The Tragedy of Gush Katif

Eight years have passed since the devastating expulsion of nearly 10,000 Jews from their homes in Gush Katif. Considering that there is talk of another expulsion, this time from Yehudah and Shomron, it’s worth looking at how the government of Ariel Sharon managed to convince the Knesset and large parts of the country to go along with a move that defied logic.

The government managed to convince the public to go along with the painful expulsion by promising the public two things: the move would enhance Israel’s security; and all the Jews who were evacuated would have new homes within a year.

The second promise was made because Am Yisrael are rachmanim bnei rachmanim. The Sharon government could not have gotten away with the disengagement — throwing an idealistic population out of the homes they built at the request of the government — without assuring the public that the evacuees would quickly be able to rebuild their lives.

And so Sharon, the one who famously signed a piece of blank paper and told his senior aides to go ahead and promise anything to potential coalition partners because  he had no intention of honoring it anyway, promised that the Jews of Gush Katif would be in their new homes within a year.

The reality? Eight years later, 50 percent are still in temporary quarters, according to the Council for Gush Katif Evictees. The reality? Eight years later, unemployment among the expellees stands at 16%, four times more than in Gush Katif before the evacuation. The reality? Families have suffered untold emotional stress that has impacted on parents’ relationships with their children and with each other.

This tragic situation is criminal. A government that could evacuate thriving communities in a matter of weeks could certainly have managed to build the expellees housing in less than eight years.

But the expulsion was apparently an urgent priority, even though there was no serious pressure on the government to do such a thing — indeed, the Americans were caught by surprise by the plan. But taking care of those whose lives were shattered is obviously not a priority. This is disgraceful.

As to the first promise, that the so-called disengagement would improve Israel’s security position, it boggles the mind that a majority in the Knesset would blindly accept such nonsense.

It’s true that Israel’s diplomatic standing improved in the immediate aftermath of the expulsion. But all that admiration evaporated when the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza to neutralize the thousands of missiles that were falling on southern Israel.

There was no condemnation for the fact that Hamas used military force to expel the “moderate” Fatah, and that it held a million and a half people hostage as it fired on Israel, even after Israel left every last inch of Gaza. There was no condemnation of the Hamas regime for suppressing the human rights of its citizens. There was no condemnation of Hamas for turning Gaza into a terror state. The only condemnation came when Israel struck back to protect its citizens from relentless attacks that made normal life impossible.

The $64,000 question was how anyone could have believed that by withdrawing Israeli troops from Gaza, the enclave would become a quiet, pastoral area that turned its attention to creating jobs, building schools and hospitals, and ecological issues like bottle recycling, instead of launching attacks on Israel?

After all, when the IDF was stationed at the Philadelphia Corridor, it didn’t succeed completely in stanching the flow of weapons to Gaza. What would happen if there were no IDF troops there? Did anyone really believe that international observers, sitting behind remote screens, could block the flow of arms to Hamas?

Moreover, Hamas never lied about its intentions. It openly stated that it would continue its war on Israel. So why would Israel make it easier for them by pulling out of Gaza?

That which has happened in the years since the expulsion — with missiles reaching Ashdod, Ashkelon, Be’er Sheva, Kiryat Gat and the Yerushalayim area — should come as no surprise. What is absolutely shocking is that anyone could have believed in 2005 that there would have been any other outcome.

What prevented an open and fair debate on the wisdom of the disengagement was one thing: the leftist-dominated media. Desperate to “be rid” of Gaza, it ridiculed anyone who raised objections to the plan.

Today, the enormity of the mistake is obvious to all. As Benny Katzover, of the Council of Shomron Residents, put it: “Today, it is clearer than ever that the crime of eviction was an act of stupidity, security-wise.”

It is also becoming increasingly clear that it was an act of stupidity in terms of what it did to the evacuees and even to those who were called on to expel them. More and more security officials are coming forward to acknowledge that they suffer trauma from having being forced to evict such fine people from their homes.

It is unheard of for a government to admit its mistake and apologize, but on the eighth anniversary of the disengagement disaster, it is time for the government to do just that — to apologize to the security personnel it sent in to pull men, women and children from their homes, to the Israeli public that has suffered from thousands of missiles and, most importantly, to the nearly 10,000 who were uprooted.

The words must be accompanied by deeds: The government must ensure that all evacuees are housed in permanent homes and given employment by the end of the year.

It must also undertake not to repeat the disengagement disaster in Gaza. Peace should be negotiated only with sincere partners, with terms that are realistic and practical.