Thursday, August 18, 2005

The stories from Gaza are all over the news today. A soldier talks about obeying his orders, given him by a democratic government in search of peace. A government official talks about "land for peace." Anguished settlers cry and fight and finally hole up in synagogues, only to be carried out by young soldiers. A Palestinian spokesman minimizes the loss -- it wasn't their land anyway. Someone at the UN warns that Israel shouldn't think that this will make up for occupation.

I have never been a fan of the settlement movement, and my first reaction when I heard that Sharon had decided to pull out was that it was high time those people got out of there. I never visited the settlements while I lived in Israel, because I was told by the school that it was unsafe for me to go there. I did have the opportunity to meet and talk with people who lived there, and who believed passionately in what they were doing. Even after the conversation, my convictions were unchanged: those folks had no business there.

This summer, when I saw the orange kippot [skullcaps] and the orange-striped prayer shawls for sale in Jerusalem, to express solidarity with the settlers, I was impatient. In my mind, nothing good could happen until Gaza was empty of Israelis.

Intellectually, I still hold those opinions, but my heart breaks at the photos and the stories on the radio. The settlers moved to Gaza as a patriotic act, and from the day they moved there, it was dangerous. In 1970, they provided a settled buffer against Egypt. They built their homes and their greenhouses and grew organic vegetables; most of the cherry tomatoes in Israel came from the Gaza greenhouses. They were told by the government, and most especially by their hero, Sharon, that they were heroes of the Jewish People.

Now Sharon tells them that they are simply in the way of peace, that they have to move, that they have to start again, somewhere else, in that very unforgiving land. Other settlers in the West Bank are watching, as are the Israelis living on the Golan. Sharon may know where this will end, but he isn't telling.

Meanwhile Hamas hoots and hollers that they've driven out the Israelis, that if they keep on killing and shooting and bombing buses full of civilians, eventually Israel will go away. And some fool at the UN -- I didn't catch his name -- minimized the losses of the settlers and said that this really doesn't accomplish much; it's a step in the right direction, but that's all.

I had to shut off NPR at that point.

Jews are losing their homes, are being carried away from homes they have lived in for 30 years. Other Jews -- young men and women who are their cousins and siblings -- have to do the carrying. This is hideous and horrible, and utterly necessary. Without this move, peace is never going to come.

What I wish is that the other parties, the Palestinians and their supporters, could see this action for what it is. No one has been "driven off" -- a democratic society is making a historic step towards peace. And yes, it is unilateral, but so far I cannot see what the Palestinians have been willing to accomplish via negotiations: remember Oslo? remember Camp David in 2000?

I do not know what the answers are. I do know that while I do not agree with the settlers (on almost anything) I honor their losses, which are beyond my complete comprehension. For their sake, and for the sake of the Palestinians who will have Gaza to themselves, and for the sake of everyone in that region, I hope that this has accomplished something. For now, I just feel sad.

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