With the sun setting on Gaza Tuesday night, historian Michael Oren stood in the Gush Katif settlement bloc as Israeli soldiers received orders for the next day’s forced removal of Jewish settlers.
A senior fellow at the Jerusalem-based center-right Shalem Center think tank, Oren wrote a highly praised book on Israel’s capture of Gaza and the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War. But this week, Oren was in Gush Katif as a major in the Israeli reserves — to take part in the historic pullout from Gaza.
Speaking via cell phone, Oren noted that it took only 8,000 Israeli troops to seize Gaza in 1967; this week, he added, Israel is using more than 50,000 troops to pull out from the area.
“I’m looking at about 200 to 300 air-force personnel gathered around the Israeli flag as the sun is setting, about to hear the briefing on their mission,” said Oren, who serves in the military press office and was embedded this week with a special air-force unit. “They will be taking people out of houses.”
Oren already had experienced his own confrontation with anti-disengagement forces.
The day before, he was sent on a bus to Neve Dekalim, the largest settlement in Gush Katif, to pick up two journalists who had asked to be evacuated, including one who reported being dehydrated.
Though a police car accompanied Oren’s convoy, a mob of Israeli teenagers wielding foot-long knives blocked it, forcing the journalists to make a run for the bus. They made it, but the teenagers punctured all four of the police car’s tires, as well as one of the bus’s tires.
“We threw our bus into reverse and a military ambulance came around us,” Oren said. Next, the mob pierced the ambulance’s tires.
“I don’t know how that police car got out, wobbling on four flat tires,” Oren said. “I don’t know what happened to the ambulance.”
A day after the incident, Oren seemed more interested in talking about the young soldiers he had been embedded with than about the teenagers who attacked his bus.
The unit was a diverse mix, including men and women, some Ethiopians and yarmulke-clad soldiers. So far, Oren said, he had yet to hear anyone complain about the mission.
“They view this as an opportunity to preserve democracy and the Jewish character of the state,” he said.
At the same time, he added, “they stress again and again” that the settlers slated for evacuation are not the enemy. “They are super-trained on how to remove residents in a way that causes them the least physical and psychological discomfort.”
The soldiers “are prepared psychologically,” Oren said. “They talk openly about their fears, fears of being castigated, vilified.”