Taibeh Is Not Netzarim

It isn't nice to dismantle entire communities and force them to move to other places. This has happened more than once in Israel, mainly to Arabs and, as a result of the peace treaty with Egypt - also to Jews.

It isn't nice to force someone to leave his home. It is even less nice to dismantle entire communities and force them to move to other places. This has happened more than once in Israel, mainly to Arabs and, as a result of the peace treaty with Egypt - also to Jews.

It isn't nice to break an explicit promise to the electorate. This too has happened more than once. Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was elected on the basis of the promise that he would not conduct negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and he signed the Oslo agreement. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised his voters that he would not dismantle Jewish settlements in the territories. It would have been proper had Rabin gone back to the public and asked for its agreement; it would also be proper for Sharon to go back to the electorate.

However, in their struggle against the dismantling of the Jewish settlements in the territories, the opponents to the plan are depicting the imposed evacuation as "expulsion," "transfer" and "a crime against humanity." The meaning of the claim is clear: If it is permissible to expel Jews, it is also permissible to transfer Arabs. The same rule applies to Netzarim and to Taibeh, they argue again and again and pose a challenge to the left: Wouldn't you lie down on the roads to prevent an evacuation of Taibeh?

Many of those who are propounding this argument justify the expulsion of Arabs with no connection to the dismantling of the settlements. But the claim that expulsion-is-expulsion-is-expulsion nevertheless demands an answer. The answer is that Taibeh is not Netzarim.

The Jewish settlements in the territories that were occupied in 1967 were established as an official state act, or with the state's approval, usually at its expense. Their civilian appearance is often deceptive: Many of them have remained a kind of military or semi-military colony. They were aimed at advancing a political, national aim; many of the settlers saw themselves as emissaries of the people and the Zionist idea.

They should not have settled there from the outset and now their mission has come to an end. They are coming home. They are getting compensation. They must not be treated ungenerously: It is not easy to pack up a home and build a life somewhere else. There must be no ignoring of the genuine grief that is involved in the dismantling of these communities. But this too must be remembered: The willingness to compensate the settlers and their willingness to take the money also demonstrate their status as emissaries of the state. They do not resemble the pioneers in the United States who set out to try their luck in the West, a private initiative that had its risks. They do not resemble the Whites in South Africa, who have been living there for 500 years without another homeland. The settlers have been living where they are living for a relatively short time; there has always been a question mark hovering over their future and the possibility that they would be required to leave has always been open.

The state is bringing them back in the same way it would bring back a consul who falls in love with the country in which he is serving and wants to remain there.

Only a mean fanatic or a wicked demagogue will not make the distinction between settler-emissaries whose mission the state decides to end and the expulsion of an ordinary civilian population that has been living in a place since time immemorial. The Arabs here, in Israel and in the territories, are not living in their homes by virtue of government decisions; their cities and their villages did not arise conditionally in order to advance a defined state aim that requires reevaluation. They are not Zionist emissaries. Moreover, the Arabs of the territories, unlike the settlers, do not belong to a public that has been granted the possibility of participating in a democratic decision about Israel's policy.

The current debate does not deal, of course, only with the struggle over the settlements in the Gaza Strip, or even only the political future of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It is a matter of the future of the relations between Israel and the Palestinians. But no, there is no need to return, on the occasion of the dismantling of the settlements, to the ideological debate about the justness of Zionism and the existence of the state. This is because there is no equivalence between the existence of the state on the one hand and its control of all the territories that it has the power to occupy and settle on the other. Israel has already evacuated territories and dismantled settlements, not in fact in moments of defeat, but rather as a result of circumstances that changed and a new policy.

The urge to occupy, to settle and to expel has also been repressed more than once, for diplomatic and military and perhaps also moral reasons. "With no difficulty we could have taken Cairo, Amman and Damascus," wrote Yitzhak Rabin after the Six-Day War. They decided that it was better without them.