Goodbye to All That: What Will Israel Leave Behind as It Quits the Gaza Strip? Anton la Guardia on the Demolition Dilemma

By La Guardia, Anton | New Statesman (1996), June 20, 2005 | Go to article overview

Goodbye to All That: What Will Israel Leave Behind as It Quits the Gaza Strip? Anton la Guardia on the Demolition Dilemma


La Guardia, Anton, New Statesman (1996)


The red-roofed villas of Neve Dekalim, erected on pristine sand dunes rolling down to the Mediterranean, could easily be mistaken for holiday cottages--if it weren't for the fences and tanks that protect the settlement, and the count-less mortars and rockets that Palestinian gunmen have fired into it.

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By this autumn, according to Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, there will not be a Jewish settler or Israeli soldier left here. But as Israeli police and soldiers prepare to pull the people out, by force if necessary, the question is what to do about the empty houses: leave them as a gift to Palestinians, or destroy them in a scorched-earth retreat? What of the greenhouses, factories, synagogues and the graveyard?

The decision will depend on how the Israeli prime minister thinks events will be recorded on television. His problem is that he wants to convey entirely different messages to Israeli, western and Arab audiences: to the settlers, empathy; to the world, respectability; and to the Palestinians, strength and deterrence. "On the one hand, the image of destroying houses is not good for Israel," said Sharon last month. "But on the other, I don't want terrorist flags waving from the rooftops."

In other words, he does not want the BBC to portray the bulldozing of homes as another example of Israeli brutality. But neither does he want to be shown on Israeli television as allowing terrorists to desecrate the homes of Jewish victims of terrorism. Above all, he does not want to concede "victory" to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other armed groups that have waged the Palestinian intifada for the past five years.

Virtually to a man, Israel's military high command is convinced there is a direct connection between Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 and the outbreak of the intifada four months later. The generals argue that by retreating from Lebanon without first securing a peace agreement, Israel displayed weakness, undermined its military "deterrence" and made Palestinians believe they could emulate Hezbollah in driving out the Israel Defence Forces.

To settlers, the withdrawal from Gaza risks repeating the same error. "Five years of terror has broken the government," said Avi Farhan, a veteran of Alei Sinai, a settlement in Gaza. "Hamas is right: Israel is fleeing from Hamas and Islamic fundamentalist terror. But the terror will just run after us."

Hamas's electoral successes in recent municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip accentuate such fears. …

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