This traumatic departure is so divisive in Israel that it threatens to split the country. Just as the Israeli cabinet voted its final approval for the plan by a 17-5 margin, Sharon’s popular finance minister, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned his post in protest. Only a slim majority of the Israeli electorate backs the Sharon government’s plan to remove Jews from the Strip, along with the Israeli troops based there to protect the settlers (the government refuses to disclose how many).
The Strip takes its name from the city of Gaza, mentioned in the Bible as a Philistine city in the days of ancient Israel. The Strip is small by any standards. It measures 11 km (nearly 7 miles) at the Egyptian border, 51 km (about 32 miles) bordering Israel and 40 km (nearly 25 miles) of coastline along the Mediterranean. The area inhabited by Jewish settlers, Gush Katif, is but a sliver of a sliver, a rectangle about 4 x 1 km in the corner of the Strip (the 4 km along the Mediterranean and 1 km along the Egyptian border).
Prime Minister Sharon once encouraged Jews to settle in the region, promising that they would always have the protection of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Now his government has reversed that policy, and it stands poised with over 40,000 troops and police to evacuate—forcibly if necessary—every Jewish settler. Some IDF troops are refusing to participate.
So, why is the disengagement from this small territory so controversial? What are the likely consequences?
Obviously, those Jews who made the region their home—some for nearly four decades—are distraught at having to leave the area they beautified and developed. But the real issue is security, for Israel is removing its military bases from the Strip. Mr. Netanyahu voiced the concerns of Israelis and supporters of Israel in the West: This pullout will likely lead to more Palestinian terror attacks against Israel.
Political columnist Cal Thomas went even further in his August 4 piece posted on Townhall.com, calling this an irreversible step in the complete disappearance of Israel. “Does anyone doubt that the moment (or even before the moment) the last Jewish ‘settler’ is dislodged from Gaza and the last thriving business closed, that Hamas … will rush into Gaza, expand their terror operation and begin close-up attacks on Israel?”
As soon as the IDF withdraws, the PA’s security forces will immediately be thrown into a power struggle with Hamas’ terrorist “army” (which may number up to 10,000 strong) for the control of the Strip. Israel will then be so small that it may not win another war against those who seek its destruction.
Thomas bluntly asks: “Has anything changed in the Palestinian and Arab world? Has the rhetoric in mosques, schools and media cooled toward Israel or the objective of eliminating it? It has not. If anything, the rhetoric has become even more volatile” (“The End of Israel?,” (c) 2005 Tribune Media Services).
Interest in the disengagement is gripping the entire world. Twice as many foreign journalists have descended upon Jerusalem to cover the story than those who came to cover the Iraq war of 2003. Undoubtedly, most of the 4,000 journalists will cast their reporting in a much different light than Mr. Thomas’ perspective, for much of the world appears to believe that Israel is the aggressor, and that the Palestinians are the victims.
Yet, on the same day that Cal Thomas’ column was published, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei declared to thousands of cheering Palestinians in Gaza City that the disengagement was but the first step in the “liberation” of all of Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital. His intentions are plain.
Israel is just as adamant that it will never relinquish control of Jerusalem, meaning that this tired and troubled city will remain the focal point of the world’s most divisive ideological passions.