Yoel Bin-Nun
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In hindsight, was the withdrawal from Gaza moral?

When Israel 'occupied' Gaza there were fewer deaths. When it left, there were more. Isn't that a valid criterion of morality?
מצורפות בזו תמונות מהפינוי בתכנית ההתנתקות. בתמונה: כוחות צה"ל בכפר דרום, כמו כן, ניתן לצפות בתמונות ובקטעי וידאו נבחרים בארכיון התמונות של דובר צה”ל באמצעות שרת ה-FTP שכתובתו: Attached are photographs from the ongoing disengagement plan. Seen in photo: IDF soldiers at the Israeli community of Kefar Darom.  In addition, it is possible to view select stills and video clips from the image archives of the IDF Spokesperson's Bureau via FTP Server:
שם משתמש וסיסמא: User Name & Password: pressguest
The Evacuation of Kfar Darom, 18 August 2005. Source: Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson's Unit.

Before the withdrawal from Gaza, referred to by the Israeli government as the “Oslo I Accord” and later the “Disengagement,” even though in such a small country it was clear that it is impossible to truly detach from Gaza, the voices of Israelis who love morality and justice, and who believe in both Jewish and universal humanism, were heard declaring that “the occupation is destructive.”

These voices demanded that Israel retreat from Gaza not only for political and security reasons but mainly for moral reasons. They insisted that we stop behaving like people who lord it over others, who treat others like a rider treats his horse. Their main argument, of course, was based on a tradition of Jewish history and Jewish morality.

I have always been convinced that only hatred is destructive, and there is no difference between “occupation” and “withdrawal,” nor between wartime and peacetime. Hatred is the reaction of the human soul to threats and a sense of fear. It is hatred that brings out all the evil in man, for the sake of self-defense that is justified or unjustified, or even illusory. In fact, it is most powerful when the threat is illusory, such as for example, the imaginary “Jewish threat” against the Gentile world, which is the basis of antisemitic hatred.

A good soldier is a soldier who does not hate because he is not afraid. Together with my comrades-in-arms, I fought against Jordanians and Egyptians (in Jerusalem during the Six Day War, and in the Suez in the Yom Kippur War), but we didn’t hate them because we were not afraid of them.

But those fighting to “end the occupation” because it is “destructive” never listened. Even today, they continue to preach the “end of the occupation” in Judea and Samaria mainly for moral/ethical reasons. However, does the moral calculation also include human life? Of Israelis? Of Palestinians? Does the destruction of Jewish settlements also have moral significance?

Eighteen years after the Israeli destruction of the settlements in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip as part of the Disengagement, we can honestly examine the results – not only from a security and political point of view, but first and foremost from a moral perspective. Consider the following:

  1. In the 38 years of IDF control over Gaza (from the Six Day War until the “disengagement”), approximately 230 Israelis and 2,640 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip (according to the official numbers), most of them, of course, in the waves of uprisings initiated by the Palestinians.
  2. In the 10 years after the withdrawal of the IDF (until after Operation Protective Edge in 2014), more than 100 Israelis and more than 4,000 Palestinians were killed along the border of the Gaza Strip as a result of shootings from Gaza, most of them as a result of Palestinian attacks (according to Wikipedia, the numbers are 106 Israelis and 4,064 Palestinians, but it appears to me that the actual numbers are higher).
  3. In the six years from the end of Operation Protective Edge until just before the current fighting, more than 70 Israelis were killed in Gaza and the surrounding areas, and between 1,700 and 2,880 Palestinians (according to various sources).
  4. In the current war, over 1,500 Israelis and foreign citizens were killed in the October 7 massacre! More than 200 IDF fighters have fallen so far in Gaza since the beginning of the ground maneuver, and Hamas’s official reports claim more than 26,000 Palestinian deaths!
  5. We can only conclude that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza led to a shocking increase in the number of Israeli deaths and an even more dramatic increase in the number of Palestinian deaths. This is a terrible moral failure.
  6. This result could have easily been foretold. In a personal conversation with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during the talks about the first withdrawal of “Oslo I,” Rabin explained to me his support for the Jewish settlements in Gush Katif, saying: “If we do not sit in Katif, the Hamas terrorism will be there.”
  7. The lives of the Palestinians in Gaza were severely affected by the loss of jobs in Israel and by the war against Israel launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The oppression of Palestinians by the Palestinian government, especially that of Hamas, is also much worse than any Israeli oppression at the time that the Israeli military ruled in Gaza.
  8. For example, about 5,000 Palestinians worked and earned a decent living in Gush Katif greenhouses. The European Union invested large sums of money to purchase those greenhouses from the Israeli owners before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza so that the Palestinian workers would continue to work and earn a living there. All of this was for naught because Islamic Jihad and Hamas took over the areas of the destroyed settlements and the greenhouses were dismantled and obliterated.
  9. Twenty-one prosperous Jewish settlements in Gaza, both large and small, were completely destroyed and their residents displaced in the “Disengagement.” Think for a moment of 21 Palestinian villages, large and small, that might be displaced for the sake of one agreement or another. No “moral” person would accept the destruction of even a single Palestinian village for the sake of any “peace agreement,” but Israeli Jews apparently do not have basic human rights in the eyes of the supporters of withdrawal and “disengagement.” Perhaps this is because we are perceived by them as a colonial “immigrant people” and not a “native people.” This is only one word for such an attitude: Racism.
  10. A Jewish state must accept the “other” and those who are “different,” especially a large Palestinian population, but a Palestinian state (in the eyes of its supporters) is supposed to be Judenrein – “clean” of Jewish-Israelis. There is only one word for this: Racism.

From a purely moral perspective, the Israeli withdrawals from Gaza were an extremely serious failure, but those people claiming the moral high ground close their eyes to this reality and do not hesitate to mouth false slogans. Like cultish “religious” believers, harsh reality does not affect their views at all.

Their argument is that the “occupation” has not really ended because Israel surrounds Gaza on all sides, by sea and on land. In other words, the “occupation” will only end when the Palestinians in Gaza are given a free port and an airport (without Israeli oversight). Nevermind that, based on the goals they explicitly declare every day, they would use these assets to build up a military force over and above their terror tunnels in order to destroy “the Zionist settlement” not only in and around Gaza but to liberate “occupied Palestinian lands” all over Israel.

Indeed, I have asked educated, cultured Israeli Palestinians, who, to the best of my knowledge, are far removed from terrorism: When did the “Zionist occupation” begin? They told me, in 1948. I then asked whether there was another opinion. They told me, yes, in 1917, and some say in 1882. I asked whether there is a Palestinian who thinks that “the occupation” began in 1967, and I was told that no, no one believes that.

The moral conclusion is clear: Withdrawals are much more destructive than Israeli control. They increase hatred and are the true obstacles to peace.

This article is an updated version of an article I wrote six years ago.

About the Author
Dr. Rabbi Yoel bin Nun is one of the founders of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He received his rabbinic training at Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav and his Ph.D. from Hebrew University. In 1986, he established Michlelet Yaakov Herzog for training Jewish Studies teachers, especially in Bible instruction. Between 2000-2006 he served as the Rosh Ha-Yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKibbutz HaDati in Ein Tzurim.
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