Innocence Lost: The Impact of the Disengagement on Religious Zionism

By Sheleg, Yair | Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Innocence Lost: The Impact of the Disengagement on Religious Zionism


Sheleg, Yair, Jewish Political Studies Review


INTRODUCTION

The "disengagement plan," the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of northern Samaria in August 2005, involved the evacuation and the destruction of twenty-one settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in northern Samaria, numbering some 9,300 people. The disengagement threatened to tear Israeli society apart. Several of its leading opponents predicted disobedience in the Israel Defense Forces and even warned that the country would be "set on fire." For example, Pinchas Wallerstein, head of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, usually regarded as a moderate member of the Yesha (Judea, Samaria. Gaza) Council-called upon Israelis to "violate the disengagement law"2 and stated that he was "ready to die" in order to stop the disengagement.3 For their part, supporters of the evacuation took these threats seriously. Some openly called for harsh measures or even to treat its opponents "like th eAltalena"A A danger of civil war hovered in the air. Despite this rhetoric, caution and restraint prevailed. There were hardly any cases of disobedience and minimal violence. Nevertheless, the withdrawal from Gaza and the displacement of its Jewish residents left a profound impact upon Israeli society because of the struggle that preceded the evacuation, the evacuation itself, the destruction of the settlements and the difficulties of relocation and rehabilitation.

It is clear that religious Zionists were the sector of Israeli society most affected by the disengagement. Indeed, a substantial majority of the evacuees were religious Zionists. Many sustained a personal loss. In addition, those who were not among the evacuees had friends and relatives who had lived in the destroyed communities. The devastation and dismantling of flourishing communities were profoundly disturbing. Furthermore, the disengagement shattered the vision of the Greater Land of Israel and the ideal of settling every part of the land governed by Israel, even for many who did not have personal ties to the evacuated settlers. Finally, there was a painful sense of betrayal. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had conceived and carried out the disengagement, was as an initiator and a long-time supporter of the settlement enterprise in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and the main ally of religious Zionism. Indeed, he had changed his colors completely.

The hardships experienced by the evacuees during the rehabilitation process exacerbated their distress. Some evacuees and their supporters argued that the real purpose of the disengagement had nothing to do with politics or security because it was unilateral and done without an agreement with the Palestinians. On the contrary, its intention was to attack religious Zionism and put an end to its aspiration to lead Israeli society. For example, in an interview with Haaretz, Rabbi Yaakov Meidan stated:

Some were looking to stick a knife in the back of religious Zionism. Some had decided to set back religious Zionism by thirty years-to return it to its natural size, to its previous role... For some in the secular elites the aim is to break religious Zionism. For some it is not the aim, but it is a price they are willing to pay. Willing to pay easily.5

Fourteen months after the disengagement, leading journalist (and current member of Knesset) Yair Lapid, a prominent member of the secular elite, substantiated this claim in his column:

Why was it so urgent and important for Israel to evacuate Gaza..? I want to propose a theory: it was not despite the settlers, but because of them. It was never about the Palestinians, demography, the striving for a peace agreement, the relative weakness of the IDF or any of the explanations we were given (and that were contradicted again and again). The motive was entirely different: it had to do with upsetting the delicate balance that existed between the settler society and Israeli society... Over the previous twenty years national-religious people had made extensive use of the secular people to achieve a set ofpolitical and, particularly, religious goals. …

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