This debate on whether to destroy the houses in the Gaza settlements before disengaging is part of a series of discussions among younger scholars sponsored by the Center for Israel Studies of the University of Judaism.
During recent months we have been witness to heated protests by settlement residents opposed to the disengagement and evacuation plan,
and these manifestations are likely to intensify during the coming summer. However, even for the majority of Israelis who accept the logic of disengagement, the process includes knotty, painful decisions.
One of them is the conundrum of whether or not to destroy the settlers' homes as part of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. What makes this question so grave is today's situation in which it is impossible to coordinate the disengagement process with the Palestinian side. While the Israeli government's disengagement decision of June 2004 stated that no settlers' homes or sensitive structures, including synagogues, would remain standing, the rising voices being heard today, even among the security forces, of leaving houses intact, renews the need to stand firm and not alter the government's original decision. The intensity of the emotionally charged situation, for both Israelis and Palestinians, demands that the settlers' home be razed during the pullback.
The decision to establish Jewish settlements in Gaza was taken after the 1967 Six-Day War, in recognition of the political and security importance of Jewish settlement as a buffer along the Egyptian border. From 1948 to 1967, Gaza was controlled by Egypt and used as a base for launching terror attacks against Israel, and the violence continued in the late 1960s. Successive Israeli governments, beginning with the Labor led-government of the time, encouraged Israel's young adults to settle there, on a mission supported by all parties within the Zionist consensus. Following the "three nos" of the Arab summit in Khartoum, settlers had no reason to think that the communities were temporary.
Since then, the settlements have come a long way. With their own hands, settlers built homes and schools, constructed farms and factories to provide income, and raised their children. Today, one can find five generations of a family born and living there. Gush Katif takes pride in its magnificent educational institutions. There are also cemeteries where loved ones have been interred, including those murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
Throughout the years, settlers there have been subjected to constant attacks, including infiltration attempts and shootings at vehicles en route to the settlements as well as mortar fire at settlers' homes, which has lethally intensified in recent years. Since publication of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan late in 2003, and because of the Hamas' desire to take credit for causing Israel to withdraw and evacuate settlements, the settlers' lives have become even more difficult.
Those who now advocate leaving the homes standing propose transferring them to the Palestinian Authority on humanitarian grounds in return for monetary recompense. The transfer can, in their opinion, be carried out directly or through a third party. In countering this contention, it would be wise to remember that the government's guiding principle in its original decision to destroy the homes and sensitive buildings while leaving other facilities intact was intelligence information about the planned takeover of the buildings by terror organizations. Last March, Abu Mazen went so far as to agree to a joint committee of Palestinian organizations, including the terror organizations, which would determine how to distribute the Jewish property left in the Gaza Strip.
On this background, the idea of transferring homes to a third party in return for some economic recompense would seem to be more promising. The idea of transferring the homes to the Palestinians via a third party who would allegedly monitor those who took up residence in them sounds reasonable and certainly more economic than simply destroying the property. However, at the time of this writing, there is still no proposed third party capable of preventing the Hamas from raising their flags on the houses or using former Jewish homes as bases for terror attacks. Regardless of the third party's capabilities, in the final analysis those enjoying the fruits of the settlers' efforts will be the Palestinians -- if not those who committed the terror acts then those who aided, abetted and encouraged terror against the settlers. As the Bible so succinctly asked, "Have you both murdered and inherited?"
Beyond considering the deepest feelings of the settlers, who are flesh of our flesh, it is also essential to examine the ramifications for Israel's long-term interests of leaving the homes to the Palestinians. We have already seen how steps perceived by Israeli decision-makers as serving Israel's interests have been etched into Palestinian and Arab consciousness as Israeli weakness. It is important to consider well whether leaving the houses for the Palestinians in the name of coordination and trust, even in return for a seemly sum, is worth the damage of feeding the Palestinians' belief that they can successfully chase Israeli settlers from their homes, take over their property, and fly the flag of the Palestinian Authority over their homes.
Amira Schiff is a doctoral candidate in the political studies department at Bar-Ilan University. She is currently writing her dissertation on pre-negotiation process in the Israeli-Palestinian and the Cypriot conflicts.