Gaza disengagement reflections pour in a decade later

The residents of the Israeli community Neve Dekalim riot during the forced evacuation of their homes, which was part of the Gaza disengagement in the summer of 2005. Credit: Israel Defense Forces via

This August marks the 10-year anniversary of Israel's unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip. In the summer of 2005, then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon ordered the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the evacuation of all Jewish residents from Gaza in the plan that became know in Hebrew as the Hitnatkut (disengagement).

In the years since the disengagement, the Hamas terror group took control of Gaza, and residents in Israel's southern villages bordering Gaza have been exposed to relentless rocket fire, as has central Israel during several conflicts with Hamas in recent years, most recently Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

Despite polling conducted in 2005 showing that as many as half of Israelis supported the disengagement, a new poll conducted by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University now shows that 63 percent of respondents see the disengagement as a mistake, and 51 percent support Jewish rebuilding in Gaza. Additionally, the survey found that 47 of Israelis oppose evacuating Jewish communities from Judea and Samaria. Additional polls over the years have also showed that many Israelis who supported the plan at the time have come to regret their support.

Leading up to the 10th anniversary in August, Israeli leaders, commentators, and other citizens have shared their thoughts about the disengagement in hindsight. The following is a compilation of some of those reflections, which reveal the complexity of views about both the disengagement and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon

In mid-July, Ya'alon revealed that in 2005 he had considered resigning from his position as IDF chief of staff in protest against the disengagement, but changed his mind when he realized his resignation would not affect the course of events.

“I already thought back then that if we were able to create a situation after Operation Defensive Shield in which were able to move from defense to offense and were able to achieve deterrence, the withdrawal would set us back and would strengthen the radical Islamic elements, including Hezbollah and Hamas. It would also strengthen the Palestinian narrative, which holds that the issue at hand is a territorial conflict rather than their refusal to recognize us," he said at a Jerusalem event marking 10 years since the disengagement.

Zionist Union party leader Isaac Herzog 

Herzog also spoke at a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Gaza pullout last week, in which he said, “Without a doubt, from a security perspective, the disengagement was a mistake. I don’t believe in unilateral moves, from a policy perspective—only a [peace] agreement."

But Herzog said he does not believe the disengagement “was a mistake in a demographic sense. In a demographic sense, it was essential. And I don’t believe the citizens of Israel want to go back and resettle Gaza."

Arab Knesset member Ayman Odeh

Odeh took issue with Herzog's comment that the disengagement was a mistake in a demographic sense.

"When [Zionist Camp leader] Isaac Herzog says that the 2005 disengagement from Gaza was justified demographically but not so from a security standpoint, I take umbrage at the word 'demographic,'" he said.

"The question remains whether we—the Arabs—are partners or a menace? All those statements about a Jewish majority and demographics portray me, or even my daughter, as a menace. That’s why the mindset needs to change," he added.

Gilad Sharon, the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon

Gilad Sharon defended his father's disengagement plan in a recent interview with Army Radio. 

"We are now a decade out of Gaza, and its clear that nobody really misses it, even amongst those who were evacuated I'm not sure it's a majority," Sharon said, but added that his father was not "naive" and understood that "there would be terror after the disengagement from Gaza, but that he would respond to it with full force." 

"On the night my father was hospitalized, I heard him speak with the chief of staff and instruct him to fire on Gaza from navy ships. Why? In response to fire. He would use the legitimacy that the disengagement gave us in order to respond with the necessary force. He knew very well how to handle terrorism," Sharon said.

"Extraordinary leadership was required to carry out this step. It was difficult. It was painful, but necessary. The greater public supported it as did the Knesset," he added.

Alon Liel, formerly director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Liel, who is one of the leaders behind an Israel campaign for the recognition of a Palestinian state by European Union parliaments, wrote in a recent op-ed that the argument that Israel "did not get anything in return" for the disengagement is "infuriating."

"What were we supposed to get apart from the return of those settlers to Israel? They had no business being in Gaza in the first place. Relocating nationals to an occupied territory is prohibited by international law. The return of the Gaza settlers to Israel was a legal, correct and brave action by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and had he been able to implement the second stage of the operation in the West Bank, Israel would have now enjoyed a completely different standing in the international arena. Had we retreated from the West Bank, we would not be a nation boycotted, demonized and denigrated by many of its former friends," he wrote.

Education Minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett 

During a June visit to the Katif Center, which tells the story of the area's 2005 evacuation, Bennett said, “Those who seek to understand why Israel’s position in the world has been damaged: Come to the town of Gush Katif evacuees and remember. This is the reason and this week saw the results. The terrorist flotilla [that marked the latest attempt to break the blockade of Gaza in June], that is the result of the disengagement, the U.N. [Human Rights Council] report [that heavily criticized Israel's conduct during the 2014 Gaza war], that is the result of the disengagement, and that Palestinians think that by killing and murdering they will expel us from here—that is the result and that is the price we pay every day."

Posted on July 28, 2015 .