Ariel Sharon’s Great Epiphany

It is not spoken of much today but I vividly remember the Summer of 2005; Israeli soldiers physically removed Jewish settlers from the Gaza territory. The settlers, resisting with screams and kicks, cursing the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers. One memory will never escape my mind; it is that of a settler holding his infant out of the window from the top floor of his home threatening to drop the baby if the soldiers took another step towards his home. It was a jarring moment, one I’m sure will never be forgotten by any soldier who participated in the withdrawal process.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw all Israeli settlers from the Gaza strip, returning it to the Palestinians, is probably the boldest and most shocking move of his entire political career. It is a move that came with a torrent of opposition and shook up the Likud party. Then Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the disengagement plan “problematic”. PM Sharon’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom warned the plan could dismantle the coalition government.

“I disapprove in principle of unilateral initiatives and I fear that this plan will provoke elections if it is submitted to a vote in government,” Shalom said.

Cabinet minister Natan Sharansky resigned his post stating he could no longer serve a government that would unilaterally turn over Gaza and large portions of the West Bank to Israel’s sworn enemies without getting anything tangible — much less valuable — in return, and without insisting upon democratic reform within Palestinian society.

“Will our departure from Gaza end incitement in the Palestinian media or hate-filled indoctrination in Palestinian schools? Will our departure from Gaza result in the dismantling of terror groups or the dismantling of the refugee camps in which four generations of Palestinians have lived in miserable conditions?”

“Clearly, the answer to all these questions is no.”

“In my view, the disengagement plan is a tragic mistake that will exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians, increase terrorism, and dim the prospects of forging a genuine peace. ” Sharansky wrote in his resignation letter to PM Sharon.

Junior coalition partners, including the hard-right National Union Party (NUP) and National Religious Party (NRP), threatened to quit the government if Sharon pushed through with his evacuation plan.

The heavy opposition could have been expected given the response Sharon received on May 26, 2003 when he addressed a filled room of Israelis cautioning them the Israeli occupation of Palestinians can no longer continue.

“Do you want to stay forever in Jenin, in Nablus, in Ramallah, in Bethlehem? I don’t think that’s right,” Sharon said.

Ariel Sharon / Public Domain Image-CCO

Sharon’s position, or change of heart as many viewed it, was indeed a complete u-turn from his previous actions. It was definitely not the kind of move most, if any, would have anticipated coming from the same man who sparked the “al-Aksa intifada” when he visited the Temple Mount in September 2000. It was another bold move on his part that resulted in numerous deaths on both sides and a streak of violence, but was not nearly met with the kind of dissidence and criticism the Gaza pullout provoked. The former was clearly an act of provocation, however the latter was an act of peace, or at least a step in that direction. There are those who would vehemently disagree but the harsh reality, one many Israeli and American Jews alike refuse to face, is exactly as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon so desperately pleaded with his people to realize. Whatever name you give it — occupation, apartheid, genocide — one group of people cannot forever rule and oppress another people. It is a status quo that defies the very human spirit — the desire to be free.

***Note – Under the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli government in 2011 alone spent 1.1 billion shekels on West Bank settlements.  Netanyahu has vowed he will not stop the expansion of settlements.