Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 removing just under 8,000 Israeli citizens from their homes and causing Israel to suffer the unparalleled strategic disaster of a Hamas takeover and constant rocket attacks. As a result of this disaster Hamas were able to gain a solid base for attacks against Israel that have kept coming since the withdrawal.
This is the narrative that now exists surrounding the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and it is all true, but the question is was the withdrawal a mistake? In the face of the above it would seem to be a ridiculous question, clearly it was a mistake to withdraw, look at all that has happened since!
Perhaps as well as looking at what happened after the withdrawal we should also look at what was happening beforehand. It’s all too easy to say that the withdrawal from Gaza proved to be a disaster in hindsight but to say so without looking at just how bad it was becoming in the Gaza Strip in the lead up to withdrawal is to ignore history.
In the year leading up to the withdrawal from Gaza Kassam rockets killed five people, in the year after the Israeli withdrawal the rockets had killed one. Two years after the withdrawal they had killed five and by the end of 2008 a total of seven people had been murdered by terrorist rockets. This marks a massive reduction in the lethality of Hamas and the so called Palestinian Resistance Committees in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal. In fact before the IDF left Gaza the method of response to terror attacks of all kinds had already been primarily transferred to the Israeli Air Force since IDF troops had extreme problems operating in the area.
By October 2004 there were no longer foot patrols in Gaza and soldiers posted to the Strip were guarding from fixed positions defending settlements that were constantly under fire. One soldier who was serving in the Nahal unit Gidud 50, who served in operation Days of Penitence in 2004 told me that “opening up with a MAG machine gun is what soldiers were used to when operating in in Gaza” and that there were regularly “shells falling inside the settlements, shells were landing a couple of hundred meters from where people were living and we couldn’t locate the source of the firing in order to return fire”.
The purpose of operation Days of Penitence was to end rocket fire but “as we know with rocket fire it tends to be hard to silence, the operation lasted several weeks but ultimately rockets continued and that wasn’t the end of the story” he added.
Fresh from the withdrawal from Lebanon the IDF was engaged in another guerilla war in Gaza that saw Kassam rockets killing Israeli civilians in Israel while Hamas and other terror groups used improvised explosive devices and their gunman to kill soldiers of the IDF inside Gaza proper. It’s hardly surprising that in this environment there was a feeling that evacuating Gaza was a priority.
In June 2005, just two months before the withdrawal seven soldiers and civilians were killed in terror attacks. In January 2005 12 people were killed by terrorists operating out of the Strip. Hamas had even advanced to conducting attacks around the Gaza Strip rather than just in it. This was before the withdrawal of the IDF. In December 2004 5 soldiers were killed at once when terrorists detonated a massive 1.5 tonnes of explosives underneath the Rafah crossing, it had gotten to the point where the army could no longer look after itself let alone settlers. It’s not surprising that the former military man Sharon looked at this situation and saw the writing on the wall.
The list of dead and wounded killed in Gaza when we were there provides a gruesome comparison as to the difference in casualties sustained in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal.
With all of the rocket barrages that have been launched against us and the terror attacks that have emanated from the Gaza Strip since August 2005, in terms of casualties we are actually better off now than we were when we were there and we are more able to defend ourselves now than we were when we were there. They myth that the Gaza withdrawal was actually a great disaster for us is not supported by the number of dead and wounded.
Before screaming about the suffering caused by the withdrawal it is worth considering just where we would be were we still occupying the Strip and just how long the monthly casualty lists would be. Then ask how many dead Israeli soldiers should we suffer before saying that enough is enough.
In the circumstances of the time I think that history has actually vindicated Sharon’s withdrawal rather than condemned it.