Jun 20, 2005 12:38 pm


Well, I am back and ready to spout opinions again. Let me start with my trip to Israel. It was not a happy one. I found the country sad though united. Gone are the bitter words of recrimination, at least for the most part. Following years of settler vilification most especially by the media, the country acknowledges that they have legitimate claims to her loyalty and feel bad about having to force people to leave their homes. Personally, I believe, people should have been given the option to stay though without Israeli military protection. Nothing would have proven the Palestinian readiness for statehood than their ability to accept Jews living in their midst in the same fashion Israelis accept Palestinians so doing. Unfortunately, most Arab states have failed that test miserably as we've been reminded while reading the inspiring obituary of Robert Maguire Jr., 94, Pilot Who Airlifted Yemenite Jews to Israel because after the UN General Assembly resolution on the Partition Plan, Muslim rioters engaged in a bloody pogrom in Aden and Yemen, which killed 82 Jews. (For more on the treatment of Jews in the Arab world following the creation of Israel, see click here) Moreover, discussions continue about granting sovereignty to Kosovo despite Muslim attacks on their Serb and Roma residents even under NATO "protection."

Thus, you can find settler activists in city centers handing out pamphlets pronouncing that "The nation is with Gush Katif" without being met by any rancor. This does not mean that most Israelis believe that the disengagement can or will be stopped. The center knows their Sharon "bulldozer" only too well while the left worries about the aftermath almost as much as the right. A belligerent Hamas ruled Gaza would prove the settlers right and would validate the right's objection to the disengagement and further undermine the left's advocacy for additional disengagement from the West Bank. Qassam rocket strikes Sderot, again are especially effective in making the settlers' case that disengagement would merely move the battlefront into Israel proper.

But most urgently, Israelis worry about violent clashes between the evacuees and those evacuating them. Clearly, Israeli democracy is going to be tested as no one wishes to see bloodshed and I mean no one. Those skeptical of the value of democratic institutions should follow the manner in which Israel's civil, political and legal authorities work together to forestall that possibility.

Cabinet and Knesset disengagement decisions are accompanied by increasingly generous compensation packages made palatable to the public by documentaries emphasizing not only the symbiotic relationship between the Israeli government and the settlements but also the difficulties awaiting the evacuees. The lessons of the post Egyptian peace agreement destruction of Yamit are studied in the hope of avoiding the same mistakes. "One of the conclusions reached from the 1982 Yamit evacuation is that children suffer the most from the evacuation process, and that is why settlers must prepare their children for the disengagement, Disengagement Office Head Jonathan Bassi said Sunday." Hence, Bassi tells settlers ‘get children ready’ . Interviews with those who were children at the time of evacuation fill the television screens. Sharon's office promises to find an appropriate solution for the needs of each evacuated family.

Israel's secular and religious authorities are also doing their bit. The Israeli Supreme Court accepted the government's new argument that the 25 settlements no longer have a military need and therefore should be dismantled. But at the same time it offered some relief to the settlers by ordering technical changes in the disengagement law that could result in the settlers receiving more compensation than originally planned.

Money is not the only issue. More trauma likely in Gaza reburial plan describes yet another gut wrenching problem. This one had to be settled by Rabbis who were asked to rule about the religious legality of the plan. Israel's chief rabbis, Amar and Metzger ruled that the government's plan to exhume the bodies buried in the Gush Katif
cemetery local cemetery because in this case the exhumation will be done for the "honor of the dead." The Rabbis remembered the desecration of the Mount of Olive graves during the Jordanian occupation and wrote: "In this case, however where the chance exists that the [enemy] will abuse the dead and will vandalize their graves, in the event that the plan is implemented and the graves are left alone, Heaven forbid - it is clear and simple that it would be a matter of respect for the dead to take them to another place where they may rest in peace, and will not be given to abuse, Heaven forbid."

Even Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, one of most strident disengagement opponents, joined the forces advocating moderation. .A Change of heart? not necessarily. He wrote:"Several residents have asked me what they should do if this decree actually comes to pass, God forbid. I told them they mustn't raise a hand against anyone, not to fight with police. (I told them to) sit at home, pour out your hearts to God and pray that He has mercy on his children and ask him to reverse this evil decree. Don't help soldiers who come to take you away, but don't fight them, either. We must prevent verbal or physical attacks on all Jews, whoever they may be." He also called on soldiers to obey their orders later amending his position by suggesting that if conscripted soldiers are "forced to participate in the evacuation, they should enter the settlers’ homes, sit on the floor, and cry with the family. . . . "When asked why he has not called directly for insubordination, Eliyahu said, “We do not want to dismantle an army that protects the lives of Israeli citizens, and therefore we are not calling for insubordination. We are just saying we can’t (participate in the pullout).

Tough times in Israel. Israelis do what they have often done in time of stress. They engage in prayer. The secular ones go to sing a longs. The entire country is holding its breath and hoping. The settlers plan to block roads.

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