I remember when I was struggling to find my footing on the sands of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, to understand why it was wrong to dismantle the 21 Jewish settlements there, I’d talk to random residents and their supporters, identifiable by the bright-orange ribbon tied somewhere to their person or belongings. Like the Gush Katif flag, orange was the color of the struggle.
I snuck in there from Tel Aviv in late July 2005 as a writer, journalist and concerned Israeli Jew, not as a member of the religious Zionist camp. I stayed for more than two weeks, until I was pulled out of the Neve Dekalim synagogue on Aug. 17.
I wanted to witness and report on the injustice firsthand. My concern was foremost humanitarian. I felt in my gut that it was simply wrong to evict Jews out of their homes by force. If the government could not convince them to leave, then the residents should stay put. Whatever security benefits they foresaw would be neutralized by the immoral, brutal eviction of a people who didn’t do anything wrong, and who, in fact, cared so much about the country.
I couldn’t fathom how a Jewish army could commit the crime that antisemites for centuries fantasize about: displacement (at best). But I was still not sold on the security angle. After all, didn’t it make sense to just put the genocidal Arabs behind a wall and combat them from the skies without endangering the Israel Defense Forces? By then, as common “wisdom” went, Israel, as “non-occupiers,” would then have full legitimacy to retaliate harshly against any aggression.
I asked one woman, probably in her 20s, why she thought the “Expulsion” (the Gush Katifers’ non-euphemistic term for the “Disengagement”) would be a wrong move from a security perspective. It was a moment I won’t forget because for me, it was the missing piece of the puzzle.
She said, with unconventional wisdom, that to have a strong border, you need people on the other side of it. The buffer zone must be set up within enemy territory.
The left and left-of-center often argued that too many soldiers died protecting the Jews of Gaza, but we now see that it was the Jews of Gaza who protected the soldiers—and the people of Israel.
I’m sure that Hamas would have loved to have perpetrated the massacres of Oct. 7 on the people of Gush Katif if only they had the ability, but the army was there, operating within the territory, watching their moves from above and below. The “five fingers” of Israeli settlements cut terrorist movements, as well as prevented munition transfers and the building of tunnels. If the Arabs dared take an Israeli hostage, the IDF would probably find the perpetrators within a day.
The Jewish settlements inside Gaza gave the IDF an extended base and refuge, providing the soldiers spiritual and physical cover. The Israeli soldiers always had a warm, loving home to welcome them, to feed them, to let them shower and unwind, to treat them like heroes when the world called them “war criminals.”
Since we’ve abandoned those territories and abused its Jewish residents with a hasty evacuation, the Gush Katifers’ predictions have come true, already during the first few days of the IDF retreat when rocket barrages hit the southern town of Sderot.
I, too, predicted bloodshed, and in my novel following the aftermath of the Expulsion, The Settler, that in 2020, Israel would have no choice but to reconquer Gaza after a rocket fictionally took down an entire Tel Aviv skyscraper. I never foresaw such sadistic depravity we saw on Shabbat and Simchat Torah earlier this month: beheadings, gang rape, burning babies alive.
Now some 230 hostages are in Gaza, and for the army to find them, they must engage in an all-out ground invasion. All-out war. They need to relearn the heavily tunneled terrain from scratch, get a hold of it again, find a foothold in those bloody stands with only a hostile, sadistic enemy to welcome them. Israel will have to go house to house and tunnel to tunnel in search of them, but in its wake, it must reconquer any territory in its path without any intent to relinquish it.
If there is any grave lesson we must learn from the tragedy of the hostages, it’s this: What is left of Gaza must include Israeli forces and residential communities on both sides of the “border.”
Many questions arise about the fate of the current residents of Gaza. By electing Hamas (and overall cheering the butchers), they have forfeited their rights to their homes. Whatever residency Israel grants them is out of grace, not moral necessity. The victory will have to be so astounding, so clear, that no Gaza resident would ever dare touch a hair upon our people again—from babies to soldiers.
Should the Jews of Gush Katif go back and rebuild? No.
The Jews of Gush Katif should not go back to rebuild. Everyone interested in creating a just, moral society in Gaza should go back and rebuild. This time, Gaza should be populated with a large swath of Israeli society: secular Jews, religious Jews, Reform Jews, Masorti Jews, atheists, left-wingers, right-wingers, Buddhists, Christian Zionists, Bedouins and Muslim Zionists. We should invite non-Jewish supporters from abroad as well, those defending us from the genocidal call of Jew-haters to “globalize the intifada.”
We Jews can’t conquer the darkness and shine light from Gaza alone. Any future Gush Katif can no longer be the province mostly of religious Zionist Jews.
I’ve heard from many Gush Katif residents that they also felt the need to look within to understand why they didn’t merit to stay there. And some dared to offer one answer: Their lives were too insular. While they overall participated in mainstream Israeli life and culture, the largely religious Zionist population were often too far away—geographically, socially and spiritually—from Israelis on the “other side” of the border.
It shouldn’t have taken my traveling to Gush Katif on a journalism and humanitarian assignment to partake of their wisdom. It certainly shouldn’t have taken the brutal murder of more than 1,400 and the captivity of 200-plus people for us to learn the lessons.