A Deep Divide, But No Danger of a Civil War

For many years it has been claimed that social cohesion of Israeli society is an important element of Israel’s defense posture. We are in the process of damaging  that social cohesion, of creating a deep divide that will not disappear right  after the implementation  of the disengagement plan.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on May 10, 2005.)

All this talk about the danger of a civil war accompanying the government’s efforts to enforce the unilateral disengagement plan is just a bunch of nonsense. There was a civil war in the United States, between North and South, 140 years ago, and there was a civil war between Franco Spain and the Republicans 66 years ago, but there will be no civil war in Israel.

Neither the total ideological polarization between opposing sides, nor the existence of substantial military forces on opposite sides, nor the absence of any external danger – which existed in the United States and Spain in those days – exist in Israel in 2005.

All the talk of the danger of a civil war is no more than scare tactics intended to subdue the settlers of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria, and their hundreds of thousands of supporters in Israel, into obediently accepting the government’s preparations for uprooting the settlers from their homes. There will be demonstrations, there will be civil disobedience, there will be scenes difficult to watch as people are torn from their homes, but there will be no civil war.

That the plan for unilateral disengagement would create a deep division in Israel’s society should have been clear from the start. That division may have been welcomed by the extreme left of the political spectrum, who even today continue to incite against the settlers, accusing them of trying to steal land and extort money from the government. They are jubilant seeing Ariel Sharon, the man more responsible than anyone for the settlements, now in confrontation with his erstwhile admirers, his party split wide open.

To other Israelis, including the politicians who promoted the disengagement plan or gave their support to it, this gaping fissure being created in Israeli society is not only a national tragedy but also a phenomenon that spells dangers of an imponderable nature.

The IDF and the police go about their business preparing to implement the plan. That is as it should be. After all, their task is to implant the decisions taken by the government. And yet, one shudders seeing them make preparations for this unpleasant task, as if getting ready to deal with Israel’s enemies. The public is treated daily to reports of planning and training and the gathering of intelligence. The chief of police seems to be intent on getting most of the credit for accomplishing this tasteless task. A little more modesty might be in order under the circumstances.

Political manipulations managed  to produce a majority in the Knesset  for the disengagement plan, but there is certainly no national consensus in support of this plan. It is strongly opposed by a very substantial minority of Israel’s public, a minority that constitutes an  important and valuable part of Israeli society.

The settlers in Judea and Samaria and their many supporters inside the “Green Line” have in recent years taken leading positions in all walks of life in Israel, in universities, hospitals, business, agriculture, and the armed forces. In other words, they are major participants in the Zionist enterprise, valuable members of Israeli society – patriots. The disengagement plan is forcing insoluble dilemmas on them. It is pushing them into the periphery of Israeli society. The process is damaging not only to them, but to Israel itself.

For many years it has been claimed that social cohesion of Israeli society is an important element of Israel’s defense posture. We are in the process of damaging that social cohesion, of creating a deep divide that will not disappear right after the implementation of the disengagement plan. That divide is bound to weaken Israel in ways that may be difficult to discern at this time.

There are not many advantages that can be enumerated in favor of the disengagement plan. The disadvantages are many, and the deep divide that is being created in Israeli society may be the greatest disadvantage of all. What must have seemed like a straightforward procedure to the inventors of the unilateral disengagement plan is now taking on the appearance of major national surgery. It may not be life-threatening but it is going to leave a deep scar.

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