The Lost Opportunity of Disengagement

On  July 23, MK Miri Regev apologized for the Disengagement, which was the expulsion of Jewish residents from Gaza by the Israeli government in 2005, which directly led to the Hamas government and current terror in the south of Israel.  Miri Regev was the IDF spokeswoman at the time.

Granted, at the time of the Disengagement, I was not yet a citizen, and had no say, one way or the other, but I wasn’t really opposed to it.  A government has the right to tell its residents where they can and cannot live. After all, I cannot build a house in the middle of a highway, just because I want to, and conversely, the government can bulldoze my house to build a highway in every country on Earth.

But a government’s right is only for those things which benefit the public and the Disengagement turned out to not be that.  Miri Regev was wrong about. And I was wrong about it, because I gave the Israeli government much more credit than it deserved.  The following is what I thought was supposed to happen, but first, some background.

  • In 1992, Israel had tried to deport about 400 Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza to Lebanon.  Lebanon refused to accept them and after about two months of camping out on the border, Israel was forced to take them back.
  • In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, allowing the Arabs “autonomy”, which is self-rule on a local level, but under the final authority of Israel.
  • In 1996, Israel finished building a barrier around Gaza.
  • In 2000, the barrier was largely destroyed, but was rebuilt with a one-kilometer buffer and a lot of high-tech features.
  • In 2005, the Israeli government kicked the 8,000 or so, Jewish residents out of Gaza in an act which traumatized the country to this day.

Israelis are very decent people, and have always just wanted to live here in peace.  Despite what the media says, Israelis have never really had the stomach for displacing or annihilating the non-Jewish population wholesale.  There are Arabs here who also just want to live in peace, and some would even be openly pro-Israel, if given the chance – like the Druze, or the residents of Abu Ghosh during the War of Independence.  The problem has always been, how to separate the wheat from the chaff? How do we offer a meaningful carrot and a meaningful stick?

Gaza seemed to me to be a good solution.  It has been called the world’s largest outdoor prison, and I assumed that was exactly the intention.  It would be our prison, but the inmates could run it, saving us some of the expense. If they ran it really well, they could build a paradise.  I don’t think anyone honestly thought that was going to happen, despite all of the pie-in-the-sky talk, and international investment, at the time.  As the term “Disengagement” implies, I figured whichever way it went, it wouldn’t be our problem. They could either build themselves up, let the international community support them on charity (with imports being checked by Israel, of course), or starve to death.

Regardless of how it was run, we’d have somewhere to put the malcontents.  Help us out, and we could offer you the carrot of living in the rest of the Land of Israel.  You want to leave altogether and resettle in Europe or the U.S.? – be our guest. But, if you decide to start an Intafada, we’ll just send you straight to the stick that would be Gaza.  We could even stop the wastefulness of destroying homes – or the silliness of destroying a room in a house. Just “deport” the family to Gaza. No other country would have to approve, since it would technically still be under Israeli control.  Since they’d have no independence, they wouldn’t have a choice but to take whomever was sent – unlike in 1992. Israel wouldn’t even need to pay for their upkeep in a conventional prison. The international community could rant all they wanted that it was a war crime, but they think Israelis breathing is a war crime, and what could they do?

Militarily, it would be – and is – much easier to defend.  Even with all of the terror tunnels, explosive kites and rockets, the barrier fence helps.  The Gaza border can be monitored. If someone comes near the fence, they can be shot. Even more so if they cross the fence.  Attacks, like rockets (how do they get rockets anyway?), could be dealt with more harshly, because the fact that someone was in Gaza would mean they were, a priori, not an innocent bystander.  By steadily shrinking the habitable area in response to aggression, the inhabitants would either learn to live beside Israel, or be pushed into the sea.

That is basically what I thought I would do, and what I assumed the government was doing by kicking Jews out of their homes.  But I gave them too much credit. “Disengagement” was anything but. Israel grants permission to Gazans to visit the mosques on the Temple Mount to inspire, and be inspired, to violence.  They grant work permits. They worry about how to build Gaza infrastructure. During a recent push to stop Israeli produce trade with Gaza, it was determined that Israeli producers were making too much money to give it up.  We shoot people in the legs (What’s up with that? I always learned that you never point a gun at someone unless you mean to kill them).

Worst of all, I don’t know of any deportations of convicted terrorists, or their families, to Gaza.  As late as two years ago, the idea was still being raised, but was blocked by the legal establishment (here).

Any advantage the Disengagement could have given has been squandered by everyone involved and Miri Regev should not be the only one to apologize.

About the Author
Reuven (sometimes Bobby) came from a mixed Jewish-Christian background. He became ba'al teshuva (Jewishly observant) in his 20s with the intention of making aliyah, which didn't happen until his 40s. His daughter, Shani, also blogs and serves in the IDF as a medic. She was a lone soldier until her parents made aliyah in 2017.
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