Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Thoughts on Disengagement

I'm fascinated that there hasn't been more discussion in the blogosphere about the historic decision by the Israeli cabinet to disengage from Gaza. I would have thought that it would be the ONLY topic of discussion.

Well, here's my two cents:

One thing I've noticed about the whole question of giving land to the PA, disengagement, etc is that while in the whole people are working with the same set of facts, their interpretations of those facts -- or, more specifically, their (our) judgements of which facts have more weight -- depends much more on one's overall world outlook or priorities, rather than on actual security concerns.

So, for example, regarding uprooting Jewish communities from the Gaza strip, we have all sorts of considerations:
the desire not to harm one's fellow Jew by forcing him to leave a community he has spent 30 years building; the ancient yearning for a "greater Israel"; the fact that Gaza was not part of Biblical-era Israel; the fact that having Jewish communities in the territories is a boon to soldiers serving there; the fact that many Israelis resent that their children have to be serving there in the first place; assertions by many security experts that Israel will be able to defend itself from terrorists in Gaza even after the disengagement, and perhaps better; assertions by other security experts that that is not true; the antipathy by Israelis to "reward" terror by dismantling settlements; the fact that now we are dealing with Abbas, not Arafat; the perception that the Palestinian public does not see disengagement as a reward, and does see the intifada as having failed; lingering memories in the Jewish community of anti-Semites who uprooted us from our homes, usually as a prelude to killing us; the fact that every home-owner in the territories signed a contract acknowledging that they will leave if politics forces them to do so; the question of how much the government is compensating the settlers for their loss, and where they will move to now; worries over what will happen to Jewish graves, holy sites, etc in the abandoned areas; and haunting questions about what all those Jewish residents of Gaza were living and dying there for in the first place, if we are simply going to pick up and leave.

Each of these factors is nuanced and, in most cases, each one, itself, relies on judgement calls rather than a black-and-white answer. For example, the army itself had to make judgement calls about how, and to what extent, Israel can defend herself against terrorism if we disengage. People on both sides of the issue can find army people who will support them. And then, each factor creates a domino effect for the others, while simultaneously being affected by the others. Which factors are most important?

Religiously, too, there are judgement calls. For some, the vision of Greater Israel is so important that nothing else matters. But I can tell you that for me, as a religious person, the question of whether it's OK to force Jews to leave homes on land that is politically and militarily under the auspices of a Jewish State is ALSO related to the question of their safety, my safety, and the fact that Gaza is not part of Biblical Israel. And I do believe that there is a big difference between the Holocaust-era German idea of a place being Judenrein, versus one group of Jews asking another to come within the geographic lines of the Jewish State, in order to (in their judgement) more effectively protect the entire group (which, presumably, is an important consideration for almost everyone in the debate).

Therein lies another issue: The perception of both sides that those on the other are fanatics who do NOT care about security. Everyone says that they know what's best for Israel's safety, but there is a perception in Tel Aviv that "those crazy settlers" are messianic wild cards who care more about some crazy Biblical vision than about the safety of soldiers or even their own children. And there is a perception among settlers and those who support them that those on "the Left" are atheist radical-secularist intellectual-snob AshkeNazis who care more about their cocktail parties and their children's prom dresses than they do about their fellow Jew or the holiness of the land. It's impossible to have an intelligent discussion when each side is saying "I'm the one who cares about security! All you care about is your idiotic way of life, and hating me!"

So, the conclusion I've come to myself is that while, all things considered, I think disengaging is the appropriate and necessary thing to do right now, I want to be crystal clear that the whole thought of it also breaks my heart. The Jewish communities in Gaza are beautiful in so many ways, and I feel so, so sorry for all the people who are about to be forced to move. And, yes, the "Judenrein" images are strong for me as well. I simply believe that we cannot allow our emotions and historical baggage to get in the way of our assessment of security issues. Ultimately, I believe (and hope) that disengaging will save Jewish lives and strengthen the State of Israel. That belief is based on a host of wispy, interconnected judgement calls, a cobweb of differently-weighted factors, one which apparently shares some characteristics with that of the Israeli cabinet.

I only hope that the intricate lace of my beliefs and hopes is strong enough to hold the suffering it will inevitably cause to my fellow Jews. To those who are following Israeli law and now peacefully leaving Gaza I want to say: Thank you for all you have done to protect Israel. Thank you for caring so much about the Jewish State. I'm so sorry for your pain and your loss. I hope what Israel is losing geographically it will eventually more than gain in emotional, material, and spiritual security for us all.

A friend of mine who recently bought a home in the West Bank tells me that as far as her Hebrew-speaking lawyer told her, none of the documents she signed included a statement that she'd be willing to leave if politics forces her to do so. I apologize for the error. I had been told by a resident of another settlment that he had signed something to that effect and that all homeowners in "the shtachim" must do similarly. Perhaps I misunderstood him, or perhaps such a contract used to be required but is no longer, or perhaps it is only required in certain areas. I'll try to find out. Again, I apologize for the inaccuracy.

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