This month we mark the five-year anniversary of the Gaza Strip disengagement. Ever since then and to this day, at the opening of every government session Sunday, we see one minister or another raising the problem of Gush Katif evacuees. The comment is heard, but not recorded in the minutes, and the session continues while adhering to the planned agenda.
More than NIS 9 billion (more than $2 billion) had been spent by the State on the evacuees, yet an end to the spending does not appear in sight. According to the state comptroller’s report, as of 2007 each evacuated adult received more than NIS 650,000 (roughly $180,000) while each child received more than NIS 400,000 (roughly $110,000.) If only the State granted some of these rewards to the residents of peripheral communities across Israel.
There is no doubt that being uprooted from one’s home is a difficult experience, and it is doubly difficult to replicate the condescending lifestyle celebrated in Gaza anywhere else in Israel or on earth. A total of 8,000 Jews lived in Gaza in the midst of a million and a half Palestinians, while controlling a quarter of the Strip’s territory and using one third of its water.
Indeed, organic lettuce grown by the settlers enjoyed more water than an Arab child, and for a mere NIS 60 a day (roughly $17) you could employ a laborer from morning to night. In individual, selfish cost-benefit terms, it was heaven.
Yet for us, residents of the country, it cost a little more. One battalion was enough to control the Strip after it was conquered; yet 11 battalions were needed to protect Gaza settlers in the last years before the evacuation. As opposed to what they tell us today, Hamas and its military wing were born during the occupation, not after the evacuation (just like Hezbollah and its military arm and rockets came into being during Israel’s presence in Lebanon.)
Northern Negev residents (who later became known as Gaza-region residents) sustained Qassam rocket barrages before the disengagement. Ella Abukasis from Sderot, may she rest in peace, and Dana Galkowicz from Netiv Ha’asara, may she rest in peace, were killed before the disengagement. Many others were killed and wounded too. The first rocket was fired at Ashkelon in 2003, two years before the disengagement.
Occupation threatens our existence
The resistance to the evacuation, the orange festival, required the State to embark on a complex, expensive operation and the enlist tens of thousands of soldiers and police officers. Later, the settlers’ political lobby managed to prompt the establishment of a commission of inquiry headed by Supreme Court Justice Eliyahu Matza. The Matza committee ruled that Israeli governments failed in terms of conception, perception, and community rehabilitation – yet the evacuees sinned with their inflated demands and refusal to cooperate with authorities, deliberately conducting themselves in a small-minded, lazy manner.
The disengagement was carried out at a delay of many years, using a defective format coupled with a faulty regional and global marketing effort. However, the rationale, moral and political logic, and the security and economic benefit at the base of the disengagement remain intact and justified.
Now, Israel faces two fateful issues: Occupation and peace. The leftist doves believe that a direct link exists between occupation and peace. The rightist hawks are convinced that no occupation exists and that there is no chance for peace. Yet one aspect is certain and undisputable: The occupation can be terminated unilaterally. Peace requires a partner.
Israel can exist another 50 years without peace. Yet it would have trouble surviving another decade, with the occupation intact, as a Jewish nation-state that is democratic and legitimate.
Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat will be limping their way into negotiations for lack of other choice yet without purpose. Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak want the Palestinians to enter direct talks but hope that they’ll indeed do it without any purpose. This is how Abbas’ predecessor conducted himself, and this is what Netanyahu’s predecessors hoped for. For that reason, another disengagement is not only a matter of time – it is an existential need.
The next disengagement would have to be wiser, more secure, and marketed differently in the region and in the world – yet it is inevitable.
Amnon Abramovich is Channel 2’s news commentator
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