Asher Ragen is a Ph.D candidate at Harvard’s School of Near Eastern Studies, and a reservist in the IDF. Here he offers an indelible perspective on the Gaza withdrawal.
As family after family is evicted from a home and a community, as the synagogues are emptied and the nurseries abandoned, the scale of destruction and suffering seems overwhelming. Equally overwhelming is the ease with which four decades of work and love invested in communities can be effaced. Is it really that easy to destroy what we have built? Is nothing about this state permanent?
Destruction on this magnitude demands an explanation. Yet search as one might through the “critical” analysis of the barrage of experts and pundits, no rational explanation is to be found. Hopefully the magnitude of suffering witnessed now daily will warn us of those flippant, vacuous answers heard too often. One needs to do better than callously remark, “Well, we couldn’t stay there forever”. None of us will live forever, either. The “forever” argument, intimating a knowledge of a future decades away, sounds doubly strange coming from a leadership that lacks a vision for the coming January, let alone “forever.” It does not explain why this had to happen; why now? Why in this manner? Why was this done without elections? Why did the people not even get a chance to plead for themselves? Surely if forever is our time scale, a few more months would hardly matter.
Perhaps sometimes it is necessary to destroy. But the previous occasion — the destruction of Yamit — should serve as a yardstick. When Yamit was destroyed, it was done for the sake of a peace agreement with the largest Arab nation and the bitterest of enemies. It was done after Saddat arrived in Jerusalem, and after the peace agreement was ratified by an overwhelming majority in the Knesset. There was a real sense that the Middle East was about to change forever. Against such a background, the pain and suffering experienced in Yamit could be contextualized. It offered such tremendous benefits to the entire state, that it truly seemed wrong to let the settlements of Yamit stand in the way.
But what benefits are being offered here? The Palestinians have patiently explained, repeatedly, that this will change nothing. On the contrary, they are now assured of two crucial facts: Terrorism works, and there is no limit to what Israel will give. Some people believe that “at least no soldiers will have to die in Gaza”. While I admire a fervent belief in the powers beyond our control, such religious zeal should really not interfere with rational security considerations. When the qassam missiles fall again in Sderot and beyond (and fall they will), Israel will immediately wait until there are significant civilian casualties. It will then threaten to really, really, retaliate. And when (surprise!) this threat is ignored, it will once again send soldiers into Gaza. Except this time they will face a well armed and prepared enemy, intent on exacting the highest price. And as for Sharon’s threats — well, not everyone is as frightened by the old man as his party yes-men.
The final straw being grasped at simply illustrates the disengagement from logic that this process entails. We are now told that we must leave Gaza because of the “demographic threat.” Demography never killed anyone, however. And drawing artificial lines in the sand will not reduce the number of Arabs intent on murdering Jews. Slice and dice the state of Israel as you like, the Jews will remain a miniscule minority in the Middle East. And at any rate, “demographic threats” materialize over generations. Or not. If one insists on looking for a rational within the confines of academia, he would do better to turn to the department of Psychology.
Because not everyone watching the scenes from Gush Katif is moved to
tears. Some people have complaints about the aesthetics of the
deportation. These multiple “Miss Manners” have very clear ideas
about the etiquette of being thrown out of your home. They lament
the “barbaric” lack of decorum exhibited by parents who have just had
everything taken from them.
Perhaps this reaction is the most revealing of all. It comes closest to explaining why this is all happening. The rational underpinnings for the “disengagement” are slim indeed. But the irrational, violent hatred aimed at the victims of this madness compensate adequately.
The rhetorical arsenal deployed against the citizens of Gush Katif is
overpowering. For the most part, these people have never been
convicted of crimes, they serve in the army, run productive business
and pay taxes. They have been described alternately as messianic
fanatics, religious zealots, or violent threats to democracy. Mostly
they are farmers. Throughout these difficult days they behaved with
a dignity of spirit that strangely enough is uplifting.
As much as we are learning about the settlers (though anyone who
spent any time with them is hardly surprised), we are learning quite
a bit more about the Israeli left. To anyone who thought the people
on the left simply possess a soul deeply attuned to human suffering;
to anyone who believed their cries of empathy for every displaced
Palestinian, every uprooted olive tree, were born of a basic human
solidarity that just cannot overlook a suffering human being,
regardless of the context; this week was an eye-opener. It seems
that they are quite able to look upon human suffering and dismiss it
with the quip, “Well, they had it coming”.
Since the destruction of Gush Katif is not a means to anything, it
must be the end in itself. There is a desire, a yearning even, to
“take on the settlers” and destroy these communities regardless of
any political advantage. The battle has been described by some as
“Israelis vs. the Jews.” This formulation is worth noting. One might think there was no dichotomy between Israeli and Jew. Israel is the Jewish State, is it not? But for some creating this dichotomy, this clear distinction between Israeli and Jew, is actually the purpose of this entire exercise.
To these people, the main obstacle to achieving peace is the pesky Jewish-ness of the conflict. Israelis, Jordanians, and Lebanese
could get along just fine. It’s the Jews and Arabs who can’t live in
peace. It is not quite that the settlers are being singled out because they are Jewish. Or that everyone who supports their eviction is somehow not Jewish. But the willingness to inflict so much pain, without even telling them why, bespeaks of a fundamental disconnect within the nation. Of people who insist on not viewing the settlers are their own people.
At its core the disengagement is a literary move. The settlers, with
their long beards and multiple children, represent the unmistakable
Jewish-ness of the nation. The thousand of soldiers and police men
represent the Nation. By manufacturing these images that pit Israeli
soldier against Jewish settler, a distinction is created that can
never again be ignored. It is the most painful literary exercise in
The irony is that on one level they are correct. The core of the
problem is the Jewish-ness of the nation. But by seeking to rip it
out of their own body, they are making the most typically Jewish move
of all. In this century the assimilated Jews of Germany reacted to
the virulent anti-Semitism of the Germans by attacking the uncultured
oustenjuden from Poland. It was because they insisted on being so
damn different that the Germans hated the Jews. But of course when
the time came, the Germans made no note of this internal Jewish
hairsplitting. The Palestinians are equally unimpressed with this
display of enmity that the Jewish state has put on. They are all
Jews and they are all settlers, and their fate should be the same.
When Abu Mazen speaks of marching to Jerusalem, he is not thinking of
just East Jerusalem.
Among the numerous tragedies that unfolded this week, there is also
this: in a year, all of the politicians who supported this plan will
be gone. Just like the architects of Oslo, they will be relegated to
the overflowing dustbin of Israeli political failures. But the self-
inflicted wounds of this psychotic episode will continue to bleed.
One can only hope that they have not been fatal.