‘Price Tag’ Acts Were Born of the Gaza Disengagement

What is left of that impetuous decision by Sharon to uproot the settlers he implanted in the soil of the Land of Israel? Hamas ruling Gaza, a derelict political party and a group of juvenile criminals.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on December 27, 2011.)

There is a French saying: Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner – to understand all is to forgive all. That should certainly not apply to those youngsters behind the “price tag” campaign, who are destroying Arab property, vandalizing mosques, and attacking IDF bases and officers. These acts are unforgivable, and this criminal behavior must be punished. And, nevertheless, it is important to understand what lies behind this criminal behavior. That may, in the final analysis, be no less important than punishing it.

Their actions do harm to the victims of their violence, but they also do damage to the State of Israel – its relationship to its Arab citizens, its relationship with the Palestinian population living in Judea and Samaria, and its reputation in the world. That is obviously the aim of their criminal activity. It is a “price” that they want the State of Israel to pay.

They may be foolish enough to believe that they can force the state to submit to their demands and cease the dismantling of illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria, but that is not likely. It is more like likely that they feel alienated from the State of Israel and its people, and that their criminal acts are an expression of animosity and even hate toward the state, its institutions and its army.

We do not have to search very far to discover the cause of these ugly sentiments. It is the disengagement, the forcible uprooting of over 10,000 Israelis from their homes in Gush Katif, the northern tip of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, carried out by the IDF over six years ago. The disengagement was carried out by Ariel Sharon after he had declared that he would abide by the results of the referendum to be held among members of the Likud, but then refused to accept the majority vote against the disengagement.

Calls for a national referendum on the disengagement were disregarded. When the issue was brought to the High Court of Justice it was approved even though the court in its decision recognized that it involved a clear violation of the civil rights of the Israeli citizens to be uprooted, but claimed that the violation of their rights was “moderate.”

In an unprecedented move Sharon’s government booted out the IDF’s chief of staff, considered not sufficiently enthusiastic about the planned disengagement, and another chief of staff was appointed in his place and charged with using the IDF to apply force against Israeli citizens. That chief of staff did not understand that using the IDF in such a manner was an affront and a sign of disrespect to many of the soldiers he commanded.

The Sharon government’s use of brutal force – political, administrative and physical – displayed a total disregard for the views of a large minority of Israel’s citizens. As far as Sharon and his followers were concerned, “the end justified the means.” The means were patently undemocratic. The disengagement left a bleeding wound to this day in the hearts and minds not only of those uprooted from their homes, many of them still homeless, but also of hundreds of thousands who opposed the action.

On the fringes, among immature youngsters, it produced the lamentable “price tag” phenomenon. It is a lesson that in a democratic society “bulldozer” tactics should not be used to override the views of a large minority of the population. That the majority of Israelis, now in retrospect, consider the disengagement to have been a mistake is instructive but hardly relevant at this time.

This is not the end of the story. A new political party, Kadima, emerged from the disengagement with a single platform – the uprooting of Israeli citizens from their homes in areas beyond the 1949 armistice lines. You can’t go very far if that is all you have to say. Surprisingly enough, the initial momentum took them to 28 seats in the Knesset, but it is obviously on the way down from now on. A few years from now the party will be remembered as a political curiosity, but one that carries a heavy burden of guilt on its shoulders.

So what is left of that impetuous decision by Sharon to uproot the settlers he implanted in the soil of the Land of Israel? Hamas ruling Gaza, a derelict political party and a group of juvenile criminals. The law of unintended consequences is at work.

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