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July 1, 2004

A Settler in Favor of Disengagement

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/a_settler_in_favor_of_disengagement_20040702

This is a soul-wrenching time for all of us who love the Land of Israel. Jewish homes and villages, farms and factories -- the settlement work of three decades -- are soon to be uprooted in Gaza. We know that more demolitions may be coming.

Politically -- for the first time in the history of the Jewish people -- the State of Israel is apparently working toward establishing foreign sovereignty over a part of our land. If George Bush and the European Union think this is a swell idea, that's partly because they can disregard the moral, historical and emotional ramifications to us, as Jews are rousted from their homes, as well as the potential security implications of giving Gaza to our enemies.

Nonetheless, and though I'm a "settler," I find myself reluctantly supportive of disengagement -- an opinion that makes me a minority of one in my West Bank village. Here are six reasons why.

1) Reorder the demographics, or start to. Nearly as many Arabs as Jews live in the Land of Israel already, whereas a Jewish state requires a large Jewish majority. That's a cliché but true. Getting rid of Gaza unloads 1.3 million Arabs for -- relatively -- a small price, relocating just 7,000 Jews.

2) Consolidate Jewish gains. Forget about "peace in our time"; that's Peace Now's delusion. The war with the Palestinians, Syrians, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran is far from over. But leaving Gaza will shorten Israel's defensive lines while allowing us to secure the gains of the last three decades by bolstering the settlement blocs near Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Green Line. The security fence now being built to incorporate those communities will mark new borders for Israel.

3) Return to pragmatism. A part of Israel's population is being driven mad by the dream (which I admit I share) of a Jewish state stretching from the river to the sea, the entire Land of Promise. But right now -- as in all previous generations -- it has proved impossible for us to inhabit the whole land. Only God knows why, but let's acknowledge that the Messiah didn't come and meanwhile gratefully accept the great gift we've been given: the world's only self-governing Jewish state. A firm connection to reality always improves one's survival possibilities. And meanwhile there's work to do.

4) Doing the work. While we're waiting for God to give us the rest of the land, there's much to build and heal in the large portion we possess. If disengagement succeeds, the hostile friction between left and right, often following the fault line between religious and secular, will be muted. That energy can then be directed to projects to improve Jewish life, such as feeding the hungry, educating Jews to Judaism, cleaning Israel's polluted rivers, lending a hand to Diaspora communities and so forth.

5) Strengthening the center. The real news in last month's Likud Party vote against disengagement was that 40 percent of Israel's largest right-wing party voted for it. As the party of Jabotinsky transforms itself, we'll see a strengthening of centrist government, with its stability, its preference for slow change and its responsiveness to the sensible center that makes up most of the country's electorate. Gen. Ariel Sharon, a military mastermind, turns out to be a political genius, too.

6) Improve Israel's international position. By far. The world is sick of us and the Palestinians. Even we're sick of us and the Palestinians. Sharon has warned that Israel will not be able to resist much worse plans for bringing peace, quiet and a good business environment to the Holy Land in the absence of "a plan of our own." Even though he's a politician, I believe Sharon on this one. Israel has to get off the dime for its own sake, rather than be left fighting a rear-guard, negative battle against an imposed solution that will endanger us.

Am I unworried? Hardly. Disengagement raises security fears, in particular. But no military withdrawal has to be permanent, and the Palestinians know that. And in any future round of fighting, at least the Israeli army will be unencumbered by the need to protect Jewish civilians.

Israel has, for years, lived inside a conundrum: We can't drive the Palestinians out of the country (neither the nations nor the Jews will permit it) or magically "disappear" them or, apparently, convince them to live in peace beside us. To me, even more confounding is the possibility that neither withdrawing from Gaza nor staying is the correct path -- that, given the Arabs' limitless hostility, Israel has no really good options except remaining heavily armed and vigilant.

But I think we can do that at least as well from outside the fence that surrounds Gaza. Let the Palestinians eat the bread they've buttered for themselves. Until they come to their senses (or the Messiah arrives at last), we have the Jewish people to protect and the Jewish state to build.

David Margolis is a journalist and novelist who made aliyah from Los Angeles in 1994 and now lives in a village in the Judean hills. He can be reached through his Web site, www.davidmargolis.com.

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