Just a few weeks ago the world’s attention focused on Israel and Gaza. Determined to prevent weapons from being imported to the Hamas-controlled Gaza, Israeli commandos boarded ships in international waters. On one ship they were attacked, resulting in nine deaths. Israel was condemned, but some defended Israeli actions as crucial to security and defense. Few focused on the issue of Gaza and the fact that we created this problem ourselves.
Five years ago Ariel Sharon decided to unilaterally uproot the Israeli presence in Gaza, thinking it would increase Israeli security. He pulled out close to ten thousand residents and the Army and let the Palestinians control their destiny. He said if forces in Gaza attack Israel, the world will be supportive when Israeli forces strike back. It sounded simple. The media ate it up. Sharon was viewed worldwide as a “man of peace.” World leaders lauded him.
One group that remained very unenthusiastic was Israeli military and intelligence leaders. Intimately understanding the security risks, the experts said it was a terrible mistake. They knew that only by controlling the territory could terror be prevented. They feared a Hamas regime would emerge, creating a dangerous center of terror and hostility on Israel’s south. Sharon was determined. Faced with opposition from military and intelligence chiefs, he removed them, undermining Israeli security by dispensing with the top tier of security experts. The army trained for eighteen months for the feared conflict with the local Jewish community (that never happened). Instead of preparing for real threats with Hezbollah, it focused on the imaginary fear that Jews in Gaza would use force. The result was that the Israeli Army was unprepared for the war in Lebanon.
Hamas proved to be true to its charter that calls for the elimination of Israel. Thousands of missiles were lobbed and nearby Israeli towns. The border community of Sderot became a partial ghost town, half of its population fleeing the bombardment. The government under the mediocre leadership of Ehud Olmert was paralyzed to act. Finally after years of attacks, the army invaded Gaza last summer, coming under world condemnation. Now when Israel acts to prevent the importation of weapons to the regime that until today mounts daily attacks, the world is yet again chastising it.
What went wrong? Sharon became enamored the dream of peace and his sense of invulnerability. He felt that he could control events, and due to his magnanimous concessions for peace, everyone would applaud whatever actions he would take to defend Israel from Gaza if things turned bad. Tragically, he was struck down with a stroke, and Olmert proved incompetent. Thousands of Israelis spent years in bomb shelters.
Today there is little terror in the West Bank. Israeli forces are active in the area, preventing attacks. The same fantasy that some had for Gaza is now being floated about the West Bank. Just make a deal with Abbas, give the Palestinians yet another state, and an era of peace will be ushered in.
Gaza and Lebanon teach us that giving up strategic territory does not bring peace. The Palestinians will invariably create yet another political regime led by Hamas or its ideological cousins. What happened in southern Lebanon and Gaza will occur in the West Bank if this so called “peace deal” goes through. There is one difference. Hamas’s rockets in Gaza reach into Sderot and Ashkelon. From Ramallah it’s an easy shot to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
We made two major mistakes already. First Israel left Lebanon, and a Hezbollah mini state was created. Then it left Gaza, and a Hamas regime emerged. Israel must hold on to the West Bank. Give the Palestinians there some local autonomy but not a state that will endanger the millions of Jews. Three strikes and you are out.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org