Photo: Ronny Sofer
Arieli (L) at the meeting
Photo: Ronny Sofer
Photo: Ronny Sofer
Former Gaza Strip commander. Arieli
Photo: Ronny Sofer

When leftist meets evacuees

Gaza evacuees still living in tent encampment meet Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, who represents in their eyes everything that caused their eviction; however, both parties agree PM Olmert's convergence plan will be bad for Israel

Some 247 days after they were evacuated from their homes in the Gaza settlement of Elei Sinai, about 35 families are still living in their protest tent in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, south of Ashkelon. Without any reinforced rooms, without walls to protect them, only canvas and nylon sheets and the sound of IDF shelling in the background.


But Elei Sinai evacuees are no longer moved. They heard the firing before the evacuation, and now it is just continuing as far as they are concerned. The situation, however, has become less comfortable. There is no home to protect, there is only a tent.


Their guest, Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, used to be the brigade commander of their zone when they still lived in their community. Now he visits them as a Meretz activist and as a member of the Council for Peace and Security's management.


The meeting held Monday is emotionally charged. As far as they are concerned, he is a leftist representing everything that caused their eviction. He views them as citizens paying an unnecessary price, on the way to peace which may still be reached if we just do the right thing, if we only give one more chance.


The two sides are too excited to reveal that they both agree that the Gaza disengagement, the way it was conducted, led to a dead end. They agree on one thing – they don’t believe Ehud Olmert, who said his unilateral convergence plan from the West Bank will only be good for Israel.

247 days in tents. Arieli with Elei Sinai evacuees (Photo: Ronny Sofer)


Although former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carried out the Gaza disengagement, the Elei Sinai settlers living in tents since the evacuation still accuse Arieli, the leftist, of being responsible for their eviction. He tries to explain to them that he opposed the pullout from Gaza the way it was carried out by Sharon, Olmert, Livni and Mofaz, but to no avail.


'Murder doesn't have to be physical'


"I know people like you," says Yossi Barbi, 50. "I still remember Yossi Beilin at Avi Farhan's fish restaurant on (the settlement of) Dugit's beach in 1994, talking about peace with the Palestinians and saying that if they don't meet the agreement's conditions we will hit them hard. The Left's promises can't be trusted."


His friend, B.A., tells Arieli: "You don’t know what it did to us. This evacuation mentally killed me. A murder doesn’t have to be physical."


Dror Maoz, a 39-year-old architect, tells Arieli, who brought with him a booklet he wrote about exchanging populated territories between Israel and the Palestinians: "If the energy you invested in your book would have been devoted to your brothers abandoned here at the junction, it would have been much more important for the people of Israel."


Barbi adds: "If not for all these ideas of yours, which caused our eviction and uprooting, no Qassams would be fired today at Ashkelon and the entire area. As far as I am concerned, I would today take bulldozers and a D9 and flatten the entire area from Beit Hanoun to Rafah. Instead of this, because of these irresponsible ideas that the disengagement will lead to peace."

Agree unilateral convergence won't be good for Israel (Photo: Ronny Sofer)


Colonel Arieli is personally familiar with Barbi and his friends, who gathered around the table in the middle of the tent encampment. Since serving as commander of the Northern Brigade, he has stood in front of them and heard their claims.


"I am the last one you should complain to," he tells them. "I warned, and the things are written in many of my publications, that a partial and unilateral withdrawal, like the disengagement, would bring Hamas to power. We warned that the fire would be resumed here."


"The disengagement, in the Israeli government's original decision, is a step in itself which does not depend on other steps that have to be taken to solve the entire Palestinian-Israeli problem. It's a mistake you paid a personal heavy price for, which bears no benefit for the State of Israel," Arieli says.


'Convergence a mistake'


Later, when they all go up to an observation post between the two walls delimiting the community of Nativ Haasara from the south and preventing Palestinian fire into the Israeli neighbors' homes, Arieli tries to organize his thoughts.


"Sharon's disengagement plan and Ehud Olmert's convergence plan are a mistake. This is not the way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he says, facing the smoke and dust following IDF's artillery fire toward Bei Hanoun.


"Also new Prime Minister Olmert's plan will lead to the same result, firing of Qassams and Grads at Israel. But them the front won't only be here in the south, it will also encircle the State of Israel's eastern border," he adds.  

Knows the residents from his military services (Photo: Ronny Sofer)


"During Sharon's disengagement from Gaza, the Palestinians earned big time. This happened due to our political short-sightedness. There is still a chance for peace, and for it I am still ready to even talk to Hamas, if it meets the preconditions set by the Quartet. In other words, I am also ready to talk to (Palestinian Prime Minister) Ismail Haniyeh if he recognizes Israel, if he recognizes past agreements and if he renounces terror," Arieli states.


He goes on to say that "the way to peace is a way of mutual and complete trust. It has to meet four conditions: A solution to the refugees' problem not on Israel's expense, a return to the 1967 borders and territory exchanges on the basis of 242, a division of east Jerusalem according to the demographic principle and halting violence and terror."


'State is dying'


"Meeting these conditions will give the Palestinian people hope for a sovereign state of their own, on 100 percent of the Palestinian territories. It will allow (Palestinian Authority Chairman) Abbas to lead his people to full peace with us, backed by the Arab League, the United Nations, the Quartet and the entire world," he adds.


Behind the jeep heading north from the war land on the Gaza border, the shelling sounds continue. In a short while, the people of Israel will commemorate the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.


I go back to what B.A. told Arieli: "The plan you are talking about for peace with the Palestinians, on the eve of Holocaust Day, marks the beginning of the death of the State of Israel. After all that we have been through here, from the eviction to the Qassam fire, I feel that this state is dying, if it has not already died."


And Arieli answers him: "My plan, two generations after the Holocaust, is the hope for life."


פרסום ראשון: 04.28.06, 22:13
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