[[ Jerusalem Times : News ]]

August 19, 2005


This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin


Disengagement – off and running



The beginning of the disengagement overshadows almost everything that has happened this week in Israel. By Friday morning (August 18) fourteen of the twenty-one Gaza settlements have been evacuated, including the largest one Neve Dekelim, with nearly 500 occupied houses and hundreds of illegally present supporters of the Gaza settlers.  One of the surprises of the disengagement operation has been the use of the term “shabakhim” or shohim bilti khokiim - meaning illegally present.  Until now, this has been a term used exclusively for Palestinians who have illegally entered Israel, usually looking for work. Now the shabakhim include settlers from the West Bank and supporters of the Gaza settlers who managed to get into Gaza before the disengagement began.  The police spoke about 5,000 shabakhim in Gaza while independent media sources put their numbers closer to double that.


Although the evacuation of the settlements has proceeded more swiftly and easier than first thought, the fact that thousands of shabakhim managed to get through all of the checkpoint and barricades needs to be investigated.  After all it was the shabakhim who caused the greatest problems for the police and the army and demonstrated the highest use of violence.  The settler leaders called these youths on the rooftops the “cream” of Jewish young people. In light of their behavior, they are little more than juvenile delinquents who have no qualms about throwing paint, bleach, oil, and even acid on the police – and all in the name of values. I hope that the rule of law in Israel is imposed on these criminals, although I doubt that any of them will be tried and sentenced to any real prison time.


I have been watching the newscasts of the disengagement for more hours than I would like to admit. It is the best reality show that has been produced. As a critic though, I would say that it has been heavily over done. There was too much crying, too much hugging, too many orchestrated dramas, too much pushing and shoving and too much arrogance from the settlers. It seemed difficult to find settlers who did not invoke the holocaust in their dealings with the police and the army. All too many settlers and their spokespeople drew comparisons of the evacuation of the Gaza settlements to horrors such as Dachau and Auschwitz. They should be ashamed for even thinking there is a comparison. The height of their abuse of the memory of the Holocaust was the march of the young children, hands raised in the air, with orange Jewish stars stitched on their clothes. It is quite amazing that the soldiers and the police, especially the younger ones amongst them did not completely lose their tempers and compositions in the face of the horrible names that they were called. I certainly would have.


On Thursday night, the police and the army held their most difficult confrontation with the shabakhim who had taken hold of the roof-top of the Kfar Yam synagogue. Hundreds of wild youths trashed everything they could grab and throw onto the heads of the police climbing the ladders. At the same time, settler leaders and spokespeople were busy offering praise for the despicable behavior. They later had the nerve to say that this sight would be permanently engraved in the collective memory of the Jewish people. They were referring to the emotional site of the army physically removing religious Jews from a synagogue that they were “defending”. 


I think that they are right; the scene will be permanently engraved in our collective memory – this scene, perhaps more than any other proves that settlements can be dismantled. It proves that the settlers who have wielded so much control over Israeli governments since they began their settlement drives are not longer in control. The army and the police must be commended for their organization and behavior. I think that most people in Israel have raised their level of appreciation for both the army and the police. The police anmd army have proven that when they wish to disperse illegal gatherings and demonstrations, they can do it without using lethal force. Maybe they will remember this lesson the next time they confront Palestinians demonstrating against the wall.


Jewish Terror Hits Again


The low point of the week was another terror attack by a Jewish fanatic, Asher Weissgan, a secular settler from the West Bank. Weissgan, who Palestinian workers knew well (he was their driver) said that he was usually friendly and that they would never have suspected him as a terrorist. But he killed four Palestinians and wounded many others, after he stole the gun of a security guard.  He killed people that he knew, people that he spoke with and drank coffee with.  He apparently acted alone and there was universal condemnation of his actions across the Israeli political map.  His family also condemned the murders and disassociated themselves from his actions. He explained later that he was hoping to put a stop to the disengagement.  He expressed his hope that someone would kill Sharon.


Dov Weissglass, Sharon’s confidant and closet advisor commented that he had the task of calling Rafiq Husseini, the director of Abu Mazen’s office in order to convey Sharon’s condemnation of the Jewish terrorist and to offer condolences to the families of the victims. Weissglass said that he had grown accustomed to receiving the same kind of phone calls from the Palestinian Authority leadership, and in the past he took their words far less seriously. Now in the course of two weeks, Weissglass had to pass on similar words to the Palestinians on behalf of the Prime Minister.


Bibi who?


Last week was the announcement of the resignation of Binyamin Netanyahu (remember him?). He was quickly replaced by Ehud Olmert, who a senior official in the Finance Minister told me was already doing a great job and was much more pleasant to work with than Bibi (surprise, surprise!). The Israeli stock market rebounded immediately after the decline from the announcement of Bibi’s desertion. The stock market reached new highs this week – the investors seem to feel secure with the disengagement. 


After Bibi’s announcement he quickly left for the States. The press said that he was off on holiday, but upon his return, he said that he was meeting with potential investors who wanted to invest in Israel.  The truth on this question is not too important; anyway it is always difficult to know when Bibi is speaking the truth. The important thing here is that Bibi is not around. We didn’t see him in Gush Katif and other than a few short TV appearances; Bibi seems to be waiting in the corner to see the final results of the disengagement.  He is busy planning his attack should the disengagement go badly and should Palestinian violence emerge from Gaza after the Israeli evacuation. Bibi is planning to ride the wave of resentment against Sharon following the disengagement. But Bibi may be disappointed, if the Palestinians do manage to control Gaza and the violence from Gaza does not emerge.


Gaza and Israel


I had the pleasure of visiting Gaza this week after being issued a journalist card by the Government Press Office.  This is a magical document that allows for free movement.  This was my first visit to Gaza since December 2000. I visited on the day that the Palestinian forces were deploying all around the settlements in preparation for the disengagement.  From what I could see, there was significant movement going on. I spoke with two senior officials this week on the Israeli side who were both very involved with the planning and implementation of the disengagement.  Both of them commented on the seriousness of the Palestinian actions. Both spoke of a sense that the Palestinians were taking responsibility and that there was a chance that the Palestinian Authority could control Gaza following the disengagement. Both also praised Abu Mazen and other Palestinian leaders for calling to the public not to endanger the disengagement by responding violently to the murders committed by the Jewish terrorist. I must admit that I am not used to Israeli leaders complimenting Palestinian behavior.


I also got a sense from the Palestinians that I visited of cautious optimism.  Most of the Palestinians I spoke with this week were watching the Israeli disengagement in total awe. Most of them thought that the disengagement was only an Israeli ploy and that Israel would never evacuate settlements.



What will be left?


On Friday (August 19) the Israelis began to demolish the first homes in the settlements.  In a couple of the settlements, some settlers set their own houses on fire.  I was disgusted when I heard some settlers state that they couldn’t even contemplate the possibility that Arabs would live in their homes, these same people stated that instead of expelling the Jews from Gaza, the government should be busy expelling the Palestinians. Israel will continue with the demolitions and finalize the evacuation of settlers in the beginning half of next week.  It is sad but clear that the houses must be demolished.  Leaving them in place would only increase the resolve of the settlers to return.  The evacuation of Gaza by Israel must be complete. The cemeteries, synagogues and everything else symbolic of Israel’s too long stay in Gaza are also being removed.


There will be many questions facing the settlers over the coming months and years. Many of them truly believed that there would be a miracle and that the disengagement would not happen.  Most will blame the absence of the miracle on the non-believers – mostly from the center and left of Israel’s political map.  Some settlers will definitely face a crisis in their faith.  The messiah did not come. The seas did not part. Sharon did not die. The government did not fall and the army and the police did not refuse to evacuate them. Now they are in a period of mourning.  After the mourning, for some, will come a period of questioning and evaluation.


What ever will happen to them, it is quite clear that this experience has been traumatic for them. It is very difficult for me to feel empathy for them, but some of the individual stories have been quite touching and emotional.


But to put it all into proportions, Danny Rubenstein from Haaretz wrote this week about the losses that Palestinians have faced when they had to leave their homes without any prior notice or without any compensation. There are thousands of homeless Palestinians in Gaza who have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers over the past five years.


Another Israeli journalist also pointed out that 8,000 Israelis became homeless this year due to mortgage fault or for not being able to pay rent.  Where are the supporters of these people who have been thrown out of their homes?  Where is the empathy for them from political leaders?