I was planning my wedding when the Disengagement Plan was announced. Under the Chuppah, every speech referenced this looming tragedy, blanketing our happiness with impending doom. The country was ripped apart by the very idea of evacuating Jews from their homes. The families living there had been subsidized and encouraged to settle the land. Like the pioneers, they built their neighborhoods with sweat and tears, immense love and a sense of true purpose.
For the months leading up to the evacuation, orange strips of fabric hung from side view mirrors and the wrists of teenagers. Referendums failed and then succeeded. Political partners became adversaries. People shouted at each other in the streets.
I was wasted with morning sickness when the day came, watching through tears as Israel erupted in a sea of orange and blue and army green. Images of young girls clinging to one another, weeping and praying for G-d to listen. Mothers prostrated on the land that used to be their gardens, begging G-d to reveal Himself and redeem them from their sorrow. Soldiers wearing kippas, sobbing as they escorted families from their homes, and then on horseback, hitting young protesters with batons.
Those indelible images remain engraved on the psyche of our nation, as traumatic as any war. Behind it all stood Arik Sharon, the hawk, the bear, the lion.
Now he is gone, his legacy tarnished by the Disengagement. Once a pillar of the Right, a founder of the settlement movement, remembered as an enemy of Zion by those who once lauded him. The laurels thrown at his feet now wreaths set upon his coffin. Across the world Western leaders join Israel in saying good bye while across the Arab world they rejoice in the death of a man blamed for massacres, occupations and stunning military victories. His family, having shed so many tears over the past eight years, remain in the shadows, hiding from the controversy that marred Sharon’s final move in a game that is still being played.
Here is my secret: I respected and supported Ariel Sharon. I was in favor of the Disengagement Plan. During those months I never spoke up as everyone around me called him a murderer, an animal, and worse. I never spoke up when at my own wedding people cried for the Jews of Gaza who would lose their homes. I never spoke up as a Jew, as a Zionist, for what I thought was necessary damage control.
The Intifada that Sharon had been blamed for was just beginning to cool to a simmer from the rolling boil it had been. We had been living in fear; staying home when we heard terror alerts on the radio, sitting far from windows in restaurants to protect ourselves from the inevitable shards of glass, getting on buses and then getting off again if something didn’t feel right. Something needed to be done, and Sharon was prepared to do it. I never did before, ashamed of supporting a plan condemned by everyone I knew, but now I need to speak up: I supported the Disengagement, as a Zionist.
Gush Katif was a region housing some 8,000 Jews, surrounded by 1.4 million Palestinians. Constant terror attacks necessitated unprecedented military presence to protect the families living in this small paradise of greenhouses, pristine beaches and quaint cottages. It was a thorn in the side of the peace process, and a thorn in the side of the war on terror. Soldiers were losing their lives for that small paradise, with no possible resolution to the demographic disaster that was Gaza in 2005.
I supported Sharon with the belief that by pulling back we would be able to rally our troops, build a real border and defend ourselves from the rage and hate and violence directed at us from the majority population in that part of Israel. It takes two separate countries to have a war, and with Neve Dekalim, Kfar Darom and others straddling the fence, I believed that the only way we would ever be able to secure our borders would be to remove those of us who were living on the wrong side of it.
This was a tough move, even for a tough man. It must have been intensely painful for Sharon to stand up in front of his nation and announce that he was effectively destroying everything he had worked so hard to build in Gaza. I wonder if he mourned this dream of settling the land as he did his first wife, his son. It hurt so much for those of us on the outside; I cannot imagine how painful it must have been from within. How painful for the soldiers, the families, and the Prime Minister. Sometimes military and political victories come at a high cost. Sharon lost his base, lost his platform, lost his party, lost his people. The evacuees lost their homes, their dreams of settling the Land of Israel, their livelihood. But I supported the Plan, secretly then and publicly now.
Now he is gone, and the Monday morning quarterbacks are crawling out of the wood work as the God-fearing fling stones at his memory rather than placing them respectfully on his tombstone. In retrospect I concede that the Israeli government bungled the Disengagement, leaving thousands homeless and unemployed for years on end, failing to fulfill their end of the bargain, defaulting on promised compensation. Now, nearly a decade on, we know that this move has not quieted our enemies. The missiles landing in our homes fired from homes that used to ours. But Sharon knew none of this. He wasn’t here. He had a plan. But we know nothing of this. He was not here. And now he is gone.
Now he is gone, and his detractors spit on his open grave and shout fire and brimstone as if they know G-d’s will, as if they know the final tally, as if over 70 years of service to the Jewish nation mean nothing. This great man, this hawk, this bear, this lion, who gave his entire life to Israel and its people. Who fought and bled and built and lost, and lost again. He did more for our people, for our homeland, than any of his detractors could imagine accomplishing in a lifetime. He was a man, fallible but not weak, gone but not forgotten.
I’m sorry I never spoke up before, staying silent while those around me cursed you. I won’t remain silent now. People call your death divine retribution, but it is not. It is the death of a statesman, a soldier, a Zionist, a father, husband, brother, friend. It is the death of a Jew who loved his people and their land enough to make huge sacrifices when necessary. Farewell, Arik. May your memory be blessed.