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Nimrod Dweck
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Gush Katif was never the paradise you remember

Re-occupying Gaza would harm the Zionist enterprise and risk a return to the bloodshed of the intifada years
In this 2004 file photo, an IDF soldier guards Palestinian workers at the Erez border checkpoint in Gaza following an attack by female suicide bomber. April 18, 2004 (Flash90)
In this 2004 file photo, an IDF soldier guards Palestinian workers at the Erez border checkpoint in Gaza following an attack by female suicide bomber. April 18, 2004 (Flash90)

During my high school years and military service, the Gaza Strip was not a magical place. Gush Katif was not the promised land of our ancestors. Instead, the settlement bloc and the entire Gaza Strip were a bloody cesspool that claimed the lives of many of my peers.

Today, extremist settlers are taking advantage of the war and calling for a return to Gush Katif, the Israeli settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip that was evacuated in 2005 with the Israeli disengagement from Gaza.

All the leaders of the emergency unity government have rejected the idea outright. And yet, Daniela Weiss and Yossi Dagan, leaders of the radical factions in the settlers movement registered dozens of families for settlement nuclei. They made sure to publish polls to test the willingness of the public and embarked on a campaign during the war to carry this out.

The return to Gush Katif would be an indelible stain on the Zionist dream. If this is what the settlement leadership in Israel is aiming for as a reward for this bloody war, we are in serious trouble.

Until the evacuation of Gush Katif and the Gaza Strip in 2005, more than 100 soldiers were killed to protect the 8,600 settlers who made their homes there. They arrived there on a Zionist mission, settling in the heart of a hostile population with the hope that this would complete the Zionist vision of resettling the Land of Israel. It was not a successful endeavor.

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech addresses a crowd of hundreds of activists, on the backdrop of a sign that says, ‘Returning to Gaza Strip, Settlements Bring Security,’ in Ashdod on November 22, 2023. (Mati Wagner / The Times of Israel)

The economy did not flourish, and most of the Israelis who settled there depended on public service jobs. A few established a beautiful agricultural enterprise, relying on thousands of foreign and Palestinian workers. But the constant friction with the Palestinians was present and gradually became violent and deadly.

It was a broken dream from the start. The names of the settlements and the Israeli-built roads expressed hope for a better future. Take for example the name of the road Tzir Kissufim, a path of longing, as deceptive as that name is. Longing for what? Tzir Kissufim took a bloody toll of dozens of deaths over the years. Headlines frequently reported casualties in the Strip. We were like Samson in the Philistine temple, blinded and surrounded by hostile enemies.

Until the disengagement, the price of staying in Gaza soared. No one longs to return to the funerals, or to the regular stream of grim news. A competitor with Kissufim for the bloodiest road in Gaza was the Philadelphi Corridor. This road separating Gaza from Egypt became a target for attacks and taught an entire country about IEDs, improvised explosive devices, used against armored vehicles and tanks. Between 2000-2003, more than 400 IEDs were used against the IDF on the Philadelphi Corridor. In the attacks of May 2004, 13 soldiers were killed in two attacks in two days.

This broken dream led to the decision to disengage from Gaza. It is debatable whether the settlers were expelled or evacuated. But in cold analysis, the evacuation of the small group of settlers was not an act of expulsion, but a legitimate Zionist decision taken by a right-wing government. 

The role of a Zionist government in Israel is to ensure the safe existence of the democratic national home and to secure a solid Jewish majority in it, according to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The national settlement movement, in all regions of the land, works to serve these principles. Sometimes you have to settle, sometimes you have to evacuate, depending on the national interest. The disengagement from Gaza was a Zionist act. 

In 2000, one million Palestinians lived in the Gaza Strip, today the number has doubled and it is estimated that about 2 million people are living there. Holding the Gaza Strip, without giving rights to the Palestinians, was a major blot on the Zionist enterprise.

Israel entered Gaza to return the hostages to their homes and to ensure the absolute security of the western Negev. We are fighting in Gaza to defeat an enemy who wants to destroy our national home from the Jordan River to the sea. Resettlement in the Gaza Strip is not only not a part of the operation’s goals, it would harm the Zionist enterprise. 

Accomplishing what the zealots demand would require the moderate Israeli majority to pay a heavy price in blood. It would require the army to bog itself down securing settlements in the heart of a population hostile to the Zionist vision. It would make it substantially more difficult to ensure a solid Jewish majority. The time has come for the settlement leadership in Israel to rethink this vision.

About the Author
Nimrod Dweck is CEO and co-founder of the Darkenu movement.
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