TO PREVENT AN UNBRIDGEABLE RIFT

by Boris Shusteff

On April 26, speaking in Jerusalem at the International Bible Quiz, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said,

"This year's theme for the Quiz was the verse from the Book of Psalms, Forever will Your kindness be built. This verse may be viewed as a wish, however I suggest we call it a binding decree: not by itself will our world be based on a foundation of kindness, and it will not by itself turn into a world in which there is attentiveness and consideration for the poor and the weak, for the stranger and the invalid, for the elderly and the widow. We are the ones who must add this principle of kindness to our world, into the society in which we live."

Beautiful words, one should applaud them. Lack of kindness as well as lack of unity among the Jews are two major components that Israel desperately needs. Actually Sharon mentioned his concern about the lack of unity among the Jews more than three years ago in the interview with Avi Shavit on April 12, 2001 when he said,

"Years ago, I would watch when a group of Palestinian workers would sit down to eat in a circle and each of them would take out what he brought from home and place it in the center of the circle, and then, without restraint, one would take from here and another from there, and they all sat together. While as for our people, each of them would sit by himself and eat his food alone."

Based on Sharon's understanding of the core problem that plagues the Jewish people one could have expected that he would take it into consideration while searching for a cure. Certainly if the drug used in the course of treatment is harmful for the patient it should not be used.

Alas, as many political leaders before him, Sharon literally pays just lip service to his many pronouncements and makes political decisions without properly evaluating what harm they will bring to the society in a long run. Six weeks after his Bible Quiz speech, on June 6, apparently forgetting about his "binding decree" and planned attempts "to turn Israel into the world of kindness," Sharon shoved his decision to expel all Jews from their Gaza communities down the throats of his ministers.

Ignoring his own appeal to "attentiveness and consideration for the poor and weak, for the invalid, elderly and widow" happily living in communities, the majority of which were established 20-30 years ago on land from which not a single Arab was expelled, Sharon not only gave the signal for destroying the flourishing life of Jewish communities, but have mercilessly open the slowly healing wound of shaky unity in the country.

For more than three difficult years Israeli Jews withstood the brutal terrorist war conducted against them by the Palestinian Arabs. The Jews of Gush Katif and Hadera, Tel Aviv and Haifa, Karnei Shomron and Netania were one people attacked by one enemy. Not anymore. Sharon's decision to expel Jews from Gaza and four settlements in northern Samaria, and we are not arguing here whether it has political merits or not, has drastically increased the already existing divide within the Jewish state, making the "settlers" pariahs of society, and guaranteeing that a substantial fraction of Israelis will forever harbor toward them not kindness, but enmity and resentment.

As a result, the number of vitriolic articles in the Israeli press pouring loathing upon the "settlers" has increased exponentially. Especially troubling is the fact that today, not only the regular settler-haters spew venom upon their fellow Jews, but that usually more respectful authors have joined their chorus as well.

Certainly one should not be surprised reading Gideon Levy's diatribe in Ha'aretz, in which he writes: "To those who are calling for empathy toward these settlers, we must say they do not deserve empathy since they never showed consideration for the feelings of others. There is not and never has been in the history of the state such a destructive and immoral enterprise as the settlement enterprise." And of course one should not be astonished when Uri Avnery echoes Levy by saying about the settlement policy that "for over a quarter of a century Israeli society has allowed a cancer to grow unchecked."

However, one should be shocked when similar writing is penned by Avi Shavit, who wrote in the same newspaper, "For a long time, there was justification for showing understanding toward the settlers. There was justification for talking with them, carrying on a dialogue with them. Not any more... It is either Israelis or settlers."

Sharon said in his Bible Quiz speech: "We must act according to the decree of the Prophet Isaiah, which combines human compassion with mutual responsibility, for 'when you see a naked person, clothe him; and do not hide yourself from your kin.'" Contrary to his own words Sharon hid himself from his own kin.

Not long ago himself praising the settlers of Gaza he made a 180-degree turn. He did not conduct any sensible dialogue in the Israeli society in order to determine how the country should live further if the decision would be taken to uproot the Jews from their homes. He did not allow people to think what will happen to the Jewish state if it rejects the basic tenet on which it was build -- the settlement enterprise. He simply made a decision and like bulldozer went with it ahead.

Of course it is not from compassion that Sharon decided to establish a special unit of some 2,000 soldiers to carry out the mission of removing the Jews from their homes. Israeli newspapers shared with their readers the information that this "special unit will carry out the forceful evacuation of settlers. The unit's soldiers will be specially trained for the operation. It will function as a wing of the police force, and will train only for the mission of evacuation."

On December 26, Yediot Aharanot in the article entitled "Police Prepare for Forced Evacuation" wrote that,

"The police would like to purchase equipment that will be used by the Israel Police and Border Police troops who take part in the evacuation of the settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria... The equipment in question includes hundreds of new batons, dozens of horses and a number of vehicles fitted with water cannons."

Do not we understand the nightmare that is hidden in the words "specially trained for evacuation" and "forced evacuation"? What had happened to our hearts? How did we manage to reach the day that the Israeli press is writing as a matter of fact that the Jews will be "specially trained" to brutally deal with other Jews and a deafening silence meets these pronouncements? Especially since the Israeli soldiers are instructed to walk on eggshells when they deal with their enemies.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz in his speech given at Berkeley University on April 29, 2004 told about a hearing of the Ethics Committee of the Israeli Army that he recently attended:

"The Ethics professor, member of the Committee, said the Israeli government has the right to balance and to value the life of its own soldiers over enemy civilians. However, the Israeli general participating in the hearing disagreed and said the Israeli soldiers must die to save the lives of civilians even if they are enemy civilians."

Does it mean that the soldiers in special units that will be trained to forcefully expel their brethren will be taught to die if the Jewish civilians employ force for defense of their homes, family members, and their own protection?

Did we forget the dark pages of our history when other Jews under other circumstances were also trained to "resettle" their brethren? Actually the situation in Israel today is eerily reminiscent of the last months of Warsaw ghetto, as they are described in the diary of Emmanuel Ringelblum. Even Sharon's policy of exploiting the divide among Israelis is not new. Ringenblum wrote about it,

"'Divide and rule'- [the German strategy] poisons relations between Jews and Poles and makes any help from that [Polish quarter] impossible. [The Germans] fooled the populace about [the meaning of] resettlement. ...[The Germans] set the Warsawers against the refugees. Supposedly the resettlement was to free Warsaw of its 'nonproductive elements."

Disturbingly, the word "resettlement" used by Ringenblum is exactly the word that Sharon uses today in order to describe his intended eviction of the Jews. Moreover, Sharon's strategy leads towards poisoning relations between the "settlers" and the rest of Israeli society.

At the same time the Israeli press tends to present the "settlers" as unproductive parasites. Gideon Levy asked in Ha'aretz, "For what exactly should we be compensating the settlers who will be evacuated from Gaza? For the damage they caused the state for decades? For the scandalous economic price of their living in Gaza? For the blood needlessly spilled over them?"

The parallels with the Warsaw Ghetto are frightening. Ringenblum wrote in his diary that the Germans "closed the ghetto borders, stopped anyone from bringing in produce, and thus starved the Jews out -- brought the Ghetto to the point where for a loaf of bread thousands reported voluntarily for resettlement." Sharon's policy is also directed towards stifling the normal life of Gaza's Jews. He also wants the Jews to leave their homes voluntarily and shamelessly promises them hundreds of thousands of dollars if they abandon their houses of their own volition.

Regarding the forceful evacuation of those who intend to remain in their houses, in the hope that Jews will not expel Jews from Jewish land, the Israeli press writes that it "will be declared a 'closed military zone'" two weeks before the last "time window in order to make it easier for the army to remove any settlers still remaining." And the laws are prepared according to which the settlers refusing voluntary evacuation and resisting security forces will not only forfeit the right to compensation but will go to jail, as well.

One can rest assured that the special forces used to evict the Jews will not demonstrate mercy to those they will be instructed to evict. We should recall how brutal the Jewish police was to their brethren in Warsaw ghetto, when they sent them to death camps, in order to understand that the similar expulsion of different Jews from "only" their homes will be a mere nuisance. Ringenblum wrote about the abominable behavior of the Jewish police,

They reached the height of viciousness during the resettlement. They said not a single word of protest against this revolting assignment to lead their own brothers to the slaughter. The police were psychologically prepared for the dirty work and executed it thoroughly. ...Merciless and violent, they beat those who tried to resist. They weren't content simply to overcome the resistance, but with the utmost severity punished the 'criminals' who refused to go to their death voluntarily."

One might argue that it is wrong to compare the eviction of Jews from Gaza communities with the eviction of Warsaw Jews to death camps. True, in the present case, Gazan Jews will be deprived not of their lives, but only of their property, livelihood and lifestyle. Thus only their souls will be killed and not their bodies. However, this is not the point. What must be emphasized here is the catastrophic absence of unity and kindness among the Jews toward their own, at a critical junction of their history.

By condemning Gaza Jews to expulsion the Israeli Prime Minister not only widens the divide among the Jews and shuts the door to kindness within Israeli society but also invites unnecessary enmity and hatred.

It is hard to be a Prime Minister of any country; it is hundred times harder to be a Prime Minister in a Jewish state. Burden of several thousand years of history makes it a must for any Jewish leader to take into account the lessons of the past. Knowing that the unity for the Jews is the most precious treasure one must be especially careful in not destroying it. If eviction of Gaza Jews could lead towards unbridgeable rift and unforgivable enmity between the Jews it must not happen. What good will it be to strive for an ephemeral peace with the Arabs if the price for this will be war between the Jews?

12/29/04

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Boris Shusteff is an engineer. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.


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