It Is Not From Heaven

The settler public and the responsible leaders among them should take a look at the suffering of the Gush Katif evacuees so as not to repeat their mistakes.

You don't have to go all the way back to Saint Augustine, who said that to err is human but to persist in error is satanic, to understand that the leaders of the settlers in Judea and Samaria, along with MKs from the right, are about to repeat the mistake they made two years ago, when they refused to cooperate with the government after it decided to implement its disengagement plan.

The right-wing camp is now preparing to head off a proposed law, sponsored by Colette Avital (Labor) and Avshalom Vilan (Meretz), to offer Jewish residents living in the West Bank compensation for being evacuated voluntarily. If the settler public does not create its own lobby from within its own ranks to fight for the bill, their fate will be the same as that of the evacuees from Gush Katif.

Thirty-seven percent of the Gaza evacuees have still not found work. Only 21 percent of those who owned businesses have managed to set up new operations within the Green Line. Fewer than 10 percent of the 400 farmers from the evacuated region have returned to their profession at their new places of residence.

The vast majority of the evacuee families have still not found permanent housing. (The figures are from July and are included in study by Yair Sheleg, published by the Israel Democracy Institute.)

This sorry situation is not a divine decree, but is in no small way a consequence of the actions of the settlers, and their leaders. In retrospect, it is clear that the orders from the heads of the settlements to avoid cooperating with state's representatives; the rabbis' calls to their followers to depend on prayer to lift the "evil decree"; as well as forecasts from right-wing politicians that they would be able to prevent the disengagement in the Knesset - all of these backfired on the settlers.

The government officials responsible for implementing the disengagement claim that if the Gush Katif residents had responded to their pleas in time, they would have made it much easier for themselves with regard to the not very simple process of rehabilitation. But the evacuees found themselves in a trap: their very willingness to listen to the offers from the "Sela" Disengagement Administration would have been considered surrender and heresy. Therefore, they rejected almost all the practical solutions until the moment when they found themselves homeless.

The settlers in Judea and Samaria, and their leaders, now find themselves in a similar situation. If they respond to the proposed legislation of Avital and Vilan, it will be viewed as betrayal of the principle of holding fast to the land, and as a sign of weakness.

There are a quarter of a million Jews living in the West Bank, as compared with the 8,500 who had their homes in Gaza. The motives that guided the Gaza settlers' behavior on the eve of the withdrawal are even more applicable to those living today in Judea and Samaria: Denial of the possibility that they may have to abandon their homes; solidarity with the rest of the residents living over the Green Line; ideological opposition to the idea of an evacuation; political rivalry with the present government; faith in a divine power that will help them in their fight to retain the entire Land of Israel; and reliance on security, political and demographic statistics to prevent any possible uprooting. But experience teaches that such considerations are also based on deep-seated wishes, and not only on open-minded assessments.

The pullout from Gaza created a precedent, and the diplomatic, social, political and security considerations will make the evacuation of Judea and Samaria - or at least large parts of it - a possible scenario, if not a completely realistic one. Therefore, the Avital-Vilan bill, which the Labor Party is now behind, if one can rely on a statement made by its chairman, Ehud Barak, at this week's cabinet meeting, comes at the right time, and it's in the interest of the settlers, or at least some of them, to push for it.

It is estimated that at least a third of the settlers in Judea and Samaria moved there not for ideological reasons, but in search of a higher standard of living at a good price. The evacuation compensation law is meant for them.

This is how to start the gradual process of rehabilitation that will implement the lessons learned from the hasty and traumatic evacuation of Gaza. This is how to reduce, very slowly, the number of settlers living in Judea and Samaria, in anticipation of the moment of truth when the state decides to withdraw from those territories and has to confront the hard core among the settlers.

The settler public and the responsible leaders among them should take a look at the suffering of the Gush Katif evacuees so as not to repeat their mistakes.