by members of Gush Emunim. The illegal settlement in Sebastia was evacuated six times, amid fierce clashes with the IDF, until in winter 1975, when the compromising, hypocrisy and understanding began, and continued until the state and the law were completely defeated by the campaign of thousands who came from all over the country to prevent the evacuation.

Now as then, thousands are continuing to enter Gush Katif despite the fact that it was declared a closed military area. These thousands are not cutting through fences; they walk boldly through army checkpoints, holding permits that were issued to them legally.

They deceive the soldiers manning the checkpoints, pretending that they merely came to say good-bye to Gush Katif and promising to leave again in a few minutes, and then remain in order to be there on evacuation day and sabotage it. They make a mockery of the permit-issuers, and the latter submit to them willingly.

Entire yeshivas have recently moved to Gush Katif, openly, with a permit, because of the weakness of the army and police. The seminars aimed at heightening the evacuating forces' sensitivity have succeeded beyond expectations. The settlers are not the enemy, and the army is not preparing for war against them, said the chief of staff without understanding that that this equation is true in only one direction. The army is not preparing for war against the settlers, but the settlers are preparing and how.

This is the approach that Gush Emunim used for years, with great success: tears and pleas for mercy on one hand, adherence to the goal and willingness to cut through fences on the other, all while cultivating the belief that they are right, whereas the evacuating forces are merely doing the dirty work.

This frighteningly empathetic approach has led to repeated failures against the settlers throughout the decades since Sebastia, and it is liable to do so this time as well. Too many meetings between commanders and evacuees, too much coordination and too many heart-to-heart talks have weakened the army and strengthened the settlers. Thus while hundreds of permanent residents of Gush Katif are preparing to leave quietly, they are being replaced by thousands of opponents of the evacuation for whom the IDF is the avowed enemy. The unnecessary emotional conversation that the commander of the evacuating forces held on Wednesday with a terror victim who lives in Kfar Darom, even as someone was puncturing the tires of his car outside the building, is just one example of the overly emotional conduct of the entire operation.

The army continues to claim that the number of people who have infiltrated into Gush Katif is not critical, and that come evacuation day, the troops will know how to deal severely with them. Meanwhile, organizers of last night's rally in Rabin Square, have promised to trespass into Gush Katif at any cost and halt the evacuation. They have not yet abandoned hope of changing the decision by sabotaging its implementation, aided by the guidance of Benjamin Netanyahu, who told Knesset members that everything can still be changed. President Moshe Katsav's request for the evacuees' forgiveness and his statement that he has been impressed by their struggle also demonstrates that so far, the settlers have the upper hand.