Tue, Aug 23, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Israel's Sharon scores a victory for democracy over theocracy


It turns out that Jews do expel Jews after all, and without the descent into anarchy predicted by leaders of Israel's once-indulged settlers. Following dire warnings that the forced removal of 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank would provoke civil war, bring down the government and open an irreversible rift between the army and the people, opponents of the pullout have been left reeling by its speed and relative ease.

The army originally said it would take six weeks to clear the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four smaller ones in the West Bank.

As more families signed up to take the money and leave, the military revised its estimate down to three weeks.

In the end it took less than three days to clear all but a handful of the doomed settlements. Kfar Darom, among the most religious and militant of Israel's Gaza colonies, made a relatively violent stand but it was still emptied in less than a day.

Neve Dekalim, the biggest Gaza settlement with about 450 families, was all but cleared out in two days. There was noise, trauma and theater, but there was only minimal resistance.

There are still two hardline settlements in the West Bank to be cleared, Sa Nur and Homesh, which have attracted defiant messianic Jews. But Gaza mattered most and the retreat has been far easier than either the government or its opponents predicted.

It is good news for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a battle looms with Benjamin Netanyahu for who will lead the Likud party into next year's election.


The pullout was a critical issue for the party, and the relative ease of the withdrawal will not play well for Netanyahu, who broke ranks with Sharon at the last moment.

But it is also dangerous for Sharon, as it undermines any attempt to claim that it was so traumatic that there can be no similar pullout from the West Bank.

Much of the operation's success can be attributed to planning and numbers. About 55,000 members of the security forces underwent weeks of training.

They not only learnt how to deal with large crowds less harshly than the handling of Palestinians, but how to cope with the difficulties of removing families from their homes and how to act with restraint when your fellow Jews are calling you a Nazi. It paid off.

The danger for Sharon in the run-up to the pullout was that public sympathy would swing behind weeping families.

The soldiers and police officers forcing them from their homes would be perceived as brutal. But from the first day the settlers eroded sympathy for their cause.

A minority screamed jibes of "Nazi" at the security forces and teenage girls lectured them on democracy, religion and how "Jews don't expel Jews."


The security forces surprised everyone by reacting with dignity, patience and sympathy in the face of this verbal onslaught. Sometimes the taunts degenerated into racism against Ethiopian-born soldiers.

Sharon seemed to speak for most of the country when he said: "I'll remember the faces of the men and women soldiers who stood silently and did not react to the curses and insults lashed at them."

There was plenty of theater, with soldiers and settlers falling into each others' arms weeping. The scenes were not unwelcome to a government keen for the world to see the pain the country was going through. Force was only used as a last resort, and generally against people for whom there was diminishing sympathy even within the settlements themselves such as the young men and women who made a last stand in the synagogues.

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