It’s a Good Thing We Left Gaza

There's only one thing we should remember about the problematically unilateral withdrawal from Gaza: it is still far better than the previous situation.

Uri Misgav
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Uri Misgav

This summer marks eight years since our welcome withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, during which Israel Defense Forces units and some 7,500 settlers were evacuated to Israel. The decision to withdraw was made by the Israeli government headed by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and was efficiently carried out by the security forces. It was a unilateral step, which did not take place in the context of dialogue with the Palestinians. Sharon called it a "disengagement" and claimed it was for internal Israeli reasons, with some even attributing personal motives to his decision.

It seems there is nobody left who will speak in favor of the withdrawal. The soft right and center were disappointed that security tensions didn’t end, while the left had reservations about the unilateral nature of the step and was embarrassed by continued Palestinian hostility. Sharon himself fell into a coma shortly afterward.

This vacuum was entered by the extreme right and most of religious Zionism, who vehemently opposed the withdrawal - although Gaza has never been considered sacred ancestral land. Their real trauma was not the withdrawal itself, or the resettlement of most of the evacuees to within the borders of the Green Line. The profound crisis of the extreme right stemmed from the realization that the withdrawal was carried out quickly and efficiently, with the support - or at least the silent consent - of a huge majority of the Israeli public.

The protest activities, as noisy and full of ideological passion as they were, did not breach the borders. Incidents of refusal to obey orders in the IDF and the Israel Police were low. Israel was not colored orange [the color adopted by opponents of the disengagement], nor did it shed a tear over the evacuation of Netzarim and Kfar Darom.

The shock and disappointment were soon replaced by PR activity. Because of it, in recent years we have witnessed an amazing rewrite of history. The withdrawal is not referred to by name but always referred to as "the expulsion" or "the uprooting." Every missile barrage from besieged Gaza is presented as firm proof of the foolishness of the move, although Qassam rockets were fired at Negev settlements even before the withdrawal.

Rounds of escalation against the Hamas government or jihadi organizations are celebrated with taunts of "We told you so," while the complexity of regional and local circumstances on the one hand, and the clear limitations of a limited unilateral move on the other, are blatantly and deliberately ignored.

There is no question that, in the hierarchy of territorial compromises, the best thing is an overall peace agreement under a regional and international umbrella. Next best is a bilateral agreement; followed by a temporary arrangement for an interim period; and then by a consensual unilateral withdrawal with a partner who accepts responsibility for the evacuated area. The lowest rung on the ladder is an independent unilateral withdrawal - the kind adopted by Israel in both South Lebanon in 2000 and the Gaza Strip.

There's only one thing we should remember about that problematic solution: it is still far better than the previous situation. There is no hope for the military occupation of an area outside sovereign borders, certainly if accompanied by civilian settlement. That is why, eight years after the withdrawal, and in light of false and ongoing right-wing propaganda, it is very important to state: It's a good thing we left Gaza. It's good that Israeli soldiers and civilians are not in Gaza, and are not being killed and wounded in Gaza. It's particularly important to mention that now, with the first hesitant signs of renewed diplomatic progress.

In that context, and with renewed hope for another future withdrawal from the hallucination of Greater Israel, it's also important to mention the only real sin of the withdrawal: The efforts to absorb and resettle the evacuees were in part slow and insufficient. Here, too, we should not forget the contribution of the extreme right in the failure to absorb settlers and the preparations for it. It's enough to mention the boycott and disgraceful isolation to which Yonatan Bassi - a member of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, who nobly agreed to head the absorption administration - was sentenced. The silent majority and the Israeli peace camp, alas, did not go out of their way to support him and his national mission. That's just one of the challenges the Zionist community will have to face before another possible evacuation in the future.

A settler prays in a bulldozer in Homesh.Credit: Reuters

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