Tuesday, August 23, 2005


'The Evacuation of Israeli Civilians From Gaza Is Complete'

So reads a press release from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, courtesy of the IDF Spokesman's Office:
Evacuation of Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip completed
(Communicated by the IDF Spokesman)

Today, Monday, August 22, 2005, the evacuation of all Israeli civilians from the Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip has been completed, in accordance with the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan Law 2005.

The evacuation process that lasted five days, consisted of the evacuation of approximately 8000 civilians, from 21 Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip. During the evacuation, Palestinian gunmen opened fire at IDF positions and Israeli communities on 18 separate occasions, lightly wounding two IDF soldiers. Furthermore, Palestinians launched two Qassam rockets and fired ten mortar shells. Two explosive devices were uncovered and neutralized, in addition to an explosive belt that was uncovered in the Mouassi region, that was intended to be used in a terror attack in Gush Katif.


Even before the completion of the evacuation of the civilians in the Gaza Strip, Defense Ministry teams have begun to operate in the evacuated communities, in order to pack and remove the belongings of those residents who did not pack before the evacuation. The belongings will be transferred by the Defense Ministry to the location of the resident's choosing. In addition, the Defense Ministry has begun the demolition of private buildings in the evacuated communities.

At the same time, the IDF continues to remove the military infrastructure that served the Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip. After the completion of all aforementioned stages and in accordance with the decision of the Israeli government, IDF forces will evacuate the Gaza Strip and redeploy along its new lines of defense.

Upon the IDF's final evacuation of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatus will be solely and fully responsible for order and security throughout the Gaza Strip and in general for preventing Palestinian terror attacks in Israeli territory.

The IDF will deploy outside the Gaza Strip, along security lines that will best provide security to the Israeli civilians living in the region and throughout Israel.

The completion of the evacuation of the Israeli residents and communities of Gush Katif, Netzarim and the northern Gaza Strip, brings to a close an important chapter of 30 years of settlement. The IDF has accompanied the settlement of the Gaza Strip from its first days, and participated in the founding of communities with the Nahal Brigade. The IDF served as a military authority also involved in the civilian aspects of settlement, and above all as a security force ensuring the safety of the residents, especially in the last few years of conflict. IDF commanders have for decades accompanied the residents of the Gaza Strip and witnessed the development of the communities, the daily needs of the residents, their distress, their moments of joy and sadness. It is especially during these difficult and sad times of the evacuation of the residents, that the strong bond between IDF commanders and soldiers and the residents of the Gaza Strip came to the fore, and that the evacuating forces and those evacuated were able to overcome this challenge united.

IDF commanders and soldiers are all joined in the hope that the residents' relocation will be quick and successful. The IDF salutes the memory of the residents of the Gaza Strip who fell victim during the war against terror.
The full press release can be found here. If you're interested in seeing official Israeli Foreign Ministry press releases in the future, go to http://www.mfa.gov.il .

For a different perspective, see Michael Oren's guest editorial in the Wall Street Journal today: A Soldier's Story. Here are some excerpts:
Together with thousands of Jews, I sat on the flagstones before the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The time was midnight on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day on which, according to tradition, invaders twice overwhelmed the city's defenders, destroying their Temple and crushing Jewish independence in Israel. Two thousand years later, a new Jewish state with a powerful army has arisen, yet Jews continue to lament on that day, and rarely as fervidly as now. For the first time in history--ancient or modern--that state would send its army not to protect Jews from foreign attack, but to evict them from what many regarded as their God-given land, in Gaza.
(This is not mere rhetoric. Jews have lived in Gaza, and in the surrounding areas, since Biblical times, when the Philistines were fought there. Jewish residency remained, off and on, right up through 1948 -- and settlements that had to be abandoned then were rebuilt in 1967.)
I would take part in that operation. In a few hours, I would leave my historian's job and report for reserve service as a major in the army spokesman's office. My feelings were, at best, ambivalent. I wanted to end Israel's occupation of Gaza's 1.4 million Palestinians and preserve Israel's Jewish majority, but feared abetting the terrorists' claim that Israel had fled under fire. I wanted the state to have borders that all Israelis could defend, but balked at returning to the indefensible pre-1967 borders. I honored my duty as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, but wondered whether I could drag other Israelis from their homes or, if they shot at me, shoot back.


In a combat formation of twin columns we approached the settlements. With their gates barricaded, their houses swathed in smoke from burning tires and refuse, these looked, indeed, like battlegrounds. But we came unarmed, wearing neither helmets nor flakjackets but only netted vests emblazoned with the Menorah and the Star of David. For nearly a month, teams of IDF psychologists and rabbis had been quietly convincing settlers that disengagement was a reality and urging them to refrain from violence. Still, from behind the gate, youngsters pelted us with eggs and paint balloons, while many parents berated us with words reminiscent of Amnon's--"You disgrace your uniforms!"--and worse, "You're no better than Nazis!" The soldiers bore both the eggs and invective impassively, and when a bulldozer broke through the barricades, they filed into the streets.

More onerous challenges awaited them inside. The mother of a child who had been killed by terrorists had locked herself in his room, together with gasoline tanks that she threatened to ignite. Another family whose son, an Israeli naval commando, had fallen in Lebanon, was also hesitating to leave. In home after home, teams of officers and NCOs listened patiently while settler parents pleaded with them to change their minds and not to evict them, wailing and tearing their shirts in mourning. Women soldiers played with weeping children, telling them stories, hugging them. Eventually, though, each of the families was led onto the evacuation bus, leaving the soldiers emotionally drained but also resolved to proceed to the next household, the next excruciating tragedy.

The severest test of the battalion's fortitude--and humaneness--occurred in Badolah's synagogue, where the settlers were afforded an hour of parting prayer. But after two hours waiting in the blistering sun, the soldiers decided to enter. The scene that greeted them was shocking: settlers clutching the pews, the Ark and the Torah scrolls, or writhing on the floor. The troops tried to comfort them, only to break down themselves, and soon soldiers and settlers were embracing in mutual sorrow and consolation.

Ultimately, the settlers were either escorted or carried, sobbing, onto buses. But their rabbi, stressing the need for closure, requested permission to address the soldiers, and the battalion commander remarkably agreed. So it happened that 500 troops and 100 settlers stood at attention, with Israeli flags fluttering, while the rabbi spoke of the importance of channeling this sorrow into the creation of a more loving and ethical society. "We are all still one people, one state," he said. Together, the evicted and the evictors, then sang "Hatikvah," the national anthem--"The Hope."


The disengagement from Gaza, originally scheduled to take three weeks, was completed in almost as many days. A few injuries were incurred, none of them serious, and no Israelis were killed. Only two of the troops refused to carry out orders, and in one case, a unit of religious soldiers stood and watched as their rabbi was evacuated. While the settlers' overall restraint should be recognized, the bulk of the credit can only go to the IDF. Never before has an army relocated so many fellow-citizens against their will and in the face of continuing terror attacks with so extraordinary a display of courage, discipline and compassion.

I retain many of my forebodings about disengagement--the precedent it sets of returning to the 1967 borders, the inducement to terror. About the army's role, though, I have no ambivalence. The same army that won Israel's independence, that reunited Jerusalem and crossed the Suez Canal, has accomplished what is perhaps its greatest victory--without medals, true, and without conquest, but also without firing a shot.


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