More than a decade has passed since the government of Israel, led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, removed the Jewish population, destroyed communities and farms that had thrived for years, and withdrew the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip. During the first weeks of August 2005, three Jewish settlements in Northern Samaria were also displaced.
The decision to terminate the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip, which took the form of the “disengagement plan,” continues to raise many unsettling questions. The most important of these is why Prime Minister Sharon, who once was a public supporter of Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, introduced a program which was the polar opposite of his long-standing positions. He went back on the promises he made during the Knesset elections of 2003 and the platform of the Likud party which he headed. The disengagement displaced 9,000 Israelis, some of whom have not yet found permanent homes.
The withdrawal of Israeli civilians and soldiers from the Gaza Strip enabled Hamas to take power in 2007 and to launch showers of rockets against the communities of the Western Negev and beyond. This aggression brought destruction and trauma to the Israeli public and necessitated military responses of self defense. In this new form of warfare, regrettably, Hamas has placed its own civilians in the way of harm. Furthermore, the experience of the disengagement intensified political divisions in Israel and harmed its democracy.
This issue of Jewish Political Studies Review explores the implications of the disengagement, some of which have not received sufficient attention. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser analyzes the impact of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza on the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority and of the region. Journalist and researcher Yair Sheleg describes its impact on the religious Zionist movement whose members comprised most of the Israeli residents of the Gaza Strip (Gush Katif) and the effects of the evacuation on their wider public.
Veteran writer Amnon Lord describes the complicity of the media and the legal system which had once been long-standing adversaries of Prime Minister Sharon, but for reasons of political expedience changed their position. The media advocated dropping charges of corruption leveled against the prime minister, and the newly appointed public prosecutor set aside a draft indictment.
Professor Eyal Lewin links the ideological roots of disengagement to tendencies of Zionist thought that maintain that any territory could be relinquished, a view that opposes the prevalent Israel-centered doctrine of settling and holding on to the land. Finally, senior journalist and author Nadav Shragai asks why Prime Minister Ariel Sharon adopted this plan. His essay raises more questions than can be answered.
The tenth anniversary of the disengagement was commemorated but not celebrated in Israel. The disengagement initiative failed to achieve its stated goals and has much in common with other controversial national adventures, such as the First Lebanon War of 1982 and the Oslo peace process (1993-). For these and other reasons, the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 requires thorough study and national introspection.