10 July 2007 - A disengaging film
The Jerusalem Film Festival is on, and last night I went to see a documentary about the Gaza disengagement. The film, In the Freiman’s Kitchen, made by Hadar Bashan, tells the story of the evacuation of Gush Katif through the eyes of an elderly couple struggling to come to terms with the fact that they have to leave. Almost all 55 minutes of the film are shot in the kitchen they abandoned.
At first, both are defiant. Then they receive two contradictory notices in the mail—one from the authorities, informing them of the date and conditions of evacuation, the other from the local residents who are trying to organize a civil disobedience campaign. The husband, 78-year-old Yaakov, begins to consider leaving after all, while his wife, 68-year-old Miriam, remains defiant in her determination to stay.
This creates unexpected and intense tension between the two, who remain loving throughout their ensuing debates but nevertheless cannot find a way to agree. Eventually Miriam goes along with Yaakov, and they leave when they are ordered out, but she does so without reconciling herself to her fate. The pain and trauma of their departure is palpable, no less so because the outcome is known from the start.
The theater was packed last night; many of the people in the audience—judging from the oragnge scarves and knitted kippot—were themselves settlers, perhaps from Gush Katif itself. Everyone was crying by the end, and we all sat in silence while the credits rolled. No one applauded until there was nothing left to show on the screen. Miriam herself was in the audience; Yaakov passed away two weeks ago.
My thought was: Israel will never be able to do this again. The disengagement was necessary to ensure that Israel had defensible borders, and to establish that the country was in control of its own borders and destiny. The cost of defending a few settlers in the heart of Gaza, against the will of millions of Palestinians in the area, was simply too high. But the cost of leaving was high—too high to be risked again.
As Miriam herself predicts in the film, the political result of the disengagement was that the terrorists were strengthened in Gaza. The diplomatic credibility that it brought to Israel has perhaps strengthened its hand elsewhere. But the Qassam rockets hitting Sderot, and the Hamas coup, are partly the result of a withdrawal that was interpreted (however wrongly) by Israel’s enemies as a sign of weakness.
It is often said—almost as a throwaway line—that a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on universal principles of human rights. Well, settlers have rights, too. And I think that the Sharansky argument—that further territorial withdrawals will not achieve peace, and will only encourage terror, until the Palestinians truly respect human rights and democracy—now applies.
There are limits to that argument. I don’t think Israel should hold onto territory at any cost, unless it is absolutely necessary for defense. And I don’t think that Israel should view the enforcement of its own laws—such as the dismantling of illegal outposts—as a concession to terror. But I think that Israel and the world has now seen the folly of compromise in the face of an uncompromising, destructive foe.
Or perhaps not. Yesterday’s New York Times carried a lengthy editorial entitled “The Road Home,” arguing for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Its argument is based on the idea that President Bush has broken his promises, that the war is a burden on the military and the taxpayers, and that past efforts to gain control of the situation by sending more troops have failed.
The editorial then goes on to explain how a withdrawal might be accomplished. It suggests that U.S. troops might maintain a presence in Turkey and autonomous Kurdistan, or perhaps somewhere else in the region. It recommends that the UN be brought in to negotiate a peace agreement to prevent civil war, and that the U.S. begin looking for ways to resettle hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.
There’s hardly a word about Iran or Syria until the end, when the editorial recommends using international pressure and persuasion to keep Iraq’s neighbors from intervening for their own purposes. And nowhere—not once—is there any expression of sympathy or concern for the thousands of Iraqi civilians who have suffered almost-daily terror attacks, and who would suffer more after a pullout.
There’s a bit of a corrective in today’s Times in the form of an interview with the U.S. Ambassador, Ryan Crocker, who strongly advises against a withdrawal. Still, the editorial reveals a shocking absence of thought—to say nothing of empathy—at the top of America’s left-wing establishment. The editors do not defend their policy against the alternatives, but simply wallow in self-indulgence and wishful thinking.
There is a difference between a disengagement based on rational strategic calculations, and mere appeasement based on vanity and political waffle. In the confrontation with terror and fascism, reality is the currency today’s democracies must deal in. It was unrealistic for Israel to stay in Gaza; it is now unrealistic for it to carry out further withdrawals. And it is unrealistic for the U.S. to leave Iraq.
There is word today that representatives of the Arab League will arrive in Israel this week for historic talks about the Saudi peace plan. This is exciting stuff. Perhaps fear of the advance of radical Islam will motivate the region’s leaders to settle the conflict. But no peace can endure unless it is based on mutual recognition not just of Palestinian and Israeli self-determination, but human rights as well.