The Algerian Model

Must the evacuation of the West Bank be a national trauma? Maybe we should be looking at the example of France and Algeria.

Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg
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Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg

The future of Judea and Samaria has been the focus of Israeli discourse for decades, with both sides employing a mixture of ideological, ethical and practical arguments. Ranged on one side are the national and religious connections to the territories and the security fears about withdrawing from them. On the other is the ethical problem involved in holding millions of Palestinians without citizenship, and the fear that this situation will lead to heavy pressure on Israel to agree to the "one state for two nations" solution, which would eliminate the Jewish character of the state.

In the background of this dilemma are many voices from among the opponents of evacuation, who are threatening to tip the balance using force. These groups say that even if Israeli society decides by democratic means in favor of evacuation, they will prevent it with violent physical resistance, which will make the evacuation of Yamit and Gush Katif seem irrelevant and the violent struggle in Amona look like child's play. In light of these declarations many people, even those who support evacuation, claim that it cannot be done and that the settlement enterprise is irreversible.

The real question, however, does not stem from any particular ideological viewpoint about Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. The important question is whether Israeli society must accept the attempt of a minority to subdue the majority by force, assuming that the majority decides in favor of evacuation. Since a civil, democratic society cannot allow an aggressive minority to dictate its decisions, we must find an intelligent way to avoid this threat.

There may be such a way. Perhaps the problem of the evacuation stems from Israel's approach to the measure; perhaps evacuation is not only possible but easier to accomplish than we believe, as long as we take a different approach to it. Perhaps Israel must examine a model of evacuation that is different from that used in Sinai and in Gush Katif, for example one based on the withdrawal of French forces from Algeria.

No evacuation, no compensation

In July 1962 France left Algeria after 132 years of rule. During that period France had annexed Algeria. By the time of the evacuation, 1.2 million French people had settled there. The evacuation followed eight years of war between the French army and the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), eight years that led the French public to the conclusion that the cost of the war was greater than the benefit of continuing to rule the country.

Now a decision had to be made on the future of the French settlers, who were dubbed "pieds noirs," "black feet," because their skin had darkened in the Algerian sun. France wanted to guarantee the welfare of its people in Algeria. An agreement was reached according to which the French settlers would be granted dual citizenship for the first three years following the evacuation, including all the rights of Algerian citizens. After three years they would have to choose between Algerian and French citizenship. Those who chose the latter would be considered foreigners in Algeria but would be given the right to keep their property as well as the rights of non-citizen residents.

In fact, few of the French settlers remained in Algeria. The Algerian terror during the war and the fear of an all-out massacre caused the panic-stricken mass departure of most of the settlers within a few weeks of the agreement. Only about 30,000, or approximately 2.5 percent, remained. They came to no harm and continued to enjoy high social status. Those who were murdered were collaborators from among the Algerians themselves.

As noted, the French settlers were not forcibly evacuated by the French government, which gave them the choice of staying or leaving. At the same time they received almost no compensation for leaving Algeria - neither for abandoned property or land, nor for emotional distress. For a few months only they received about 450 francs per month in aid. Those who required more help could receive a 20,000-franc government loan. Many of the settlers returned to France with only a few personal belongings, almost penniless, and lived the rest of their lives in poverty. Because it had not forced them to leave Algeria, France did not consider itself obligated to compensate them for their decision to leave.

The pros

The differences between the two situations are clear: Israel and Judea and Samaria are a territorial continuum, in total contrast to France and Algeria. Algeria was of no particular historical-religious importance to the French, in contrast to the importance of Judea and Samaria in the Jewish-Israeli ethos. The citizens of Algeria never questioned the legitimacy of France itself, nor did they express any claims on its territory, in contrast to the attitude of some Palestinian toward Israel. Finally, Israel never annexed the West Bank and there is a broad political consensus in the country against such annexation.

Nevertheless, there are certain similarities between the situations: The cost-benefit ratio involved in continuing to control the territories is a concern to Israel, as is the issue of having so many of its citizens living in the occupied territory - over 250,000, in the case of the West Bank.

In light of the differences and similarities, and leaving aside the ideological issues, we must ask whether the French-Algerian model could be applied in the West Bank. Would it be right to evacuate only the military forces, allowing the settlers to decide on their own whether to stay or to return to Israel proper, instead of actively evacuating each and every settler, as was done in the case of Sinai and the Gush Katif area of the Gaza Strip?

Such a model should try to include, as in Algeria, Palestinian agreement to allowing the Israeli settlers to remain in their territory. This principle is worth adopting in any event, irrespective of the Algerian model: There is a problem with the assumption that an Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible only on the basis of a total evacuation of all the Jews from the territories of the Palestinian state. The latter would thus become judenrein, a place where Jews are officially prohibited from living, and it would be the duty of the Jewish state itself to undertake and enforce the promise.

It is possible that no such agreement enabling Jewish settlers to remain in the Palestinian state will be reached, or that its implementation will not be feasible. Judging by the history of Israel-Palestine relations and the level of hostility between the nations it is reasonable to assume that many years will pass before Israelis will be able to settle in Judea and Samaria again.

A realistic scenario must therefore discuss the validity of the Algerian model even without the element of a Palestinian agreement to having Israelis remain in Judea and Samaria. This model still has two important advantages. It would prevent a harsh physical confrontation between evacuators and evacuees, a confrontation likely to rend Israeli society and undermine the public position of the Israel Defense Forces. It would also pull from under their feet the foundation of the settlers' main legal-ethical argument, that a government cannot remove tens of thousands of settlers from their homes and destroy their communities. The state absolutely has the right to decide that it is no longer interested in controlling a certain area and to withdraw its forces.

The cons

Implementing the Algerian model in the West Bank is also liable to create several significant problems. First, there is the fear of damaging the ethos of Israeli-Jewish solidarity, which dictates granting significant compensation to the evacuees and perhaps even establishing new communities within Israel for them. In effect, even the aggressive evacuation by the state is an expression of this ethos: This individual, active evacuation demonstrates that the state cannot deny responsibility for the fate of its citizens; that the state itself allowed and occasionally even encouraged their settlement, and that it must accompany them at every step, from the decision to evacuate until their delivery to a safe haven, including their forcible removal from their homes. The main thing is not to abandon them to their fate. The Algerian model, where the state takes responsibility only for its military forces and leaves its citizens to decide on their future, reflects a kind of abandonment that is not necessarily appropriate.

Second, there is the fear about the fate of relations between the settlers and the rest of Israeli society after the evacuation. The French settlers who returned from Algeria were traumatized by the radical change in their social status. From being wealthy estate owners they were reduced to having just a few personal effects and facing the necessity of making their way in French society. If the Algerian model is adopted here, the settlers in Judea and Samaria are likely to experience a similar trauma.

Third, there is a danger of exacerbating the conflict between the government and the settlers. In the absence of army forces the latter are liable to establish a violent underground movement, like that of the French settlers in Algeria, which led to thousands of deaths and injuries and several attempts to assassinate then-president Charles de Gaulle. This scenarior is in contrast to the relatively low levels of violence seen in the evacuations of Sinai and Gush Katif.

A fourth question relates to remaining in a liberated area. In the case of Algeria, as we noted, the majority of French settlers chose not to take advantage of the opportunity to remain, and left. The Israeli case is not expected to be identical due to the values-based, ideological and occasionally even religious and halakhic (religious law) connection of many of the settlers to Judea and Samaria. This will lead some to try to remain even without the protection of the state. Moreover, and completely irrespective of the Algerian model, some analysts are already saying that if the evacuation of Judea and Samaria is announced, several thousand people will organize into armed militias and try to foment disorder and prevent a removal.


There are good responses to all these questions. Regarding the solidarity ethos, we can offer a counter-argument: The settlers themselves have repeatedly denied the state's right to evacuate them. For them, the state's "solidarity embrace," its bear hug of motherly concern, is a stranglehold. Moreover, solidarity can be maintained with an arm outstretched in help for those who want to accept it. In other words, even if the state does not evacuate each settler individually, it must at least offer to anyone interested an orderly evacuation of themselves and their belongings. In addition, and as opposed to the Algerian model, they should be given significant compensation, including alternative settlement options for those who want it.

As far as future relations between the settlers and the rest of Israeli society, a violent evacuation would probably be more traumatic than either leaving or remaining out of choice.

Regarding the fear of exacerbating the conflict, the Algerian model demonstrates that the potential for violence is lower when the country "makes do" with removing its forces and does not carry out a forcible, violent removal of tens of thousands of people from their homes and destroy their communities.

Regarding the fate of those who remain in the area, Israel will apparently have to deviate somewhat from the Algerian model and continue to assume responsibility for the security of the citizens who remain in the evacuated areas. The Israeli-Jewish ethos of solidarity does not permit the deliberate abandonment of Israeli citizens to the possibility of a massacre. In other words, the evacuation would actively include only most of the forces and the services. A small military force would stay to protect the settlers who remain, in addition to Magen David Adom emergency medical services and arrangements for providing food and vital equipment. It is reasonable to assume that after a while most of the militias will give up, leaving behind only a small number that can be actively evacuated.

Adapting the model

To sum up, to suit Israel's needs three new components will have to be added to the Algerian model:

1. A guarantee of an orderly evacuation of residents and equipment for those interested.

2. Significant monetary compensation, including alternative housing for those interested (which should be channeled, using incentives, to peripheral areas).

3. A two-stage evacuation, consisting of an initial evacuation of most of the forces and services, after which most residents are expected to leave, and a second, final stage within several months to a year, after which those who remain would be forcibly evacuated.

This last point is critical for the validity of the entire model: Israel must make it clear to the Palestinians and to the international community that they must agree to a drawn-out, two-stage evacuation model, and that without such agreement no evacuation will be possible because the numbers of people involved make the kind of individual evacuation carried out in Sinai and Gush Katif an impossibility. W

1. The information on the Algerian issue comes from Alistair Horn's "A Savage War of Peace."

2. The full text of the article, which is the summary of research carried out for the Israel Democracy Institute, appears on the organization's Web site: