[This is a follow-up to five previous dispatches on this list earlier this month on the Gaza withdrawal. It should be read in conjunction with today’s other dispatch, titled Palestinians “to rename settlements after Arafat and Yassin”. -- Tom Gross]
* Italian parliamentarian Giuseppe Caldarola: “The Israeli prime minister took a bold decision that speeds up the peace process, it will be a good thing for the international community and international organizations if they appreciate and encourage it. It will be a mistake not to treat the prime minister’s actions as a deed that requires special recognition, such as a Nobel Prize.”
1. Ariel Sharon receives praise from around the world
2. Sharon to address the UN
3. Sharon v. Netanyahu
4. Russian Middle East expert predicts dire consequences for Israel
5. The IDF’s finest hour (Ha’aretz Editorial, August 19, 2005)
6. Dovish intellectuals must also sit Shiva (by Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz, Aug. 18, 2005)
7. “Something to mourn” (by David Grossman, Ha’aretz, August 15, 2005)
8. “Italian proposal: Nobel Prize for Sharon” (Ynetnews, August 22, 2005)
9. “A Soldier’s Story” (by Michael Oren, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23, 2005)
SHARON RECEIVES RECOGNITION FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Following the evacuation of Jews from Gaza, American President George Bush praised Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon for his “courageous decision” and added that in his opinion “this is step one in the development of a democracy. ”
Sharon also received complimentary letters and phone calls from some who were previously harsh critics of the Israeli prime minister, including Moroccan King Mohammed VI, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Even the New York Times editorial page begrudgingly praises Sharon today. This is remarkable considering the persistent, bitter and frequently inaccurate attacks on Israel and on Sharon in particular by New York Times editorialists going back decades.
SHARON TO ADDRESS THE UN
Ariel Sharon is due to address the UN in the opening session of the UN General Assembly in New York next month. It will be interesting to see what reception he gets.
SHARON v. NETANYAHU
Israel is now braced for an internal Likud political leadership battle between Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu. According to polls, whoever wins the Likud leadership is expected to remain prime minister after a national election.
Two major polls in recent days starkly contradict each other. An Israeli Channel 10 poll showed Sharon with an 8 per cent lead over Netanyahu, suggesting Sharon’s standing may have improved in his own political party and in Israel as a result of the completion of the disengagement from Gaza.
However, a poll by Ha’aretz suggested Sharon is in deep political trouble – in this Likud poll Netanyahu took 47 per cent of the vote to 30.5 for Sharon.
RUSSIAN MIDEAST EXPERT PREDICTS DIRE CONSEQUENCES FOR ISRAEL
A Russian Middle East expert Yevgeny Satanovsky, has predicted dire consequences for Israel as a result of the pullout. He called the move “tactically brilliant and strategically lame”.
The former head of the Russian Jewish Congress, who is now head of the Russia Middle East and Israel Institute, predicts that “The faithful and patriots of Israel will understand that the state failed to justify their hopes, and there will grow a generation having no patriotic attitude towards the state.”
AN HISTORIAN’S VIEW OF IMPLEMENTING DISENGAGEMENT
I attach extracts of three editorials from Ha’aretz and then two other articles in full. The first outlines the praise Sharon has received from around the world and the calls for him to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.
The second is an editorial from the Wall Street Journal by the historian Michael Oren, who gives an insight into what it was like to serve as a reservist in the Israeli army during the Gaza disengagement. There have been very few articles in the non-Israeli media chronicling the painful yet efficient role the Israeli army has carried out in the last few weeks.
-- Tom Gross
THE IDF’S FINEST HOUR
Their finest hour
August 19, 2005
The commanders and their teams acted with a proper combination of patience and efficiency. They understood that what mattered was not merely getting the job done, but the price that Israeli society as a whole would pay if the task were accomplished in too wounding a fashion... At this critical juncture, the IDF and the police proved their capabilities. This was one of the finest hours of the men and women in uniform, the operational arms of the State of Israel.
DOVISH INTELLECTUALS MUST SIT SHIVA
Israel must sit Shiva
By Ari Shavit
August 18, 2005
Gush Katif is dying. The settlements are breathing their last. Some are reconciled, others are resisting. Some are fighting back, others are falling apart. Some are grieving deeply, others have broken hearts. Contrary to what was promised, most bowed their heads before the state and the law. So that now, as they go into what they view as exile, it is possible to begin the soul-searching - about what happened here.
Dovish intellectuals were not here this week. Perhaps they are busy. Perhaps they have more important things to do. But the fact that the chief rabbis of Israeli secular morality did not see fit to make a genuine human gesture toward 8,000 fellow citizens who were forcibly uprooted from their homes is a fact laden with significance. It reorganizes Israel’s normative framework. Soon they will discover that those who do not stand emotionally with their fellow citizens when their lives are being destroyed have lost the right to preach morality to them regarding the destruction of the lives of others.
Gush Katif was a world of its own - a world of work and faith, of patriotic innocence and communal warmth; a world that touches the heart, that was established in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, as this world is being buried in the sand, Israel must sit Shiva for it. For if the entire public does not know how to mourn the death of Gush Katif, its death will poison our lives.
SOMETHING TO MOURN
Something to mourn
By David Grossman
August 15, 2005
We should all take a deep breath right now and remind ourselves that, in the final analysis, the days to come are days of mourning for all Israelis. Mourning for the personal and ideological pain of the settlers whose dreams have been shattered; mourning for the fact that Israel was drawn into such a dangerous and unrealistic adventure like the creation of Gush Katif; mourning for the fact that the state brought itself to the place where it was forced to do such a violent, warlike and brutal thing to thousands of its citizens; mourning for the abyss that is being created inside our home, and for the disaster that could befall us very soon; mourning for the situation in which we are trapped, Jew against Jew with a foreign, naked hostility that stands in complete, existential contradiction to our own interests.
Both “blue” and “orange” Israelis can mourn today for the passion, the pioneering spirit, the purposefulness that for years pulsed through Gush Katif and which will soon dissipate like smoke, and for the fabric of life there that will be shredded come tomorrow. Mourn, too, for the enormous energy that could have achieved so much had it been directed toward reality and not illusion; for the evacuees whose lives have been changed forever and who will probably always bear the scars of what will be done to them tomorrow; for the men and women and children who gave their lives for their faith - or for their naivete; and for the hundreds of soldiers who were killed defending the hopeless settlement enterprise. We should all mourn bitterly for the terrible human and material cost to the entire nation.
NOBEL PRIZE FOR ARIEL SHARON?
Italian proposal: Nobel Prize for Sharon
Italian parliamentarian praises prime minister for making ‘historic decision’ in the interest of peace; world leaders laud Sharon
By Nir Magal
August 22, 2005
Does Ariel Sharon deserve a Nobel Prize? An Italian parliament member seems to think so. In an interview with an Italian news website over the weekend, center-right parliamentarian Giuseppe Caldarola proposed that Sharon be given the Nobel Prize for advancing the disengagement plan.
“The Israeli prime minister took a bold decision that speeds up the peace process, “Caldarola said in the interview. “It will be a good thing for the international community and international organizations if they appreciate and encourage it.”
The Italian politician said Israel is going through a very difficult period at this time and added the pain of the settler is “a serious thing, which should be respected.”
“It will be a mistake not to treat the prime minister’s actions as a deed that requires special recognition, such as a Nobel Prize,” Caldarola said.
When asked about his views on the disengagement plan, the parliamentarian characterized it as a plan of historic significance, and added “only with the passage of time will we be able to appraise its importance.”
“We are talking about a unilateral peace step, that if the other side responds to, could finally bring a chance for genuine peace,” he said. “A statesman who is capable of taking such a significant, such a painful move for his country, a statesman with such character, should be recognized.”
Caldarola also praised Sharon for realizing “the gesture of peace is the most important gesture in an attempt to change the situation in the Middle East.”
Caldarola’s colleague, Piero Fassino, also praised “Sharon’s brave decision. Caldarola in turn lauded Fassino as “a longtime friend of Israel and defender of the Palestinians.”
World leaders congratulate Sharon
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week to express his appreciation for carrying out the disengagement plan.
Berlusconi also conveyed his admiration for the prime minister and appreciation for taking such a brave step, and said his nation and political establishment would stand behind Israel and its residents.
Italy’s warm wishes are just one of several supportive messages Sharon’s office in Jerusalem has received over the past few days.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco sent Sharon a letter last week in which he too praised the prime minister for his decision to withdraw from Gaza.
“I would like to commend you for your prudence, long-range view and genuine commitment to reach - via negotiations - a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.” he said. “I salute your government for its determination to overcome all domestic obstacles and difficulties.”
South African President Thabo Mbeki also congratulated Sharon by sending the prime minister an official letter.
“We salute your courage and assure you of our support as you dismantle the Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, and thus make an unprecedented contribution towards the just solution of the protracted and deadly Israel-Palestine conflict,” he said.
In addition, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised “the courage and determination of the Israeli government in formulating and implementing the disengagement process from its inception,” and expressed his hope that, “this step of yours will lead to the opening of a new chapter in the region. ”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also sent Sharon his support and encouragement.
“I greatly admire the courage with which you have developed and implemented this policy. I believe you are right to see disengagement as an historic opportunity to pursue a better future for Israelis and Palestinians,” he said in an official letter to the prime minister.
“I look forward to working with you to help achieve this, and to continue working together towards a just and lasting peace, free from the scourge of terrorism,” he added.
A SOLDIER’S STORY
A Soldier’s Story
I did my duty in Gaza - and it left me pained but proud.
By Michael B. Oren
Wall Street Journal
August 23, 2005
Together with thousands of Jews, I sat on the flagstones before the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The time was midnight on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day on which, according to tradition, invaders twice overwhelmed the city’s defenders, destroying their Temple and crushing Jewish independence in Israel. Two thousand years later, a new Jewish state with a powerful army has arisen, yet Jews continue to lament on that day, and rarely as fervidly as now. For the first time in history--ancient or modern--that state would send its army not to protect Jews from foreign attack, but to evict them from what many regarded as their God-given land, in Gaza.
I would take part in that operation. In a few hours, I would leave my historian’s job and report for reserve service as a major in the army spokesman’s office. My feelings were, at best, ambivalent. I wanted to end Israel’s occupation of Gaza’s 1.4 million Palestinians and preserve Israel’s Jewish majority, but feared abetting the terrorists’ claim that Israel had fled under fire. I wanted the state to have borders that all Israelis could defend, but balked at returning to the indefensible pre-1967 borders. I honored my duty as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, but wondered whether I could drag other Israelis from their homes or, if they shot at me, shoot back.
Nothing in my 25-year army experience had prepared me for the horror of Jews fighting Jews, nor had any of the knowledge I’d gained researching Israel’s wars. The threat which the disengagement posed to the contemporary Jewish State weighed on me as I sat mourning the loss of its ancient predecessors. Then somebody greeted me: “Michael! Shalom!” I looked up into the smile of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, white-bearded with silvery sidelocks. He pumped my hand for several moments before realizing that I had no idea who he was. “It’s me, Amnon!”
I was dumbstruck. Back in 1982, when he was a handsome commando, Amnon had fought beside me in Beirut. Now he was a Hassid. We spoke of our lives’ divergent paths, and then, inexorably, about disengagement. He swore that God would either save the Gaza settlements or punish those who dismantled them. I told him where I was going at dawn. The fact that I, at my advanced age, was still doing reserve duty made Amnon laugh, but only briefly. With words that I would hear repeatedly over the following days, he asked me how I could violate my sacred army oath to “love the Jewish homeland and its citizens” and to “sacrifice all my strength, and even my life” to defend them? He reminded me that hatred between Jews had facilitated the Temples’ destruction, and excoriated me for bringing ruin on this, the third Jewish commonwealth. Amnon, his old warrior self again, assailed me, “You should be ashamed.”
Should I? In fact, the same code of ethics that binds members of the IDF also obligates them to “preserve the laws of Israel” and its “values as a Jewish and democratic State.” Both the government and the Knesset had repeatedly approved the disengagement plan as a means of safeguarding demographic and democratic integrity. In acting in accordance with those decisions, the IDF would be fulfilling one of its fundamental purposes. But could that charge be reconciled with the task of emptying and bulldozing Israeli villages? Could the army, which through successive wars strove to “protect the lives, limbs and property” of enemy noncombatants, now forcibly evict a civilian Jewish population?
These were the questions that challenged me and the 55,000 soldiers assembled in and around Gaza on the eve of the operation, the IDF’s largest since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The answers were far from initially clear. While passing several settlements, IDF vehicles--my bus among them--were attacked by knife-wielding youths who punctured their tires. They stood in the hiss of escaping air, wide-eyed and defiant, daring the army to retaliate. But the IDF exercised restraint. Better to let them blow off steam, we reasoned, before the real confrontation began.
Preparations for the mission meanwhile accelerated. At Re’im, a dust-enveloped tent city, an embedded American correspondent and I observed a battalion drilling their anti-riot techniques. Women and men, religious and secular, native-born Israelis and immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia, they had left their usual army jobs as teachers, flight engineers, and navigators to join the disengagement force. When asked about their feelings on Gaza, they insisted that their personal opinions were irrelevant, and that as soldiers, their duty was to carry out the instructions of the legitimately elected government. The assignment, they admitted, was tough, but essential to defend democracy.
That night, we watched the battalion’s officers, many of them combat pilots, poring over aerial photos of our targeted settlements, Badolah and Netzer Hazany. Booklets were passed out detailing the legal authority by which soldiers could request settlers to evacuate and arrest those who refused. We listened as the battalion commander reminded his soldiers of the three weeks’ intensive training they had received for this, and reiterated the need to show sensitivity to the settlers’ pain but also determination to achieve their objectives. He wished us all good luck. A few hours later, at 4 a.m., we moved out.
In a combat formation of twin columns we approached the settlements. With their gates barricaded, their houses swathed in smoke from burning tires and refuse, these looked, indeed, like battlegrounds. But we came unarmed, wearing neither helmets nor flakjackets but only netted vests emblazoned with the Menorah and the Star of David. For nearly a month, teams of IDF psychologists and rabbis had been quietly convincing settlers that disengagement was a reality and urging them to refrain from violence. Still, from behind the gate, youngsters pelted us with eggs and paint balloons, while many parents berated us with words reminiscent of Amnon’s--“You disgrace your uniforms!”--and worse, “You’re no better than Nazis!” The soldiers bore both the eggs and invective impassively, and when a bulldozer broke through the barricades, they filed into the streets.
More onerous challenges awaited them inside. The mother of a child who had been killed by terrorists had locked herself in his room, together with gasoline tanks that she threatened to ignite. Another family whose son, an Israeli naval commando, had fallen in Lebanon, was also hesitating to leave. In home after home, teams of officers and NCOs listened patiently while settler parents pleaded with them to change their minds and not to evict them, wailing and tearing their shirts in mourning. Women soldiers played with weeping children, telling them stories, hugging them. Eventually, though, each of the families was led onto the evacuation bus, leaving the soldiers emotionally drained but also resolved to proceed to the next household, the next excruciating tragedy.
The severest test of the battalion’s fortitude--and humaneness--occurred in Badolah’s synagogue, where the settlers were afforded an hour of parting prayer. But after two hours waiting in the blistering sun, the soldiers decided to enter. The scene that greeted them was shocking: settlers clutching the pews, the Ark and the Torah scrolls, or writhing on the floor. The troops tried to comfort them, only to break down themselves, and soon soldiers and settlers were embracing in mutual sorrow and consolation.
Ultimately, the settlers were either escorted or carried, sobbing, onto buses. But their rabbi, stressing the need for closure, requested permission to address the soldiers, and the battalion commander remarkably agreed. So it happened that 500 troops and 100 settlers stood at attention, with Israeli flags fluttering, while the rabbi spoke of the importance of channeling this sorrow into the creation of a more loving and ethical society. “We are all still one people, one state,” he said. Together, the evicted and the evictors, then sang “Hatikvah,” the national anthem--“The Hope.”
The disengagement from Gaza, originally scheduled to take three weeks, was completed in almost as many days. A few injuries were incurred, none of them serious, and no Israelis were killed. Only two of the troops refused to carry out orders, and in one case, a unit of religious soldiers stood and watched as their rabbi was evacuated. While the settlers’ overall restraint should be recognized, the bulk of the credit can only go to the IDF. Never before has an army relocated so many fellow-citizens against their will and in the face of continuing terror attacks with so extraordinary a display of courage, discipline and compassion.
I retain many of my forebodings about disengagement--the precedent it sets of returning to the 1967 borders, the inducement to terror. About the army’s role, though, I have no ambivalence. The same army that won Israel’s independence, that reunited Jerusalem and crossed the Suez Canal, has accomplished what is perhaps its greatest victory--without medals, true, and without conquest, but also without firing a shot. In answer to Amnon, I am not ashamed but deeply proud of the IDF, its strength as well as its humanity.