Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The future is not bright, but it is orange

Well, Arik Sharon seems to have got himself into a bit of a pickle over Gaza. He offers to unilaterally withdraw 8,000 settlers along with the 8,000 soldiers needed to stop the local Palestinians trying to butcher them, thereby freeing up a big slab of land in one of the world's most densely populated areas.

By doing so, he reneges on his previous understandings that he will not give away land that the Jews fought for centuries to get back, and paid for in cash (Kfar Darom was bought by citrus grower Tuvia Miller in 1930, and he in turn was bought out by the JNF in 1945), and in blood (Kfar Darom was the scene of a long and bloody siege by the Egyptians, who illegally occupied the Gaza Strip from '48 to '67 whilst the world, Arabs and Palestinians stood by and said nothing).

He is also giving up arable land developed from inhospitable sand dunes and shrubland. Israel has developed greenhouses and fields of crops at Gush Katif which employ 1,000 Palestinians on salaries 10 times as high as they would receive in Gaza City. In the peak seasons, this rises to 3,000 people. They don't want Israel to withdraw. Not only will they lose their livelihoods, but they recognise that the power vacuum will be filled by Hamas, who are not terribly interested in agriculture, science and progress.

In fact, Hamas are quite open about what the Disengagement means to them. Dr Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, says:

"The withdrawal, if it is implemented, is an important achievement by the Palestinian people, its intifada and armed struggle, its determination and great sacrifice, and confirms the willingness, correctness and usefulness of employing an armed struggle and its ability to attain political objectives."

So Hamas are not pulling their punches; they know terror is working well for the Palestinian cause. The Israelis know terror is working well for the Palestinian cause. BB Netanyahu says that the unintended result of retreating from Gaza will more realistically be to embolden terrorists to "continue their tactics until the completion of their ultimate goal: the destruction of Israel."

People of all ideologies, not just meshuggene settlers, believe that Jews should have the right to reside in Gaza, and are flying orange flags and wearing orange bracelets to show their anti-Disengagement sentiments. The population has swung from being largely in favour of Sharon's proposal to a good majority against it. Sharon has pushed it through against his own party's referendum vote, and forced it past a hostile Cabinet.

What the world has been keen to ignore is that Israel has a historic claim over most of Gaza. This would be very inconvenient - much easier to take a simplistic view on how many Palestinians live there compared to Jews, how much land each side has, and make a judgement as to which side is the artificial implant. Here are a few reasons why:

- The Old Testament mentions Gaza a number of times, and considered it part of Israel. Abraham was punished for abandoning part of it; the tribe of Judah inherited it; Solomon and Hezekiah reigned over it; the Maccabees liberated it and resettled Jews there in 96BCE.

- After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem as a centre for Jewish pilgrimage and prayer, the rabbis substituted Tiberias and Gaza as temporary pilgrimage sites from the years 135 to 600CE.

- Kfar Darom was re-established on the site of a 4th century Talmudic Jewish town of the same name, and so its history stretches even further back; Constantinus the Great tried and failed to convert them.

- Gazan Jews were producing wine so excellent it merited a mention in the travel journals of Georgio Gucci in 1384 and Meshulam of Volera in 1481.

- A Jewish community was in Gaza in 1488, and was mentioned in the diary of traveller Ovadia of Bartenura. This community was bolstered by the arrival from Spain of a large group of Jews headed by the Castil family, expelled by the Inquisition in 1492.

- Throughout the Ottoman period, Jews were encouraged to settle in the area. the Chief Rabbi of Gaza in the 17th century, Israel Najarah, composed "Yah Ribon" there, and was buried in Gaza. In 1648, Shabbatai Zvi declared himself the messiah there.

- One of the most ancient synagogues in the Middle East was in Gaza until Egypt's Ibrahim Pasha destroyed it in 1831. The hill on which it stood is still known as Khart Al-Yahood ("The Jewish Quarter").

- 11 kibbutzim were founded in Gaza before the 1947 partitioning and 1948 war put them on the "wrong side"; land which was bought fair and square, and for which compensation was never given, partly because many inhabitants were butchered or forced to flee by the local Arab population.

- In 1967, Nasser triggered the 6 Day War, and Israel was able to take control of the Gaza Strip, which had been illegally occupied by Egypt since 1948, during which time they had maintained the Palestinians in a state of squalor. Israel returned vacant land to Jewish possession, developed farms and agricultural research projects, and by doing so created jobs and chances for cooperation with local Palestinians.

But all of this is to be given up because the world wants Israel to compromise again. The radical Palestinians have admitted that they see this as a victory for terror. The so-called moderates in the PA are OPPOSED to the Disengagement, despite having demanded action. Israeli society is being hopelessly divided on the issue.

And Israel is getting absolutely nothing in return.

There will eventually be some saving on manpower, and we hope a stabilising effect on the Israeli economy, but there will be a shortage of produce which will have to be made up quickly, a reduction in Israel's ability to prevent or pre-empt terror emanating from Gaza, and perhaps worst of all, several thousand Palestinians will lose their jobs, Hamas will fill the power vacuum because Abbas has failed to confront them, and Gaza will become a worse place to live.

Whatever hardship and oppression the world media likes to claim Israel causes, it is nothing compared to the conditions they were kept in by Egypt and Jordan prior to 1967, and further pales in comparison with the Talibanised pseudo-Islamic state that Hamas will try to create now.

Between 1967 and the first Intifada in 1987, the Palestinian economy was one of the fastest-growing in the world. Roads were paved, running water was introduced, sewage systems installed. Israel was the biggest donor to the UN Relief Works Agency, which looks after Palestinians who have a unique and indefinite refugee status conferred on them, until 1991 when Saudi Arabia was forced by the USA to grow a conscience and give more.

And then they blew it.

Arafat, may he rot in hell, caused a minor civil war with Hamas, openly admitted to tricking the Israelis at Oslo into letting the PLO Trojan Horse into Israel's "soft underbelly", encouraged terror, bought massive quantities of weaponry even after the Oslo Accords, and - perhaps worst of all - stole billions from his own people. They rotted in poverty whilst his wife shopped in Paris.

So Israel, as always, is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. If we try to really help them by ignoring a leadership which is at best incompetent and weak, and at worst corrupt and wicked, and go straight to them with the offer of jobs, training, a future, then we are occupiers, impostors and destroyers of the dream of Palestinian independence. If we do nothing or just leave them to their own devices, we are ignoring their hardship, perpetuating a bantustan state, and destroying the dream of Palestinian independence.

There is a little more to the Disengagement Plan however. The original idea was to route the Security Barrier to incorporate all the main kibbutz blocs in the West Bank, include secure passages along the Jordan Valley, and most crucially, to have a safe access to Jerusalem by running the barrier along the north side of Route 443, the Modi'in Road. This road runs parallel to the main Route 1, but a few miles north and over the Green Line. It would have put 10 Arab villages on Israel's side of the fence. Altogether, 15% of the West Bank would have been placed under Israeli control.

We all recognise that whatever our ideological views, historical or emotional attachments to the land, or indignance at rewarding terror, if the other side continues to bite the hand that tries to feed it, a separation is the only way forward. On a practical level, this means surrendering territory so that a viable and secure border can be made. Most anti-Disengagement folk I spoke to said they would have supported Disengagement or at least not protested so vociferously against it, if this was the trade-off.

But Israel's legendary activist judges, supported by members of the Cabinet, intervened. Under the new route, the Modi'in Road will be protected but will be a causeway through hostile waters. Jerusalem will once more be isolated from the rest of Israel, with a single secure main artery connecting it to the rest of the country.

The new route, designed to reduce any hardship to the Palestinians, despite the added security risk to Israel, places 74% of the Jews and 0.3% of the Palestinians on the Israeli side, and takes up 5% of the West Bank, roughly what was envisaged by Clinton at Camp David. A futher 3% would be added by protecting the Ariel and Gush blocs.

In all, getting 92% of the West Bank and 100% of Gaza, without anything in return, seems like a pretty good reward for 5 years of Palestinian terrorism. Why stop now?


Anonymous said...

However, all of this still doesn't solve the issue that Israel spends much of it's resources on 7,000 people who would just leave Gaza anyway in the future if a proper negotiated agreement was signed between Israel and the PLO.

Since that agreement seems as far away than ever the government had to do something. If anything, it feels like a step forward - giving the country hope towards an end to a bloody war.

freedmanslife said...

Ah but...

1. The entire platform of debate has assumed that we have no right/wish to be in Gaza; I am questioning that assumption as fundamentally flawed and not grounded in historic or practical reality.

2. The reason there has been a sea-change of opinion, from nearly 60% in favour to nearly 60% opposed, is precisely because it doesn't feel like a positive step forward. It feels like a retreat under fire, which is exactly what it is.

I already said I would also be in favour if we were getting something concrete in return that would add to Israel's security and demonstrably show that terror does not work.

Instead we are playing into the hands of people who continue to want us driven into the sea. Luckily, as my friend Kobi says, "whatever stupid thing the Jews decide to do next, we are always lucky that the Arabs always find something even more stupid to do in response."