New Frontier

After the era of the ethos of settlement, after the era of the ethos of peace, the turn has now arrived of the ethos of the border.

The word that kept recurring was "movie." Both the uprooted of Gush Katif and the uprooters of Gush Katif said over and over that they were in a movie. Observers who watched the process from afar had a similar feeling. The entire disengagement seemed to them an unprecedented reality show. The evacuation operation was projected on their screens in a well-staged production worth billions. Indeed, there was something unrealistic and incomprehensible about these six days in late August 2005. Now the houses are there, now they're gone. Now the communities are vibrant with life, now they are being removed and are scattered in every direction. And the Spielberg-like way it was done: precise, scripted, photographed from every angle and obeying clear laws of aesthetics. Here is the power of the army; here is the power of the state. Here is the capability of the state army to erase villages and scatter communities and annul a whole district.

What was the movie about? About reversibility. From a bulldozer you came and to a bulldozer you shall return. From the sand you emerged and into the sand you shall vanish. After all, this particular Zionist experience was fundamentally flawed. The settlement attempt in Gush Katif was totally unfounded. Therefore it will leave only a vague memory. It will not even leave traces in the sand. It was a transitory episode. A fata morgana. A shimmering hallucination on the beach.

However, what made the movie so thrilling was not only the fact that the process of reversibility smashed the lives of thousands of people. What made the movie a box-office bonanza was not only the fact that it entailed an infinite number of "heart-rending" personal situations. What made the disengagement a formative Israeli movie was the fact that even at its conclusion, the type of reversibility it describes remains unclear that of Gush Katif, that of Judea and Samaria, or that of Israel.

In the gallery on the left of the hall people had qualms about the sentimentality of the movie. The same people who for a generation have been screening the movie of Palestinian suffering thought it was inappropriate to watch a movie about Jewish suffering. People who have devoted themselves unreservedly to the sentimental description of the wrongs of the occupation argued that it is not tasteful to describe emotionally the torments of the uprooting.

But there's nothing to be done: The drama underlying the disengagement was an emotional drama. The field of battle in which the IDF operated was a symbolic one. The forces arrayed against it were not armored divisions, but national identities. Why did soldiers cry in Gush Katif? Because the formative Jewish experience is one of being uprooted. The experience of going into exile. And because the whole point and purpose of the Zionist enterprise was to prevent a repetition of uprooting. To prevent going into exile. And because, despite all the denials from the gallery on the left, the image that constantly recurred throughout the entire disengagement movie was one of uprooting. An image of Jews going into exile.

True, all told, we are talking about 8,000 people who should not have been there in the first place. True, all told, we are talking about 1,700 homes that should not have been built. All told, we are talking about 33 razed synagogues and 47 graves that will be moved. And there is compensation. There is the Sela Administration. There is a country to go back to. So this is not a humanitarian catastrophe in the usual sense of the term. It is not an apocalypse. Nevertheless, there was something apocalyptic about the disengagement movie. It had the hair-raising quality of "Fahrenheit 451." The soldiers marching in rows into an urban center. The officers knocking politely on the door. The rapidly emptying grocery stores, the bulldozers leveling everything. And the precedent. This incomprehensible precedent. The coerced military evacuation of a civilian population in the 21st century. A tranquil postmodern cleansing of an entire district.

There was no other choice. The mistake that was made in establishing Gush Katif had to be rectified. The sin that was implicit in the entire settlement project demanded a solution. The daily injustice caused to 1.3 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip made the evacuation of the settlers on the Gaza coast unavoidable.

However, the necessity of the evacuation did not dim its cruelty. It did not annul the dangers latent in it. The danger of brutalization of Israeli society; the danger of militarization of Israeli society; the danger that the temptation to vanquish political rivals by force of arms will get the better of the need to talk to them. And the greatest danger of all: that the disengagement movie will turn out to be no more than the trailer: that the rewinding of the Zionist film will not stop at the border of the Green Line.

National desiresA great thing occurred in the disengagement: the Israeli majority realized itself. Through Ariel Sharon and through the Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli majority at last was extricated from the embrace of a fanatic minority that dominated the national agenda for 30 years. What was proved in August 2005 was that the State of Israel is victorious over the Land of Israel. That the nationalism of sovereignty restrains the nationalism of the patriarchal patrimony. After the era of the ethos of settlement and after the era of the ethos of peace, the turn has now arrived of the ethos of the border.

It is the power of this ethos that made it possible for the disengagement to triumph politically. Its power made it possible for the disengagement to be implemented militarily. Because of it, religious officers in the end preferred their commanding officers to their rabbis. It led to the majority of the settlers vacating their homes with heads bent. Because, despite the contentions against the way the disengagement decision was made, at the end of the day it was clear to everyone that it reflected a genuine national desire. A desire for sovereignty and rationality. A desire for morality and for nationhood. A desire to cleanse Zionism of the occupation.

In various senses, the disengagement proved the power of the Israeli phenomenon. Precisely the vast difficulty that was entailed in carrying out the surrealistic mission proved that Israel definitely has forces capable of fulfilling the mission. There is a republic, there is a government, there is operational capability. There is self-control and civil discipline. There is fraternity and there is mutual surety. There is the ability to live amid abysmal differences without falling into the abyss. And there is quite a bit in common. There is a developing ethos of a Jewish democratic state.

That is the reason that the disengagement was a struggle over identities and not a civil war. That is why it replaced bloodshed with a series of ceremonial confrontations. Nearly all the participants preferred a game over killing. As such, they proved that Israel 2005 is not only a realized statehood but is also an emerging culture, a culture that knows how to turn its game of life and death into a movie.

However, when all is said and done, what will remain is the reversibility. What will remain is the fact that Israel has an impressive ability to shred itself. And that what is done to Israelis residing on the land is not the same as what is done to non-Israelis residing on the land. For the very bulldozer that raised Israeli life onto the earth can also wipe it off the face of the earth as though it never was.

Up to a certain point, this ability is a blessing. As it was necessary to rewind the life movie of Gush Katif, so it will be necessary to rewind the life movie of most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. However, the rewinding of Zionism is not a vision. There is no future in rewinding Zionism. It also entails a great danger.

The whole Zionist project was founded on an almost demonic settlement principle: on the ability to create villages out of thin air. On the ability to turn the tissue of life into the flesh and blood of life. Outposts into settlements, settlements as outposts. The unintelligent use that was made of the principle of Zionist settlement since 1967 is now engendering an equally demonic phenomenon: turning substance into thin air, killing off the tissues of life, dismantling villages as though they were no more than military outposts.

Very late in the day, Israel has reached political maturity. Very late in the day, it is trying to correct the mistakes of its past; to restrain the messianism, to choose enlightenment. However, despite all the impressive enlightenment of the disengagement operation, it has to be understood that it scratched both the Israeli national psyche and the Palestinian national psyche. In both, it aroused from slumber the possibility of the disappearance of the Jews.

This is the deep-seated reason that it will be impossible to continue from disengagement from the Gaza Strip to disengagement from the West Bank. The next stage in the process will have to be completely different. It will have to anchor the rights of the Jews in this land and it will have to demarcate their national existence on a large scale. Only the realization of the border ethos will ensure that the next-withdrawal movie does not become a horror film. Only then, only when the border is established, will it be possible to determine whether the disengagement movie had a happy ending.