Crime and Punishment

In the disengagement From Gaza, Sharon led a march of folly and was followed by many politicians and the majority of Israel’s citizens. It did not take very long before the dimensions of the mistake became apparent to all.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on August 11, 2009.)

It is doubtful that anyone who watched the television coverage of the desolation and ruin that remained of the once-flourishing settlements in Gush Katif, and heard the tragic stories of the settlers and their families – who four years after being thrown out of their houses were still adrift with no permanent homes or gainful employment – did not feel a surge of anguish and rage at the injustice of it all. The settlers, encouraged by successive Israeli governments to settle the area, had made the desert bloom in the best Zionist tradition, and this was their recompense. Who could not feel anger at the politicians who inflicted this tragedy on these loyal law-abiding Israeli citizens?

The Sharon government, ordering the IDF to use force against Israeli citizens, had declared nothing less than a civil war. If it did not turn out to be a bloody civil war, this was only due to the high moral standards of the settlers, standards that were far superior to the cynical standards of the politicians who waged that war, even prepared to shed blood should it become necessary. It was a criminal act, pure and simple, by a government against its own citizens in blatant violation of their basic civil rights, unprecedented in the annals of any democratic country.

Just what went wrong? In this case, just as in the case of the disastrous Second Lebanon War, the possible alternate outcomes of the planned action were never examined. A deterministic approach was taken to what was essentially a situation clouded by uncertainty. Whereas the damage inflicted on thousands of Israeli citizens was certain, the outcome of the disengagement was in the best of cases highly problematic. Sharon led a march of folly and was followed by many politicians and the majority of Israel’s citizens. It did not take very long before the dimensions of the mistake became apparent to all.

Guilty were the politicians. Some, leading the way insisting that what they were doing was for the good of the country, others too cowardly to follow their own conscience, and others still, willingly accepting offers of positions and political benefits for their support of a policy that in their hearts they opposed. Guilty was the defense minister who authorized the use of the IDF to fight Israeli civilians. Guilty was the Chief of Staff who did not tell the government that sending the armed forces of Israel against Israeli citizens was an order he could not carry out. And guilty was the Supreme Court – supposedly the last resort when the civil rights of Israel’s citizens needed protection – whose judges, with one exception, gave their assent to the government’s decision to uproot the settlers from their homes.

Is there a punishment to fit this crime? It is generally argued that politicians are eventually punished for mistakes they make by the voters at the polls. In this case it took time, while the Kadima government hung on to power tooth and nail for many months, but the voters finally had their say. In the last election the swing to the right, an expression of support for the parties that had opposed the disengagement, was unambiguous, and Kadima has been relegated to the opposition.

As for the Supreme Court, the decrease in the public’s confidence in that body can be traced in no small measure to their mistaken judgment when they failed to protect the civil rights of the settlers whom the government sought to uproot from their homes.

As for remorse, there seems to be very little from those who were responsible for the disengagement. The polls show not only that most of the public today considers the disengagement to have been a mistake, but also among those who supported it at the time, the majority today regret their support. From the politicians responsible for the tragedy there is silence. None have had the courage to declare that they made a mistake.

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